Staying in the groove!

Back in the day, before I was a Spanish teacher, I was a musician.  I sang in madrigals and show choir, I played several instruments (though not particularly well), but I loved piano.  For the first year or so of playing piano, I had to walk across town to our church to have one to play because we didn’t have one at home.  I enjoyed it so much that I considered it as a major, but then I realized that I wasn’t deeply passionate enough about it to make the sacrifices that that life would require.  Oh, and killer stage fright.  THAT will do you in in that field too.

Though I’ve left music behind as a daily pursuit, I still surround myself with it nearly constantly.  I play it in my classes while students are working, and try to vary what types they will hear over the course of the year.  I also incorporate songs into nearly every unit that we study in some form or another.  Zachary Jones and Sra. Birch have made this endeavor SO much easier with their activities and databases of artists’ work to use.

Which brings us to this week:  the week before finals.  Here in the southeastern part of the US, we are in a sweet zone where the sun is out, the pools are open, the bugs are really out, and the humidity hasn’t arrived yet.  Not exactly a prime environment for focus, motivation, and ambition in our last days of school–for the students or for the teachers!

In my novice class, we need to review/practice some key concepts more, like telling what happened in the past and stating/supporting opinions.  I also want them to read some more in the target language and interpret the main ideas and key details from what they have read.  I also want them engaged in class without having to be a babysitter in these last days!

From all of this is born a mini project about well-known musical artists who sing in Spanish. After introducing them to my favorite, Juanes, and modeling a presentation for them, students chose an artist to study from a list compiled with help from my twitter peeps, or they could suggest one that they already knew.  Next, they will construct a poster with a basic timeline of key events of the artist’s career and life, a picture, and other pertinent details by using Wikipedia in Spanish.  They are also being asked to listen to several songs by the artist and to comment on their opinion of the music.  On presentation day, students will play their favorite musical clip as they present their posters in small groups.  They will also be prepared to answer questions from their group members about their artists.

Their reaction was priceless!  I had to hold them back when it was time to sign up for their artists, and they were instantly engaged in the research.  Some students asked for recommendations based on their personal tastes, and for the most part I think we were able to match them with someone that they liked.  They are actually engaged in trying to get preterit conjugations and preterit v. imperfect right because they have a reason to want to get it right.  Add in the cultural aspects and inquiry, and I think we have a winner!  They will work on their posters more tomorrow and present on Friday.  I’m actually looking forward to what they put together!


If you would like a copy of the student assignment sheet, click here.  Our artist list is below–feel free to suggest more in the comments!

  1. Juanes
  2. Shakira
  3. Calle 13
  4. Celia Cruz
  5. Juan Luis Guerra
  6. Aleks Syntek
  7. Marc Anthony
  8. Carlos Vives
  9. Café Tacuba
  10. La Santa Cecilia
  11. Draco Rosa
  12. Bruno Mars
  13. Laura Pausini
  14. Olga Tañón
  15. Alejandro Sanz
  16. Jarabe de Palo
  17. Peewee
  18. Pitbull
  19. Jesse y Joy
  20. Leslie Grace
  21. Carlos Baute
  22. David Bisbal
  23. Maná
  24. Aventura
  25. RBD
  26. Julieta Venegas
  27. Enrique Iglesias
  28. Ricky Martin
  29. Chino y Nacho
  30. Kany García
  31. Tego Calderón (similar to Daddy Yankee)
  32. Daddy Yankee
  33. Juan Cirerol
  34. Orishas
  35. Camila/Samo
  36. Rubén Blades
  37. Reik
  38. Sie7e
  39. Wisin y Yandel
  40. Diego Torres

It’s a cultural revolution

One of the primary changes that has taken place in my planning is the concept of beginning with culture. I think this is what resonated with me the most about the sports post I referenced in my last entry; that we could teach cultural literacy in a way that made the language compelling.  Since beginning on this journey, I came across this article from The Language Educator (April 2012 edition) that solidified so many of those ideas for me.  The brutal reality is that many of my students saw language learning as a chore, even those who chose the class on their own accord. Injecting culture as a primary focus has been a game changer.

“Rather than telling their students what to think about culture, my advice is to give them tools, authentic texts, that they can use to compare and contrast. The students themselves should be coming up with the comparisons and cultural insights, not being fed them by the teacher.” –Sue Barry, The Language Educator, April 2012

What an “aha” moment!  This means that students will be inherently engaged in the process and have ownership in it. It also means that the process will be a little messy… but that is material for a future post.  Finally it means that a re-arranging of content order was needed. Instead of learning countries, capitals, and geography at the beginning of their language study, we would be embedding them in the course of our study of other topics. We learned about Uruguay when talking about an incredible sandwich called El Chivito. We learned about Puerto Rico, Argentina, Spain, and la República Dominicana in the course of a sports unit. And along the way, my students have picked up language beyond what I could have imagined.

During the sports unit, I developed a few resources to accompany our studies and I end this post with them here. They are some of my first attempts to embed cultural experiences and investigation into our studies. Enjoy!

  • Movie guide/I can statements to accompany the movie Sugar
  • Copa Mundial reading & speaking activities
  • ESPN deportes & Lucha Libre activities  (Thanks again for the idea, Megan)
  • Template & tutorial for lucha libre masks