Taking Spanish outside the Box: A Model for Integrating Service Learning into Foreign Language Study

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Many service learning studies support the positive effects of expanding the classroom into the community. The rapidly shifting demographic composition of the United States calls for a postsecondary education system that is able to prepare students to enter a global society. Service learning provides an opportunity for students to connect with the community and take ownership of their knowledge. This article examines the integration of service learning into a college-level Spanish conversation course through a five-phase model. Students are guided through the project's evolution as they transport the target language from the traditional classroom to an authentic setting. A collaborative learning approach between instructor and student promotes proficiency and self-confidence in the target language. Critical reflection and civic engagement also are important components to the learner-centered, experiential model. This framework may be applied to a variety of service learning projects.

Key words: experiential learning, foreign language pedagogy, higher education and foreign language/second language acquisition, service learning

Language: Spanish

Introduction

Continuity of life means continual readaptation of the environment to the needs of living organisms . . . Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life. (Dewey, 1916, p. 2)

The initial data from the 2000 Census indicated that the "Hispanic or Latino"1 populations comprised approximately 12.5% of the United States' total population, a 57.9% increase from the 1990 Census (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Five years later, the American Community Survey produced by the Census Bureau estimated that this same group had grown to 14.5% of the total U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Embodying only 9% of the country's population in 1990, the Hispanic population currently surpasses that of the "Black or African American" community, which, over the last 15 years, has experienced a stunted growth rate and, based on data from between 2000 to 2005, has begun to fall in number. When one examines the records more closely, a similar population decline surfaces among the "White" population. In essence, projections from the 2000 Census and the American Community Survey display a narrowing margin between the ratio of minority to majority ("White") groups, with the majority steadily decreasing in number while the minority progressively increases. Such a minority-majority trend points toward a gradual demographic upheaval and an inversion/subversion of the current Anglo-dominant structures to reflect more accurately the ethnic diversity of this country.

As globalization continues to dismantle economic boundaries and, in turn, change the demographic composition of the United States, the federal government has resolved to encourage the development of a more cross-culturally educated person. Declaring the year 2005 as the Year of Foreign Language Study, U.S. Senate Resolution 28, passed February 17, 2005, acknowledges that "foreign language study provides the ability both to gain a comprehensive understanding of and to interact with the cultures of United States trading partners"2 (ACTFL, 2005a, Resolution section). In effect, U.S. citizenship in the 21st century demands global awareness, respect for diversity, and, as the K-12 Student Standards Task Force highlighted, proficiency in a second language: "The United States must educate students who are equipped linguistically and culturally to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad" (National Standards, 1996).

In order to learn effective communication skills, students benefit greatly from opportunities to transfer the classroom to the community. This article examines the integration of service learning into an advanced Spanish language course at the college level and its role in foreign language study. The article begins with a brief theoretical introduction of the underlying pedagogical concepts that serve as guiding principles for constructing a service learning paradigm. …