Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Three Wise Men come to school

I don't usually write about elementary schools since my background is secondary education but this topic is well worth the exception. I would like to talk about some books for young children and traditions surrounding one of my favourite Christmas characters, "The Three Wise Men".

Coming from a small town in northern Spain, I hardly recall the first time Santa "came" to my place with presents on December 25th. The story about Santa likely began after I stopped believing in such things. I can, however, clearly remember the nights of January 5th when the Three Wise Men were believed to come visiting bearing gifts. As a child, I was sure they would come because they walked through the city in a parade ("la cabalgata")  that night so all the children would get their presents the next morning. At the time, I did not mind that "la cabalgata" was much more modest in my town than it was, and still is, in Madrid or Barcelona, for example.

There are numerous examples of activities created by teachers about this topic that can help us to introduce the Three Wise Men. Teacher Laura Zuheros proposes to write a letter with her students after introducing the Three Wise Men in Russia. Manuel Balaguer offers different activities to work with advanced students in United Kingdom.

Both lesson plans can be adapted to our bilingual programs in junior and senior high.

Elementary students would likely embrace learning about the Three Wise Men with enthusiasm. We can have students write the Wise Men letters asking for some presents. They can even directly address their "favourite" Wise Man for the presents. And since traditionally it is believed that the men leave presents in children's shoes, we can suggest to our students' parents to place the children's shoes outside the windows the night of January 5th. What delightful surprise it would be for the children when they discover their shoes full of presents in the morning!
There are are also books that we can read with our students to fully understand the story.
I would like to recommend El dia que los Reyes Magos se toparon con Santa Claus, by Ana Galán. Patricia, a young girl, decides to send the same letter to Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men. Imagine how the problems escalate when all of them meet at her place! Values such as understanding different cultural traditions appear in the book as well as a mild critic of over consumption. The publisher has posted activities about the book online that we can use. You can click on the picture below to access the activities.

For upper elementary students, Andrea y el cuarto Rey Mago by Alfredo Gómez Cerdá, can be a good choice. Andrea is tired of not getting all the presents she asked for in her letter to the Three Wise Men. She persuades her younger brother to stay awake and talk personally to them. That night, she discovers that a fourth Wise Man will come to her home with unexpected intentions. This is a beautiful story worth sharing because it reflects the true spirit and values of Christmas. The publisher also offers activities online.
Learning about the Three Wise Men can improve students' cultural knowledge about Christmas in Hispanic countries. It can be a bit late this year to start a project in our schools but The Three Wise Men will be back next year for sure.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Working through projects collaboratively II

I would like to showcase today two more examples of project based learning done collaboratively between schools from different countries. Both projects have obtained European E-Twinning awards recognising their innovation, their pedagogical value and the positive impact that they have made in all the participant schools.

The eTwinning action was launched in 2005 and it basically consists of a  platform for staff working in schools in Europe to communicate, collaborate and develop projects together. The eTwinning action promotes collaboration through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).  Extracted from and more information:
eTwinning projects can fit very well in the philosophy of CLIL:
  • Language learning can be included in content classes,  projects in this case.
  • The content acquired in the projects can be used in the language-learning classes.
  • Students will develop very important learning skills working collaboratively in projects.  
Every year the European Union gives awards to the best eTwinning awards following these criteria:
  • Pedagogical Innovation and Creativity
  • Curricular Integration
  • Collaboration between partner schools
  • Creative use of ICT
  • Sustainability and transferability
  • Results and Benefits
There are specific awards for projects in French, German and Spanish supported by their respective Ministries of Education. For more information: VISIT.

All the awarded projects are excellent and I recommend 2 school projects I find inspiring and innovative:

Carpe Nuntium: voilà nuestra "FrItalianza" y aprende español: two high schools from France and Italy create an "FrItalianza" to investigate and learn about journalism and at the same time improve their language skills in Spanish.  Their activities were recorded in a blog. The project went through several stages:
  • Make individual presentations to break the ice
  • Show the schools, their staff using videos, recorded interviews etc.
  • The world of journalism: the students used forums to talk about their views on different aspects of the media
  • They worked on the topic the fight against poverty and social exclusion through investigating and analysing different tv news from Spain and France
  • They created their own news programs in French and Spanish
  • Through all the project they were improving their linguistic skills in a second language

Carpe Nuntium: voilà nuestra "FrItalianza" has implemented an innovative methodology with which French and Italian students have been able to achieve a B1/B2 level in Spanish and have learnt about journalism.

The second project involved four schools from 3 different countries, Portugal, Sweden and Spain. The project includes some very interesting features:
  • The teachers from every school had worked together in a previous project and used a wiki to share ideas to develop this second adventure
  • The project was developed by students in different subject areas in their curriculum
  • One of the main goals of the project was that all students used  numerous ICT tools
  • The students investigated the benefits and risks of the Internet in a first phase
  • In a second phase students worked in mixed nationality teams to create presentations on the services which are offered on the Internet using a wide range of tools
  • Lastly, they investigated the use of these technologies in their own schools, using interviews with the teachers and questionnaires among the students
The project promoted safe surfing habits in the students, but has also widened the cultural horizons of the participants and allowed them to improve their written expression and reading comprehension in Spanish

Two very innovative collaborative projects in Spanish that combine innovation, collaboration, the use of numerous ICT and the improvement of language skills. Two very inspiring projects for any school.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blogging in Spanish

We all know what a blog is and we have already used them in our classes for different purposes. We can create an educational blog to work with our students and include assignments, extra activities, showcase projects done by students, suggest readings, interact with other schools, among many other possibilities.
The main purpose of this post is introduce three blogs in Spanish which offer lots of information on how to create and maintain blogs, intrude gadgets and tools in them and also learn more, in Spanish, about the web 2.0.

This blog offers teachers lots of information about the different kinds of blogs and their educational uses. It also includes tips on how to include components and gadgets in our blogs in a very clear and organized way. The main goal was to help teachers to find and use online resources for the second language classes so we can get a lot of information for our programs here.

This second blog also gives us lots of information on blogs. I particularly like the section about how to include different types of gadgets and "herramientas" that can be useful to improve the layout of our class blog and the students blogs.

The third site is also a blog designed by teachers and for all end users in schools. It also offers a huge amount of useful information about resources online and how to get the use out of them. It is unique because it is maintained by a group of teachers and educators who work across Spain.
Three blogs that can be a good tool to use Spanish in our web 2.0 projects.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two short films to explore friendship and love.

In this blog I have tried to showcase resources that we could use in a bilingual program. The format is almost limitless: short stories, poems, podcasts, songs... and naturally feature films and short films. I am a big fan of short films because they allow us to work in a very flexible way. Short films are usually topic-specifc so students can follow their plots more easily than feature films. Moreover, they are available through numerous websites and portals: Youtube, Vimeo,, Cineele, Notodofilmfestival, Cortometrajes online and many others. Short films normally show a very direct and authentic form of the target language and students have access to different varieties of Spanish.
I would like to suggest for a Spanish bilingual class two short films from Spain and Mexico that explore the concepts of friendship and love in a very humorous way.
¿Quieres ser mi amiga? is less than 4 minutes long, with a very simple language  and talks about how the new social media have changed our concept of friendship. The idea that we keep repeating to students that having multiple "friends" on Facebook doesn't mean that these people are their friends in real life is presented to us in a very funny way in this film. Because the language is very accessible and the topic affects almost any student, we can use this short film in both junior and senior high.

MarcoELE is a website that offers lots of resources that can be used in a Spanish class designed and uploaded by teachers. Two teachers have designed a very interesting lesson plan to use this short in class: ¿Quieres ser mi amiga?

The second short film, Yo también te quiero,  comes from Mexico and deals with the old ideas that men and women cannot be friends and that sensitive, understanding men never get the girl at the end of the story. We follow the adventures of Luis, a young man in love with "a friend" who considers him a very trustworthy friend. So, she tells him everything about the ups and downs of her relationships, to Luis' dismay. Thanks to a dog Luis buys, his luck changes for the better...or so we thought... The short story can trigger lots of discussions and can be used in conjunction with other materials about personal relations. I would use this with senior high school students because of the mood and language.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Delicious

"Delicious is a social bookmarking web service for storing, sharing and discovering web bookmarks" (Wikipedia). It allows users to store all kinds of bookmarks organized by tags in very little space but also to share with others and to discover links that can be useful to us and have been organized by Delicious users.
For the last few years, I have been using Delicious to keep a database of bookmarks related to education.  The topics include resources for Spanish bilingual programs, literature for children and young adults, international programs on education and ICT that teachers can use in their daily work. The result is this:

All the links come with a brief explanation about their websites content and the possible uses I find for them. Most of the posts in this blog will be related to bookmarks that have been previously published in my delicious database. Feel free to send suggestions of interesting websites that can be included.

Friday, December 7, 2012

¿Cómo enseñar los clásicos en una clase bilingüe? (How can we teach the classics in the bilingual classroom?)

Some days ago I was in a grade 10 class and students were reading Romeo and Juliet. I asked some of them how they liked it and most didn't seem very enthusiastic. They pointed out the difficulty of the language and the difficulty to understand all the cultural aspects in the play. Then, a young man mentioned that he didn't understand why they had to read the classics. To clarify his point, he told me that even his mother had read Romeo and Juliet at high school and she was 50 now. As you can imagine, my thoughts were racing. We kept on talking and, of course, I spoke about the importance of the classics which laid the foundations of today's culture and knowledge. I explained that in grade 12, he will be reading adaptations of classical Greek texts. He was appalled that they would have to read something even older than Shakespeare!
At that point, I made a bet with him to prove the importance of the classics and the influence of Greek in our culture. I would give him $10 if he knew less than 10 English words originating from ancient Greek. If he knew more, I would win and he would need to re-evaluate the influence of the classics in his life. And people still wonder why teachers never get rich! The results are obvious and I look forward to seeing how his views have changed. 

This was not an isolated incident - many Canadian students and also Spanish students I taught find reading the classics a difficult task. These languages have changed a great deal; moreover, teenagers have trouble grasping the cultural, historical and even religious references in these texts. Yes, we keep telling them that love in Romeo and Juliet is still love and Don Quijote's idealism can be still found  in our world but the concepts become increasing "remote" to us.

Should we use the Spanish classics in our bilingual program? I believe so. There are two key facts to help students be successful: increased collaboration and using adapted books. Thanks to their studies in ELS and social, students are already familiar with the Middle Ages and Renaissance history. We can take advantage of this and use their knowledge to better understand and enjoy Spanish classics. In fact, this would be a perfect illustration of interdisciplinary study!
Reading the original version of El Lazarillo is hard for a teenager in any Spanish speaking country, let alone for our students. Fortunately, there are many available adapted versions of the classics and they can open many doors for us. 
In this post, I have been discussing largely Spanish classics, but what about more modern texts? Are they classics too? Absolutely. Short stories by Borges, Cortázar o Aldecoa, among many others, have already become "modern classics" and we can utilise these texts in teaching too.

I am sure that there are many publishers that offer adapted versions of the Spanish classics that we can use in our bilingual programs. These are just some possibilities: Santillana, Anaya, SGEL, Edelsa.

Perhaps we can take a page from the lesson we learned from the student who thought he didn't know Greek-rooted words too. Why not take some time to re-evaluate how we are and are not using classical texts in our bilingual classes?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Working through projects collaboratively

I have already spoken about the importance of project work for the development of students and the good results teachers can achieve using them. In a previous post I also spoke about the benefits in our students of "project based learning". I also think that a "project" can be done in partnership with another school, the students will get more engaged and if our partner is in a different country, we have to sum up the benefits of learning to collaborate with others plus all the cultural and linguistic benefits that our students will get. And the teachers too.

There are many examples of engaging projects that have been successful with students, families and all the school community. I want to talk about one of them. It is, in my opinion, a very especial project because:
  • It has been going on for about nine school years
  • It is an international program that has not stopped growing
  • I know one of the schools taken part in the project and they have done an incredible job with all the students without exclusion
  • It is a project that integrates literature, ICT, literacy and other subject areas
  • The work is done mostly with kindergarten students and Grade ones, a great foundation to engage the students in future projects
The project is: "Hablamos de Literatura Infantil/Parliamo de Letteratura Infantile" organized by Tremañes School in Gijón, Spain and F. IIi Cervi, in Milan, Italy. The project is an "E-Twinning Project", a European program that supports and encourages schools in Europe to work together in school projects using the ICT. "We speak about children's literature has won numerous awards at a national and European level.

Both schools keep a blog where we can visit their projects that have been different in these nine years working together:

Just to give you an example of the kind of projects they work on, visit the site where both schools work on the Italian song Pasqualino Maraja, an Italian gentleman who falls in love with a lady in India and ends up in the Asian country where he teaches everyone to cook pizza. Based on this short story, students work in a project that ends up with the Spanish students cooking a pizza following the recipe their Italians friends e-mailed them first. The results are phenomenal:

In another project they work on an art project basing their works on famous painters like Dalí, Modigliani etc.

The schools have been working in this European project for 9 years now and have created an incredible amount of activities full of imagination. This school year, their project is still more ambitious, 4 more schools from Sweden, United Kingdom, Portugal and Czech Republic will be working with them, with all the linguistic challenge that this will bring about. I am curious to see the results.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I am aware that we, teachers, are always on the look of new ideas and experiences that can enhance our teaching practice. Being a teacher means long working hours, increasing demands and it is always good to access resources that can be used right away in your classroom. I remember a workshop with Pedro Navarro and some of the teachers taking part in it just exclaimed: "this is great, I am going to use this idea this week in my Spanish class". This situation, unfortunately, does not happen to us so often.
It is also essential a solid knowledge of the "theory" and keep updated with the new research and the new technological advances. Yes, and still we need to complete our report cards, help students every day, read lots of assignments and enjoy evenings in the schools to offer tours to the new students and their families. And we have to integrate language and content in a entertaining way in our bilingual programs. The challenge has monstrous dimensions.
Where can we get some information about content and language integrated teaching, read about international experiences, download papers that can enlighten our knowledge in CLIL? A very interesting place is The European Centre for Modern Languages in Granz website.

In this website there is a lot of information about language policies in Europe, the situation of endangered languages etc. What I think it is very useful for us, teachers working in bilingual programs, is all the information on CLIL, the European Language Framework of Reference and the Portfolio of Languages. There are a numerous amount of down loadable pdfs on these topics and the only requirement to access most of them is to register for free.
I highly recommend European Framework for CLIL Teacher Education by professors Wolff, Frigols, Marsh and Mehisto. In this 39 pages pdf we can get the foundations to the CLIL approach of teaching languages. Even if we don't call it like this, it is very close to the way teachers have been working on the Spanish bilingual programs in Alberta therefore the article can bring some light to the job we have been doing in the last years.

This is not the only available resource, there are videos explaining different aspect of CLIL education and presentations in the last conference celebrated in 2011, papers by  different researches and an overview of the ongoing projects on CLIL in Europe.


 I believe this website is a useful tool, even if it doesn't provide resources to be used right away and even when teachers don't have much time to spend on researching new teaching methods.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Géneros literarios

Me gustaría hablar hoy sobre la competencia lingüística general de los estudiantes de secundaria en la actualidad de cualquier tipo de programas. Sin querer generalizar, parece clara la dificultad de un número significativo de estudiantes en secundaria para expresar por escrito lo que piensan, opinan o sienten tanto sea durante un examen o durante cualquier otra actividad en el aula.

Como no puede ser de otra manera, mejorrar la competencia escrita es una tarea que requiere esfuerzo, tiempo y constancia. Es esencial también familiarizar a los estudiantes con los distintos géneros literarios y sus características para, de esta manera,  favorecer la lectura de obras literarias y también para que sean conscientes de qué se espera de ellos ante determinadas tareas. Me ha parecido mu clarificadora esta presentación para explicar de manera muy sencilla distintos géneros literarios en una clase de ESL. Creo que en la clase de español puede ser igualmente útil y podría ser una herramienta para comenzar a construir de manera eficiente la competencia escrita de los estudiantes.

Para ver la presentación entera haz click aquí

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What is the difference between "Doing projects" and "Project based Learning"?

I have always been a great fan of team work. The more we, teachers, work together, the more ideas we share, the better results in education. Basically this is what this blog is about. For this reason I follow different education blogs where I read about very interesting ideas or experiences. For all these educators, my recognition and my respect.
A blog that I have already talked about is "Free technology for teachers" by David Byrne. I'd like to point out one of the entries that refers to another blog I didn't know about, "friEdTechnology" by Amy Mayer. I haven't had the time to go through all its parts but the article David Byrne mentions in his blog is very interesting: the difference between "doing projects" and "project based learning". The author provides a chart explaining the differences to both approaches, which very often are considered the same. As David Byrne continues: "Amy published the chart using Google Drive and you can get a copy to save in your Google Drive account if you visit Amy's blog." From now on, I will definitely keep an eye on this blog.