My intermediate level class begins each day with the whole school recitation of the US Pledge of Allegiance. Over the last few weeks, the words “with liberty and justice for all” have been particularly poignant as we have been exploring some social justice issues linked to La Guerra Sucia in Argentina and Chile, as well as Guatemala. To me, one of the most important things I can teach my students is to think critically and with empathy for others. Along the way we will learn a lot of Spanish, but I want my students to be better citizens as a result of our studies as well.
In the course of this unit we incorporated music, film, reading, tweeting with another class, and a live Skype conversation, and I have seen impressive growth in my students’ skills as a result. Here’s how we did it:
- Pinterest: It’s important to me that students see the beauty of the places that we study as well as the struggles. We introduced the topic by having students look for information on Argentina and Chile and pin photos to their Pinterest accounts. They shared them with each other in class, narrating what they were showing and why it interested them.
- I was greatly assisted by Kara Jacobs’ work here.
- Stations for exploring the theme: We collaborated with Kristy Placido’s class, completing her stations activities. More information is here.
- the movie Cautiva: Again in conjunction with Kristy Placido, we watched the film Cautiva. The 800 mile gap between our schools disappeared through the magic of technology and our students discussed the film at various stopping points. The characters in Cautiva continued to weave through our studies as we talked about events being similar to what had happened to Sofia and her friends and family.
- TPRS Publishing’s La Guerra Sucia: I love this book because it is compelling–I had to remind the kids who read ahead to not spoil it for the others–and is just enough of a challenge to help students grow in their language. Like the film, it also gives us a framework around which we can base the study of other materials.
- Maria Hinojosa’s interviews of Robert Cox (as recommended by the TPRS teacher’s guide) and Mercedes Doretti. Doretti’s organization is working world wide to identify remains of people who were victims of mass killings and genocide, including in Guatemala. Though these interviews were in English, I believe that their worth lies in further connecting students to the story.
- What Happened at Dos Erres: This story from This American Life has haunted me since the day I heard it, and I instantly knew that I wanted to find a way to use it in class. There is a Spanish print edition of the story here, but we simply did not have enough time to work through this and do the other things that I wanted to include. I also recognize that it is beyond these students’ i+1 reading level. Maybe next time? The story is also available as an eBook in Spanish or English here.
- Music: Maná’s “Desapariciones“; Sting’s “Ellas Danzan Solas“; Bono’s “Homenaje a las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo“. These songs ended up leading us on a lengthy conversation about music in the 80’s and 90’s, because my students didn’t know who Sting, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, or the Police were… so I had to teach them that too. (Thank you YouTube!). I’ve wanted to teach this unit since hearing Ellas Danzan Solas several years ago, so this was a dream come true moment.
- Google Earth: We “visited” several of the places from the book via Google Earth on the projection screen, and discovered that from La Casa Rosada, the pictures were taken at night if you head in one direction and in the day in the other directions!
- Skype!: We had the pleasure of a Skype conversation in Spanish with the amazing Brittany Peterson who told of her travels, study, and journalistic work in Argentina and Chile, including this story, this one, and especially this one. Brittany started her Spanish studies as a sophomore in another high school in our district, and I loved the aspect of students seeing someone “like them” using the language. By the way, Brittany was in Chile and on the ground during the Chilean spring student uprising, and covered the topic extensively. If you are teaching this topic, search out her coverage–it is excellent! One of my favorite questions from the students was when they asked if she had watched El Internado–they were so nervous to talk throughout the Skype call, but forgot their nervousness when it came to this topic due to their passion for it.
- Assessment: We used Amy Lenord’s Conversation Circle for assessing speaking skills. This is hands-down one of my favorite tools for intermediate classes. Our written assessment has some music interpretation with writing and a writing from TPRS Publishing’s teacher’s guide for the novel.
- Grammar: Oh, yes, there was some grammar too. We wove perfect tenses and subjunctive throughout the unit.
All in all, this was a long unit, but a good one. Students are reporting that they feel more confident in their skills, and it shows when they write and speak. They loved the Conversation Circle and Skype, and have asked for specific topics to be addressed that they recognize as weaknesses/breakdown points. They are clearly making connections with other classes–one of the threads in a recent conversation was comparing themes in Orwell’s 1984 with politics and society in our studied countries. They were also shocked to hear that while I had read it, it was still futuristic when I did. They brought up comparisons to the Holocaust and visits to the Holocaust Memorial when they saw the slogan “Nunca más” on Madres de la Plaza de Mayo materials.
…con libertad y justicia para todos. I have no doubt that this phrase has taken on new meaning for this group of students, and I’m honored to have been on this journey with them.