"Educating is a performative world-making practice that disrupts unilinear time: past, present, and future bleed through one-another in the thick-now of any moment"
Karen Barad as Educator: Agential Realism and Education
In teaching level-1 Spanish, I am currently working with Janet Swaffar's proposal for the goals that foreign language programs set for themselves. Swaffar proposes that "Foreign language departments must set their sights on using a foreign language to learn." She observes that if a department's goal is conceived as merely helping students to learn the language, "we leave ourselves open to accusations that language teaching is remedial instruction better conducted under auspices other than the university."
In the following presentation, I provide a lesson I created for my elementary Spanish class to teach students about early modern Spanish and colonial Spanish American history, my areas of specialization. As is the practice in multiliteracy pedagogies, a text is the basis of the lesson. In this case, we are working with a 1581 Relación geográfica. The cultural aims of the lesson are: an understanding of Spain's bureaucratic culture (governance through surveys about people and places), valorization of urban modes of social organization, and an understanding of the centrality of the Church in daily life.
The linguistic lesson objectives that support learning of content are: the articles, numbers, and the use of "hay" (there is). At the end of the class, I create an opportunity for metacognition (briefly, in English) and the class concludes with an invitation for thinking about what the places that populate the students' L1 cities and neighborhoods tell us.
L4 Spanish: Metamorphosis / The Human and the Non-Human in Ana Mendieta's art (using Pluperfect Subjunctive & "If" Clauses)
L4 Spanish: Surveillance Technologies and Assemblage Theory (Using the Subjunctive in subordinate conjunctions)
L4 Spanish: The Anthropocene and the Non-Human (review of the subjunctive mood)
L3 Spanish: Thinking Critically about Love (using the present tense)
In this presentation, I invite students to think critically about romantic love. After viewing a short film (Flechazos) on love and discussing whether couples can reinvent what romantic love means, students listen and respond to the polyamorous perspective on love by Gabriela Wiener (a Peruvian artist) and her family. Using the present tense and putting into practice noun and gender agreement, students describe the personalities of two of the interviewees. This writing activity is followed by a group discussion. I build on Wiener's view that we must rethink the prescriptions we have inherited about romantic love, and about what constitutes a family. The last step in this learning activity involves taking a critical look at the Spanish course textbook's personal relationships vocabulary list. Students are invited to add words, or to delete words that they deem no longer relevant. They are also asked to justify their decisions. Writing samples for this activity can be found in the shared course notebook (9/7 entry).
L3 Spanish: Going Beyond Superficial Treatments of Mayan Culture (using the past tense)
In this presentation, I counterbalance the textbook’s superficial treatment of indigenous culture by using a short story that evokes the view that Mayan civilization was sophisticated. (In the short story, “El eclipse,” a Spanish friar attempts to save himself from human sacrifice by telling the Mayan priests that he has the power to darken the sun, not realizing that Mayans could predict eclipses – without a knowledge of Aristotle.)
Preparatory steps: (1) To gauge reading comprehension, have students complete a multiple choice activity about the reading on Canvas. (2) Begin the discussion of the text with the help of a social annotation tool (Perusall). (3) Curate a collection of archeological artifacts using Artstor and make the list accessible through the LMS (e.g., Canvas or Blackboard). The curated list should contain links to the objects on Artstor, as well as some key words that will facilitate description of the object. Select objects that they can describe using the acquired lexicon. Show students that they can use the zoom function to study the image.
The class begins with a brief reading comprehension activity. That is followed by a discussion of student comments about the story that they have posted on Perusall the day before class, in response to the instructor’s guided questions. Textual analysis of the story is paired with the introduction of a critical thinking concept (e.g., eurocentrism). This provides a foundation for the class activity that will take place over the next four days.
Transition: I make brief factual comments on the living cultures of the Maya in the contemporary world to underline the relevance of understanding the history of Mayan cultures. I ask a student to read the first step of the learning activity to make sure everyone understands the directions.
The student learning is interactive, with plenty of student-student, student-instructor, and student-cultural artifact interaction. The activity includes writing in the shared notebook and sharing initial impressions while examining the object in detail. The linguistic functions that are put to use in the activity include the following: description in the present and past tenses, narration in the past tense, and the use of cohesive devices.
Oral proficiency is advanced by devoting an entire class period to students’ oral descriptions and accounts of what they learned about Mayan culture through the study of archeological artifacts. Students address their comments to one another, rather than to the instructor. In larger groups, intellectual dialogue among the students is more likely. The instructor's role is to provide written feedback on linguistic areas that need improvement, doing so privately through the Zoom chat, and only after each student has finished speaking. Instructor interventions into the conversation are limited to clarifying historical or cultural inaccuracies.
The overall goals of this activity are to go beyond superficial appreciation of the diversity of Hispanic cultures, to carve out space for critical thought, and to use language for meaning-making, thereby transforming the classroom into an intellectual learning community where communication is meaningful, rather than mechanical, stilted, and sterile. The learning activity aims at what Heidi Byrne describes as the "critical act of defining the role of the learner, and by extension, the act of learning that ensures that students learn the foreign language in a non-trivial way” and “that they are educated and formed...on the basis of that learning experience as it extends throughout their undergraduate experience and into graduate study.” (Heidi Byrne’s “Constructing Curricula in Foreign Language Departments” in Learning Foreign and Second Languages: Perspectives in Research and Scholarship, ed. Heidi Byrne. MLA, 1998.)
L3 Spanish: thinking about the Environment Through Sound & Comics (Lexical Acquisition & the future tense)
Working with Cope and Kalantzis' insight that "meaning is made in ways that are increasingly multimodal" I use multiple textual modes to teach language. For example, in a lesson on the environment, I employ auditory and visual texts to introduce students to new vocabulary and to recycle previously learned language structures. I accomplish this by embedding lexical acquisition in an auditory group activity that involves listening to bio-acoustic sounds from diverse Latin American ecological environments (see slide 2).
Students are asked to listen to each recorded sound and to guess about the site to which each recording corresponds. In addition to using the new vocabulary, students recycle previously learned vocabulary and grammar to express their opinions to one another.
I complement this auditory learning experience with the introduction of a set of culturally authentic visual texts (political cartoons and comic strips) that students volunteer to read and which are then analyzed by members of the class (slides 3-5). This "reading in community" activity is followed by group discussions in which students are tasked with identifying the organizational logic that informs the genres of political cartoons and comic strips. After completing this step, students are invited to integrate their newly acquired knowledge through a transformative practice.
Using a knowledge tool called Jamboard, students create their own comics on the topic of environmental crisis, doing so in break-out rooms. (Alternatively, this step could be done on an asynchronous day.)
As this example illustrates, language acquisition is interlinked with the development of multiliteracy skills through the study of multimodal texts (word-sound, letter-image). Meaning-making is a learning community practice that is grounded in the group's situated awareness of cultural discourses (comics and political cartoons), and of the interaction among sounds, images, and words.