…with liberty and justice for all

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:

  1. 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.
  2. I was greatly assisted by Kara Jacobs’ work here.
  3. Stations for exploring the theme:  We collaborated with Kristy Placido’s class, completing her stations activities.  More information is here.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Roll Out the Red Carpet! (part 2)

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In the previous post, I described some of the activities that I used with my students to work through describing our favorite movies. To me, though the proof was in the pudding when we got to the end of the unit as evidenced by their assessments.  Our goals in the form of “I can” statements for this unit were:

  • I can describe the activities that I do in my spare time.
  • I can describe movies and shows that I’ve seen.
  • I can ask and understand about movies and shows that others have seen.
  • I can make plans to go out with friends.

The assessments for this unit took on four forms: informal listening assessment with feedback provided, reading assessment based on authentic resources, and presentational assessment about an impressive film, and an interpersonal assessment in the form of a guided, but improvised conversation.  More details follow…

presentational assessment

Students were asked to select a film that was meaningful to them, and to present about it.  I borrowed a template from Crystal Barragán, and developed questions that walked students through the basic skeleton of a movie review.   You can download it here.  Students started a first draft in class, were asked to finish it overnight if it needed more work, and then submitted it for feedback. I handed it back and we spent some time revising and answering their questions.

Next they received the assignment of presenting their film in class a couple of days later, but I still had one more trick up my sleeve.  They would only be able to use a symbolic notecard for their presentations; that is, a notecard with no words other than names. Instead, they can draw symbols, stick figures, etc. to represent what they want to say, but cannot read directly from the card.  I have found this technique to be very helpful in providing notes for students as they create increasingly complex presentations but yet requiring them to know their content instead of just reading the card to us.  Here’s a sample of a card from a student–can you guess which film he was describing?

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Finally came presentation day, and we tried a new technique that was a real winner!  Martina Bex had written about simultaneous presentations, and I decided to try it out.  Overall, students loved it. Their comments after the assessment indicated that it reduced their anxiety about presenting and that it gave them additional practice, and this was evident in their body language.  They were relaxed and chatting, not stressed and fretting.  This process also resulted in the first time all year that all students met the proficiency target on the first attempt.  It has been a long journey getting to this point and we’ve had many obstacles to overcome.  Now it’s time to build on our progress!

interpretive assessment/interpersonal assessment

1.  Students completed a brief reading assessment based on reading information about a theater in Madrid as well as movie offerings.   2.   One of the other major objectives of this unit was to work on asking original questions of others. Amy Lenord’s questions workshop was very helpful in developing an approach to doing this successfully. After completing the reading assessment, students wrote out some questions they might ask in order to invite another person to see one of those films.These questions were not graded, but served as a security blanket for students who wanted it on their oral interpersonal assessment.  I called students back in pairs and asked one of them to invite the other to a movie on the reading assessment page and another activity (like going to eat), including other arrangements like time, place, and my favorite original contribution:  who’s driving.

Next up: we complete our free time unit with the topic of tv–especially the concept of binge watching a series at a time.  We’ll pull some things that still need work from the movie unit into some targeted practice in this unit to see if maybe we can’t clean ’em up a little.

Until then: happy adventuring! Only 9 school Mondays left!