Saturday, March 23, 2013

Graphic Novels for the Spanish Class

A good way to engage students to read is to use graphic novels in our classes. Our students live in an audiovisual society and in many cases graphic novels and comics are the first step for them to enjoy reading. And reading has to be also an enjoyable experience. According to the American Library Association graphic novels are: "independently conceived full length narratives, bound volumes of longer sequential art series and collections of works as brief as comic strips". It is not easy to draw the line between comics and graphic novels although graphic novels usually offer more complex plots than comics.

Graphic novels have seen an increase in popularity in the Spanish speaking countries in the last 30 years. Their consideration has also changed and they are seen now like great artistic works worth being studied and used in classrooms. I am sure that there are plenty of ways of getting familiar with graphic novels in Spanish but I usually have a look at the publisher Astiberri. They are specialized in graphic novels and comics and their catalogue offers a huge choice of graphic novels from Spanish speaking countries as well as translations into Spanish of originals in other languages.

Another possibility is to have a look at the winners of  the Premio Nacional de Comic in Spain. They started to be awarded in 2007 but the 8 winners until 2012 are very good choices that we can use.
The third possibility is to have a look at the different publishers catalogues and choose. I particularly like the catalogue of classics that SM publishers offers. Titles such as El Lazarillo de Tormes or Don Juan Tenorio are published in the graphic novel format. They can be a very good way of introducing the Spanish Classics to our classes.

For  high school bilingual or IB program I would like to suggest some graphic novels to work with our students. I tried to find graphic novels that are visually attractive and offer complex plots that will allow for lots of discussions and open doors to various projects.

Arrugas by Paco Roca received the Premio Nacional de Cómic Award in 2008 and many other awards in Spain and other countries. Arrugas deals with a very delicate topic: Alzheimer disease and how the elderly are, in many cases, put away in homes in our modern society so they don´t bother the rest of us. Along with these main ideas some others come out like friendship, solidarity, the need of never lose hope and faith and also the controversial euthanasia. The author did thorough research for the novel, got information from real cases and visited several homes to learn more about the topic. Arrugas has been translated to several languages and has been a success in many countries.

In 2011 the film Arrugas was released with screenplay by the own writer. The film also received general acclaim and has become a very popular resource for Spanish classes. For information on the film click below.

I found this proposal by the teacher Maria Pilar Carilla in her blog. She offers activities to work with students based both on the comic and the film. They can be very useful for advanced classes.

Graphic novels in general and Arrugas in particular can be great tool for students to enjoy reading in Spanish. Please come back to the blog for future posts about graphic novels.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Unexpected endings

A technique I like to use in my classes to encourage students to use the oral language is to show short stories, commercials or even news that have an unexpected ending. I try to find segments that elicit students' predictions of the outcomes. This way students can present their hypotheses and can lead to interesting discussions. Some other times, I encourage them to invent an ending for the story that we are working with. Naturally, there is a need to scaffold the language prior to start with the oral language activities.

The first example that I would like to comment on is a commercial from Argentina. I am a great lover of commercials and particularly Argentinian commercials. Before watching this short clip, we can ask our students to reflect on some commercials and try to find some features of the language of publicity, the settings, the characters. Do we expect a crying person trying to convince us about buying something? We can watch the man crying and ask what they are trying to sell us. After some discussion we can continue with the part about the soccer and discuss about its role in many Spanish speaking countries. Finally, we can talk about the unexpected ending and find out if anyone thought about the product they are advertising.

Capicúa is a short film by Roger Villarroya that deals with a very serious topic, how fragile human beings are, especially at the beginning and at the end of our lives. Capicúa is a number that can be read the same left to right as right to left. For example, 2112 is a capicúa number and when children, I remember that we were on the search of these numbers because they were like lucky charms. And our life is capicúa, we are as helpless and we need as much care at the beginning as at the end of our lives. We can start asking our students what babies' needs are and then they can compare the list with what the old people also need. This is the trick the director uses for an unexpected ending and to make us reflect about our own fragility.

The third example shocked me so much that I still don't know what the main purpose of the director is. The first time I watched it, I thought it was real people talking about their real experiences. I thought that the main purpose of the short film was to show how vulnerable we are and how our life and our dreams hang from a thin string. But after watching the totally unexpected ending, some new theories came to my mind and I think this is what we can use to trigger discussions and opinions.

It is always challenging to engage students to use the language orally. Using short clips with open or unexpected ending can be a good tool to convince students to speak using the target language. We will need to scaffold the language, give them some warm-up tasks before watching the clips...the results can be very outstanding!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

CLIL Resources and Experiences

It is not the first time that the approach to bilingual programs in Andalusia, Spain, is mentioned in this blog. They are taking very inspiring steps to ensure the quality and consistency in the bilingual programs. Related to the idea of implementing bilingual programs, I also previously mentioned three key ideas that were proposed by Professor Frigols for bilingual programs following a CLIL approach: continuous professional development, integrate the curriculum and collaboration among teachers.

I think these are the three key elements to make our Spanish bilingual programs thrive and we can be inspired by some of the activities developed in Andalusia. Most of the information in this post has been taken from the blog by Pilar Torres, which I have previously introduced, and from the website of the Teachers Centre in Cordoba, Spain, the place where Pilar Torres is an advisor. I am going to talk about three projects that I find particularly intriguing. But my advice is one should have a deeper look at the attached blog and the website because there are a lot of interesting experiences, proposals and ideas available.

The first project is related to teachers collaboration and teachers' continuous professional development. In Andalusia, the teachers who start in a bilingual program have to undergo a training program. Not only this, teachers and schools are encouraged to be in contact and participate in new professional opportunities. This way teachers always have the opportunity of continuously learning from each other and from the forming of different experiences in the schools. All of these materials are available online in the previously mentioned blog by Pilar Torres. An example of these formative activities is the presentation by the teacher Antonio R. Roldán introducing bilingual programs and how they are implemented in his school, IES Alhaken II.

The second presentation I would like to comment on is by Beatriz Martínez Serrano, team leader of the Bilingual Program at the school IES Miguel Crespo. She introduces the work they are doing in her school which I find particularly interesting and links directly with the 3 key elements in a bilingual program:
  • Collaboration among the teachers working in the bilingual program. They work in joint projects and use an integrated curriculum.
  • Inclusion of a third language, French, in the projects.
  • Use of the E-PEL (the electronic version of the European Portfolio of Languages) as a teaching and self-assessment tool.
  • All teachers are language teachers therefore they have to work on the 5 skills of language. In the presentation there are examples of best practices  in all subject areas.
  • Related to the previous point, the subjects in the bilingual program have a reading plan for students
A very inspiring project that gives plenty of ideas for our schools.

I have spoken about collaboration among teachers, why not with teachers in a different country and a different curriculum? First I'd like to mention that some of the presentations in the Teachers Centre website are about how the program of International Language Assistants can be a great resource for students and teachers in the schools. There is another presentation about how Europeans Programs such as Twinning or Comenius can also enhance the bilingual programs.
The last project is a Comenius Regio Partnership between Huelva province in Andalusia Spain, and Bournemouth UK. The partnership consisted of elaborating lesson plans for Science. Nine bilingual schools in Huelva, Spain, and eight schools in Bournemouth, UK, took part in the project. The results are available online. The lesson plans also integrate content and language teaching and are a great example of teachers partnership:

It is always inspiring to see how bilingual programs are implemented in other countries and in other educational systems. I think the approach that they are taking in Andalusia has very valuable elements and can be helpful for us: continuous professional development, integrate the curriculum and collaboration among teachers. Moreover, their experience adding a third language, French, into the program could be our next challenge here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Jordi Sierra i Fabra Literary Awards for writers under 18

After 20 years working in education, I have heard (too) many people saying that young students, especially in high schools, don't like reading, let alone writing.
They also lament that students are incapable of understanding complex texts and when it comes to writing an essay, it is impossible for them to get their ideas organized. This is, unfortunately, quite a common opinion/complaint in Spain and here, in Canada.

There might be some truth in it. But, if there is, we should try to inverse this tendency and applaud all the activities that encourage students to get better. That's why I would like to introduce an initiative for young writers in Spanish sponsored by Jordi Sierra i Fabra and SM publishers. Jordi Sierra i Fabra is a very well known Spanish writer for children and young adults. I have already spoken about one of his books, El Asesinato del Profesor de Matemáticas, and I hope that I will talk about some of his other books sooner than later. He has also created the Jordi Sierra i Fabra Foundation which, among other activities, organizes a literary award for young writers under 18 years old.

SM is a publisher specialized in K12 education and literature for children and young adults. Every year, they hold an award for children´s literature, Premio Barco de Vapor, and a second award for young adult´s literature, Premio Gran Angular. The same awards are also held in various Latinamerican countries. These awards are a great source of information for teachers to find high quality writing resources for schools.

In 2004, Jordi Sierra created his foundation with the goal of helping young writers at the beginning of their writing career, as well as promote reading as a essential tool for education. The first step the foundation took was to create the literary award for young writers under 18. The award has been very successful and the works have been steadily grown until 111 in the 2013 edition. Moreover,  young authors from several Spanish speaking countries enter the competition every year.
The winners are, naturally, high school students and they share the same challenges, dreams and worries as our students in the Spanish bilingual programs. Some have also their website or blog available online for us to visit.

I have just read the winners of 2006, El poder de una decisión by Arturo Padilla de Juan, and of 2007, Te comerás el mundo by Jara Santamaría Cebollero.  I must admit that I liked both books very much. I think that they, and for sure the other winning texts, can be a great resource in a bilingual or IB program for several reasons:
  • They are short novels (maximum 150 pages). Spanish is not our students' first language so we need to be careful with amount of time that they need to invest on their reading.
  • The themes that appear interest and affect high school students: bullying and gangs in El poder de una decisión, anorexia and self-esteem in Te comerás el mundo.
  • The language can be, at times, difficult but it can be an opportunity to first be in contact with teenage slang.
  • These novels can be inspirational for our students who want to give writing a try.

It goes without saying that the best reward for these young writers is to know that their writing will be published by SM in all the countries where the company has a presence. It is also worth mentioning that part of the benefits from the book sales will directly go to the foundation, therefore the continuity of the awards is guaranteed.

I honestly doubt that we can generalize about high school students and their reading and writing skills. If we did some research we would be very surprised ny the results. This award is one small token that prove that many teenage students consider reading and writing interesting, fulfilling and important to their lives. This award also proves that there is always something that we can do to help students to enjoy literature.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Encuentro, Journal of Research and Innovation in the Language Classroom

I am a great follower of the blog by Pilar Torres and I have talked about it before. Pilar Torres is language advisor in the Teachers Centre in Cordoba, Spain. Her blog is a great source of information about research on languages, educational program, CLIL, resources and so on.
In her blog I learnt about Encuentro, an online journal sponsored by the Faculty of Arts, Education and Tourism of the University of Alcalá in Spain. It is part of the Open Access Journal Movement so all the information is available online for free. Numerous linguists, professors, teacher trainers from different universities are involved in developing the journal, therefore the high standards of the published articles is guaranteed.

The goals of the journal are clearly stated on the website: Encuentro’s focus is on training in didactics and methodology, and on the development of classroom research and habits of reflection on the part of language teachers. Accordingly, the journal publishes articles in the following fields: applied linguistics, language teaching and learning, values and interculturality, literature teaching, and related matters; it also publishes accounts of classroom research and innovation.

Until 2004 the journal was published in printed format. From that date on the journal is published online and all the previous numbers are also available.

The last number, 2012, offers a monograph on CLIL. Bilingual programs using a CLIL approach have been growing steadily in the last 10 years and there is great interest in developing strategies to improve their implementation.

All the articles are interesting but I would like to point out three of them that I believe can clarify aspects to face the challenges that we encounter in our work.
  • Interview with professor María Jesús Frigols. Professor Frigols  works at the VIU (Valencia International University). She currently teaches graduate and post graduate education students.  She has also been involved in developing most of the linguistic policies and strategies implemented by the European Union. In the interview she analyzes some of the issues teachers need to challenge when implementing CLIL in various educational systems in Europe. Her advice to implement CLIL successfully is simple: continuous professional development, integrate the curriculum and collaboration among teachers. Advice that has been always present in this blog. 
  • The second article is by Peeter Mehisto: Criteria for Producing CLIL Learning Material. In a previous post, I talked about an article, with the same title, by Peeter Mehisto in which he gave clear strategies and steps to produce good CLIL resources. In this article he expands the ideas presented and he gives us specific examples of CLIL resources. He also provides information about the rationale he has followed to choose the criteria to elaborate the CLIL materials.
  • The third article is from the 2011 journal: Use of Authentic Materials in the ESP Classroom by Gabriela Torregrosa & Sonsoles Sanchez-Reyes, University of Salamanca. I have introduced various authentic materials for the Spanish class in the blog because I  do believe they can be very useful in the bilingual classes . In the previous article by Peeter Mehisto, he speaks about the importance of  "incorporating authentic language and authentic language use" in our CLIL materials. This last article gives us "a review of the different opinions of experienced authors and their arguments for and against the use of realia and authentic materials in the ESP classroom". Although the article centres resources for the English for Specific Purposes Class, the content can be adapted for our needs in a Spanish bilingual program.
Encuentro can be an excellent source of information on research on languages, CLIL and language acquisition. The articles have an outstanding quality and deal, in many cases, with issues that we need to face every day in our classes. It is a good idea to save the link in our favourites.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Videos to better understand CLIL

Any time I talk about CLIL it comes to my mind my experience as a second language learner, and particularly as an English learner. English was not the first language I took at school, French was. I started English in high school but I have to admit that I always wanted to learn. Probably some famous rock bands have to be blamed for this interest. It was a long time ago and  the communicative approach to teaching had not reached my school. I learnt a lot but I always had the feeling that something was missing.
At the time I had not heard of bilingual education nor CLIL but I remember very well  one of the first things I did when I went to England for the first time as a student. I went to every second hand book store I found and I bought textbooks in almost every single subject area in the curriculum. Why? Because I felt that I lacked the language of science or history, let alone maths. So I bought textbooks on the sciences, socials studies and even home economics. This was the age before the Internet so reading lots of books in the target language was one of the cheapest and most available way to learn. Other than that, I would have had to enrol in a school in an English speaking country.
My experience has made me think about the importance of acquiring second languages in bilingual programs using a CLIL approach. And this is why I try to introduce resources that can help build a consistent bilingual program in our school. The short clips in today's post are from three different professors who have been researching on CLIL in the last years and advising the European Union on language policies. The clips introduce very interesting topics and issues that we encounter in our daily practice.

In the first clip, David Marsh explains how he ended up in CLIL after different experiences working with languages in Asia and Europe. There are some hot themes in the clip that I think deserve especial attention:
  • The need of creating a significant part of our resources for a CLIL approach. Transferring the resources from the country where the language is spoken is not going to work. We have experienced this so often!
  • That is why it is so important the support from the education authorities and the concept of work group among the teachers, language arts and subject teachers.
  • The need of combine language, content and "fun". Languages can open up many oppurtunities for students to participate and enjoy cultural activities. 
  • CLIL will not end with language teaching, it will enhance it.
  • CLIL is much more than teaching through a subject.

The other two short clips are part of a group of videos produced by a Think Tank on CLIL that took place in 2009. Professor Do Coyle speaks about two very important ideas when implementing CLIL:
  • CLIL helps to explore how language can be used to support the learning of a subject. Language is a learning tool. Using a second language to teach a subject will enhance this pedagogical value because teachers will need to be more conscious about how they use and model the language so that students interact and move forward in their subject.
  • The concept of Pluri-Literacy: how the use of different languages affect literacy.

Sue Hughes talks about obvious issues in education, that we tend to forget:
  •  Every teacher is a language teacher
  • Students come with different knowledge of language if we have to use to our benefit, no matter if it is a language from another country or the specific language of, let's say, science or history.

We all know how important it is that we have access to CLIL research to better understand how to implement a bilingual program. We don't need to forget though, that what makes a consistent bilingual program is our daily practice in school. This and how we can work as a team in the school and how we can learn from other schools' experiences and share our knowledge with them.