APPLES Service-learning course increases students’ Spanish fluency

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Many students studying Spanish at UNC will not have the opportunity to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country to increase their fluency. However, the next best thing may be an APPLES Service-Learning experimental education course in Spanish conversation.

Bill Maisch, a senior lecturer in the Romance Languages department, is using the service-learning requirement in the SPAN 255: (conversation) class to benefit his students and the surrounding community. In the class, students are expected to work with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. In this school system, UNC students serve as ESL volunteers, Spanish reading partners and as assistants in the dual-language program. Although, most work with elementary school children, a few of Maisch’s students choose to partner with adults to help them learn English as a second-language. Understanding the value of the program, Maisch explained the benefits, putting his emphasis on student exposure to authentic language for the first time in their language-learning career. Conversing with native speakers has the ability to show students their own abilities and sometimes even their limitations.

“As [students] formulate opinions on cultural themes, they learn to express those opinions effectively to native speakers of the language,” Maisch said. “By this cultural exchange, they come to a better understanding of the needs of the Latino community in North Carolina.”

Maisch’s Spanish conversation class is structured to focus on student leadership and service-learning reflection. Each class begins with a reflection discussion and three classes over the semester are devoted entirely to student-led reflection without Maisch’s presence in the class.

“I try to guide students gently and objectively to discover on their own what they are learning. I make an effort to avoid the temptation of telling my students what I think they should be learning and where they can find the literature on it,” Maisch said.

Another component of the course focuses on student contribution to the class voice thread group where each student is asked to comment on what he or she has learned from their own experiences, classmates’ reflections in class and articles they have read for service-related research. Maisch truly believes that this method of learning and discussing is what accounts for students becoming so deeply involved with their service.

In the past, many students have even chosen to continue working with the same community partner after the class has ended. “They become better students of language and more empathetic citizens as they use real language to respond to the needs of real people,” explained Maisch.

This semester Maisch is experimenting with binding all the efforts of past and present students together. Three former students are operating as “correspondents” in the UNC-Seville program to work with elementary school children in bilingual programs in Spain. They then communicate with the American children, who are working with students at UNC, via the internet sharing details about themselves, their schools and their homes. Having received two grants for the assistance of doctorate student Britt Newman, Maisch is confident that this project will assist in finding new ways to expand the benefits of the APPLES service-learning course in Spanish language and conversation.