Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Student Reflection

by Araceli Pérez

Ya he estado participando en el programa de Abriendo Caminos por varias semanas y puedo decir con confianza que me ha encantado la experiencia hasta ahora. He tenido la oportunidad de trabajar con los niños, que he disfrutado mucho porque planeo ser maestra en el futuro. También  he podido participar en las clases que toman el grupo de control. Me ha gustado mucho participar en estas clases porque me ofrecen la oportunidad de conversar con las madres de familia.

Algo que me pareció muy interesante fue la conversación que tuvimos cuando hablamos del tema de las finanzas. Muchas de las madres hispanas confesaron no saber mucho de cómo manejar el dinero. Esto no me sorprendió mucho porque yo vengo de una familia hispana y sé que ellos también tienen mucha dificultad manejando el dinero y  sus finanzas, Todo esto me llevó a la conclusión que deberían de haber muchos más recursos e información sobre el dinero para las familias hispanas que no hablan inglés. Creo que esta información beneficiaría a las familias mucho. Después de la clase de finanzas muchas madres dijeron que se sentían mas informadas y tenían más confianza en su habilidad de manejar el dinero de una manera eficiente.

Otro tema de que hablamos que me pareció interesante fue de la educación. Muchas madres dijeron que tienen o han tenido problemas comunicándose con las maestras de sus hijos porque no había un traductor en la clase durante sus conversaciones. Otras madres se quejaron de la falta de libros de español en la biblioteca de Rantoul. Estos problemas que han tenido estas familias también son de falta de recursos. Las familias hispanas necesitan ayuda y recursos para estar adecuadamente informadas de la educación de sus hijos y para proveerles a sus hijos una buena educación.

Todo lo que he aprendido en Abriendo Caminos hasta ahora me ha inspirado a continuar ayudando a la comunidad hispana aun después que este semestre se termine. He podida ver de primera mano que los voluntarios son esenciales para que la comunidad hispana pueda salir adelante. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Advice for College Spanish Majors

Photograph of laptop, phone and eyeglasses on table, suggesting to Spanish students that they should "take a look" at opportunities across campus.
Take a look at your campus to find opportunities that will give you experiences and relationships that are complementary to your Spanish major. 
by Ann Abbott

Even though the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is a huge university, it is possible for students to connect with faculty. I say this proudly: especially in the language programs.

I had many wonderful students this semester, and many of them happened to be freshmen. I took one of those freshmen out for lunch at the end of the semester to let her know that I saw great intellect, talent and creativity in her work in my class. I wanted to encourage her, as a freshman, to consider opportunities on our campus that match her abilities--as well as complement them--and that she might not have found on her own. Or that she might have found much later.

Let me share that list because I would encourage all students of Spanish to look into them.

More languages

This student already has Spanish and French under her belt. Someone who is so obviously good with languages should take advantage of all the wonderful languages we offer on our campus. (That's a rare opportunity, and students might not fully appreciate the value of having access to all these languages on our campus.) Let me say a few things about some of these languages.


Since this student already knows two Romance languages well, Portuguese would be a wonderful addition to her linguistic profile. There are many places and reasons to speak Portuguese, but Brazil is obviously a very important country globally. Furthermore,

Critical languages

For students who are willing to go out of their comfort zone and study a language that is very different from English and Spanish, there are many resources for studying critical languages. (If it were me, I would study Arabic.) The government offers the Critical Language Scholarship Program that sends you abroad. And our university offers many less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), not all of which are critical languages.

Career perspectives

Being able to speak many languages is a wonderful thing, but it is even better to combine that knowledge with some complementary skills. 

International careers
To start, it's good to see what other people who have studied Spanish have gone on to do. (The truth is that today, most Spanish majors are double majors; so look at what their other major added to their pre-professional preparation, too.) Here are three former Illinois students with fascinating international careers; you can learn by reading these posts, and you can also network with them as a fellow Illinois student.

Business minor

It's not necessary to study business in order to find a job after college, but something like the Business Minor could provide good, complementary knowledge and provide access to the College of Business resources. I know that many Spanish majors can't picture themselves in business. In many ways, languages and business can seem like two antithetical sets of values. But it doesn't have to be that way (see the examples above). 

Entrepreneurship opportunities
Again, I suggested something that many language students might immediately dismiss: becoming involved in entrepreneurship opportunities on campus. I told the student, "Don't think that entrepreneurship is just about technology! Or even if it is, don't imagine that students in the humanities don't have something very important to add to those projects." Be prepared to expand beyond your College and mingle with people from other Colleges.
  • Technology Entrepreneur Center. I know that technology is right in the name of this center and that it is housed in the College of Engineering. That doesn't mean that foreign language students can't jump in and learn from the resources and activities they offer!
  • Entrepreneurship at Illinois. You can find all kinds of information here. But here's my advice: jump in! Act on the information! Attend sessions! Speak up at events! People will welcome you.

Informatics minor

When I was an undergraduate, decades ago, I was a double major in psychology and Spanish. If I were stepping back into college today, I would still be a Spanish major. I would study Arabic as much as possible. And I would definitely apply to the Informatics Minor. Even if you think that computer science is not for you, that "other people" are good at that, at least click on the link and take a look. It will open many doors.


There. Those are the suggestions I have for that gifted student--and for any student of Spanish, really. When you're a freshman, you're just trying to get a feel for the place, the people and the culture of this huge place. But if you are lucky enough to find someone who recognizes your unique talents and can help you match them with opportunities on campus that you might miss, at least take a look. Try. A Spanish major is great, but you also want to be building a portfolio that builds on as many of the wonderful experiences on this campus as possible.

Did I miss any opportunities? Do you have different suggestions? Let me know in a comment.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How Much Time Does It Take to Teach Spanish Community Service Learning?

Photograph of an old-fashioned alarm clock, representing the question of how much time it takes to teach a Spanish community service learning course
We have precise expectations about how much time Spanish community service learning students spend outside the classroom, but what about the time spent by those teaching the course?
by Ann Abbott

Recently, an interesting question came up about how much work it is (or isn't) for graduate teaching assistants to teach a Spanish community service learning course.

Here's some background on the concept of "time" in my Spanish in the Community course.
  • Students must work 28 hours in the community during the course of the semester.
  • 28 hours means that students work in the community 2 hours a week for 14 weeks out of a 15 1/2 week semester
  • It is a three-credit course
  • The class meets two hours a week 
  • Two hours of experiential learning equals one hour of classroom learning, according to some sources
  • The main grading tasks are three reflective essays and students' community participation self-evaluations
  • So, all in all, for three hours of academic credit, students spend two hours a week in class and two hours a week in the community
What about the person teaching the course? At first glance it seems as if you work less than others because you only teach two hours a week instead of three.

As the course coordinator, there's no question that I spend that "extra hour" setting up the community partnerships, maintaining those partnerships, responding to just-in-time requests for student volunteers, solving student problems with their community partner, helping lagging students find extra hours, etc. If you've put together one of these courses or taught one, you know what I mean!

But recently the question came up about graduate teaching assistants' time.

One thing is for sure, if our baseline is traditionally-taught, classroom-based course, then we will always have problems conceiving of workload equivalencies with experiential learning courses.

TA feedback

I think it would be a good idea to have feedback about the teaching load from the TAs who have taught SPAN 232. 

It's always best to go to the source. I can speculate about how they spend their time, but they know.

What is the "extra" work for TAs in Spanish community service learning courses?

  • First and foremost becoming informed about the local immigrant community context, which has to be accomplished through participation and following social media. In Spanish graduate programs, most TAs have little prior knowledge from their other work in the department. (That other work tends to center on the fields of literary analysis, cultural analysis or linguistics.)
  • To a lesser extent, learning accurate and complete information about state and federal immigration polices. Again, these are actually rarely known by TAS, but it is easier to find out about them through research. 
  • At the beginning of the semester, corralling all their students through the process of choosing and signing up for a community partner, which can be surprisingly time-consuming especially for students who fall behind or want a "different" experience.
  • Throughout the semester but especially toward the end, working closely with students whose placement is not working out or do not have their necessary hours and who need extra opportunities that must be arranged with community partners. 
  • Many campuses have a central CSL office that handles the push and pull of placing students with community partners and following up on those. My campus does not.

A possible way to equalize TAs' work

If the goal is to ask TAs to do more work in "Spanish in the Community" in order to even out the workloads among courses, I would suggest requiring a few more hours on TAs' part of direct participation in the community. That would give them a richer understanding of the community and of the students' experiences. I would not want to add more work for students in order to provide more work for TAs.


In sum, there are some semesters in which everything goes smoothly and the workload is pretty accurately reflected by the syllabus. But there are always semesters in which you have to do a lot of work because students have trouble beginning their work in the community, surprise events happen in the community (e.g., raids, election of an anti-immigrant President!), you need to field requests from community partners for extra volunteer events, or students realize they are behind on their hours (argh). 

What are your thoughts about the time required of TAs, instructors, course coordinators, students and community partners in a Spanish community service learning course?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Student Reflection

by Araceli Pérez

Tener la oportunidad de trabajar en la comunidad es una responsabilidad muy grande pero gratificante. Así que cuando la Dra. Michelle Cruz Santiago informó a mi clase sobre la oportunidad de trabajar en un programa de investigación en donde serviríamos a la comunidad hispana, inmediatamente me llamó la atención. La Dra. Santiago nos explicó que este programa de investigación, llamado Abriendo Caminos, buscaba descubrir si clases de nutrición ayudarían a la comunidad hispana a ser más saludable.

Para investigar este tema a fondo la Dra. Michelle Cruz invitó a muchas familias a venir al Centro Cultural en Rantoul. En el centro las familias se registraron para el programa y acordaron a venir cada jueves para recibir las clases de nutrición. Antes de tomar las clases, la presión, el peso, y medidas del cuerpo fueron tomados de cada miembro de familia. Esto ayudaría a la Dra. Michelle saber cómo estaba el estado de salud de cada familia antes de comenzar el programa.  Las familias también tomaron un cuestionario que les hacía preguntas sobre su estilo de vida. Por ejemplo, de qué tipo de comida comían en la casa, si hacían ejercicio regularmente, etc.

Otra cosa interesante de este programa es que no todas las familias que participaron en la investigación tomaron las clases de nutrición. Como el programa es una investigación científica hubo un grupo de control, que no recibía las clases de nutrición, y un grupo experimental, que si recibía las clases. El propósito de tener estos dos grupos era para tomar en cuenta que es posible que las familias se volvieran más saludables simplemente porque estaban participando en un estudio. En otras palabras, es posible que el efecto placebo aparezca en esta familia. Por esta razón se creó el grupo de control. Este grupo también iba al Centro Cultural de Rantoul cada jueves, pero en vez de tomar las clases de nutrición, ellos tomaban clases de otros temas como la familia, la educación, y las finanzas.

Una última cosa del programa que me gustaría mencionar es que las clases de nutrición trataban de involucrar a todos los miembros de las familias. Así que las actividades eran divertidas no solamente para los padres pero también para los hijos. Muchas de las actividades involucraron a la comida, entonces en cada clase siempre había mucha variedad de comida saludable que las familias podían comer. Los voluntarios, incluyéndome a mí, estaban a cargo de preparar la comida. En la foto de arriba se puede ver todo el tipo de comida que teníamos. Fue muy divertido ver como algunas de estas comidas eran nuevas para las familias hispanohablantes. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Task List for Directors of Spanish Community Service Learning Courses

by Ann Abbott

In some ways the Fall 2016 semester was on of my most difficult. 

But in one specific way it was the best: I scheduled specific times for taking care of all my weekly teaching tasks and did them. That's right, every week I graded, entered grades in Blackboard, and responded to student problems promptly. Preparing the final grades was no problem whatsoever because everything was ready to go. Hurray!

What a relief! In the past, my calendar showed my teaching times (of course) and my office hours. But I used my office hours to address whatever was on my desk, answer emails, decompress, any number of things that push and pull all of us during a normal workday. I would also make my office hours available in Doodle polls for committee meetings. But this semester, I guarded my office hours carefully and used them to catch up on my grading and prep immediately following class.

So in that spirit of organization and prioritization, I'd like to share my detailed list of tasks for directing my Spanish in the Community course. I think it might be similar to tasks anyone does for any Spanish community service learning course. I'm also including it in my "Spanish Community Service Learning in a Box" post where you'll find everything you need to start or spruce up your own course.

Course Director Task List: 

Spanish Community Service Learning Course

Course Materials

⏰ Previous semester. Contact Pearson sales representative if necessary.
  Order Comunidades: Más allá del aula packaged with MySpanishkit.
✅  Contact Pearson sales representative if necessary.

Learning Management System (Blackboard/Compass at my university)

 Previous semester, ideally, but any time before classes start.
  Order course site, and copy from previous year.
  Change assignment dates: Reflexiones, Community Participation Self-Evaluations.
  Change assignment dates within the course calendar for the MySpanishKit grammar folders.
  Enroll TA.


 Previous semester, ideally.
  Click on “MySpanishkit” ➤ Click on “Sections” ➤ Click on “Add Sections” ➤ Create new section and name it “SPAN 232 Spanish in the Community [Current Semester].” Wait just a little while for the section to be created and added to the list. (If you don't have an account already, set up your account and gain access to MySpanishkit through your Pearson rep.)
  Copy Course ID and post it on the homepage of the Compass/LMS site so students know how to enroll.
 Click on “Assignment Calendar” ➤ Click on “Grammar Resources” ➤ Following course calendar, drag grammar folders to the appropriate due dates.
*For my course, I assign one folder for each of the first six weeks: 1) Adjectives; 2) Direct objects, the personal “a,” and direct object pronouns; 3) Gustar and similar verbs; 4) Commands: Tú; 5) Preterit vs. imperfect; 6) Pluperfect subjunctive and the conditional perfect. For the other six weeks, students choose which grammar concepts/folders they feel they need to work on. I expect each student’s choices to be different. OJO: students’ grades will not show up in the Gradebook if the grammar folder has not be assigned; therefore, each week students should inform you (slip of paper in class? Email?) of which grammar folder they chose to complete for that week. Otherwise, at the end of the semester you will need to go through each folder and tally the students who have completed each grammar folder.
  In class the first week a grammar folder is due, spend a few minutes showing students how to access and complete the quizzes. This avoids confusion and the need to answer many student emails.
  Each week, enter grades in Compass/LMS for the work they did in MySpanishKit. This is important because it can be confusing to them to do work in MySpanishKit yet their grades are calculated in Compass/LMS. This also reinforces their weekly habit so that after six weeks when they are free to choose their own grammar folders they don’t lose track of the habit.
  When students choose their own grammar item, have them hand in a note with the grammar folder they did/will do.

Course Wiki

 At the beginning of the semester, before classes start and students begin signing up.
  On the front page, update information about community partners if necessary.
  On each community partner’s page, remove names of students from previous semester.
  On front page, at bottom, update course and section information.
  Create new pages for each section’s work log. From the existing work log, copy the title and example and paste to the top of each new work log.
  During the semester, check the work log weekly and communicate with students who appear to be behind on getting started or short on hours.

Teaching Assistant

 At the beginning of the semester, or when you know for sure who the TA will be.
  Put textbook in TA’s box.
  Enroll TA in Compass/LMS.
  Contact Pearson sales rep to give TA access to MySpanishkit
  Provide the link to the Instructor’s Resource Manual (IRM) for the scripts for the listening comprehension activities in the textbook.
  Tell him/her about the Comunidades Companion Website. You can find the audios and videos mentioned in the textbook here, and they can be incorporated into classes to make them more dynamic. I think the videos are especially valuable. The site isn't very intuitive, so do the following: Go to "Select chapter" --> Select any chapter --> Click the "Go" button --> Navigate using the categories on the left (Audio, Video, etc.). 
  Provide link to course wiki.
  Schedule meeting before classes start to explain course, pedagogy, expectations, etc.
  Ask TA to attend one student orientation (preferably at the Refugee Center) to understand one of the community partners and their expectations for the students.
  Tell TA that they will be expected to communicate extra volunteering opportunities to their class and actively encourage them to participate.

Community Partners

 Several weeks before semester begins.
  Email all partners.
  Ask if they still want to receive students the next semester.
  Share link to their wiki page to see if they want to update it.
  Inform them of semester calendar, including breaks/vacations.
  Arrange any volunteer orientations.
 Throughout semester.
  Email partners every two weeks, then once a month.
 At the end of the semester.
  Remind them of the upcoming end of the semester.
  Ask if there are any problems with students. 
  Send thank-you notes form students.