Teaching Hub

Learning that Sticks: Class Partners with Local Hispanic Community

by Xabier Granja, Department of Modern Languages & Classics

UA students talking with children near big, leafy plants
SP356 students partner with Druid City Garden Project

I teach a variety of service-learning courses focused on Spanish grammar and writing at UA’s Department of Modern Languages and Classics. I implement service-learning components into my SP 356 grammar courses to focus on English to Spanish translation that can serve the Hispanic population in Tuscaloosa. When I initially partnered with Druid City Garden Project, Good Samaritan Clinic and Turning Point, the materials to work on were easily defined. The main difficulty was scheduling: when to assign translations? Academically it would be ideal to translate throughout the course as students learned more grammar, with a couple of revision sessions throughout the semester before a final complete submission when students are most proficient in their skills. How to balance that with community partners who needed the completed materials as soon as possible?

Talking to our partners, we figured out an acceptable compromise: a guaranteed monthly cadence of translated documents where partners would get materials processed as early as possible while I could satisfy academic standards by evaluating progressively according to the grammar studied up to that point in time. If there are grammatical errors students have not studied yet, I mark them on the corrections but don’t count them towards the grades. I expect students to identify these mistakes and use that knowledge to improve on the following project, taking the responsibility of doing a final revision myself where I fix everything to submit a perfect document to our partner. I would prefer to have students correct their own work as the semester progresses, but this would delay completion greatly and fail to satisfy our partners’ needs, therefore a monthly schedule represented an appropriate compromise for all.

Granja talks with a student in his grammar and composition course
Granja talks with a student in his grammar and composition course

Out of this complication came a pleasant surprise I had not anticipated: some of the translated materials were immediately put to use by our partners, not only confirming their urgency to get the translations but also allowing students to see the very real impact they were having in the community. Our partners informed students directly about the use and effects their translations were already having throughout the semester thanks to making these community services increasingly more accessible to the Hispanic population of Tuscaloosa. This impact has been repeatedly referenced by my students as making them more motivated, interested and hardworking in their Spanish studies, as they realize it’s not just “classwork” for the sake of classwork, but real work that creates an immediate benefit to Tuscaloosa.

In the end, my students learn and practice more Spanish, see their knowledge, time and effort highly valued and get real-world experience similar to being professional translators while our partners receive a much-needed service for free. Everybody benefits, professionally and academically, which motivates my continued inclusion of service-learning in my courses. If you’d like more information, head on to my personal UA page and drop me a line.