Friday, May 24, 2013

A graphic novel for the Spanish Class: Vivir la vida: los sueños de Ciudad Juarez

An event that I have tried to follow in the last years is the situation in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Every now and then, perhaps too often, we read about the increasing number of women who have been murdered in this city. There are around 500 unsolved, serial murders from 1993 to 2010, mostly of young working-class women. There are another 600 cases of missing young women whose bodies have not been found (the numbers are provided by the novel writers).

Ciudad Juárez became one of the manufacturer centres of North America and it has attracted a large population of young people, mostly women to work in the factories. They are referred to as "las maquiladoras" who are there in search of a brighter future. The city became one of the crime capitals of North America and the situation is aggravated by its close proximity to the U.S. border. The fourth bridges in the city that lead to El Paso in Texas are some of the busiest ports of entry in USA. Drug and arm dealers set their headquarters in the city. The city also attracted thousands of illegal immigrants who are trying to escape poverty back home. The scale of the issue is so large that it seems very little attention has been paid to the fate of so many young women.

When I accidentally came upon the graphic novel Vivir la vida: los sueños de Ciudad Juarez I did not have enough time to read it and I did not think much of it until now. The story is simple: the French graphic novel writer, Edmond Badoin, proposes to his friend, artist Jean-MarcTroubet, to travel to Ciudad Juarez. Their idea is to understand the situation in the city and as they state in their graphic novel: "encontrar lugares en los que podamos dibujar. Hacer un retrato a los que quieran y preguntarles: ¿Cuál es su sueño? Contar la vida en esa ciudad en la que se muere." They want to paint the people in Ciudad Juárez, ask them what their dreams are and portray the life in a city famous for death.

The authors were inspired by their previous personal experience in Africa where they learnt first hand about the situation of the refugees and the immigrants who tried to illegally  cross  the strait of Gibraltar. Both writers describe their experiences at the beginning of the novel. The writers also acknowledge the impact of the novel 2666 by Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño on this project. 2666 was published posthumously in 2004.  It depicts the murders  and the situation in Santa Teresa, a transit of Ciudad Juárez, as a metaphor of life and alienation in our 21st century 

Both French authors spent a month in 2010 in Ciudad Juárez. During that time they exchanged drawings with citizens who, in return, told them what their dreams were. As the authors mention, the interviewees' dreams are not too different from the rest of the world: "peace for the world", "a better life for my children" or "be able to help my community" are wishes that most of us would subscribe. During the month in Ciudad Juárez, the writers met with numerous people who were doing their best to improve the city life and give citizens hope: artists, teachers and anonymous people working hard to improve the working conditions at las maquiladoras. We can feel this hope in the drawings and texts in the novel.

Naturally, the references to the northern neighbour are constant. We experience the nightmare of trying to cross one of the 4 bridges to get to El Paso. We also learn that some American companies built their factories in the border because the environment legislation was not implemented or are non-existent. We feel that poverty, lack of a future push and will push thousands of people to go across the Rio Grande bridges to pursue their dreams.

Topics appear in the graphic novel, which we can use to work with our students are:
  • Human rights
  • Globalisation and International relations
  • How ideologies (liberalism, mercantilism) affect people's lives 
  • The role of culture an education
  • Social classes
  • Our dreams, our hopes 
I would only recommend this novel for grade 12 due to the harshness of the topics in it. However, despite the situation, we still find many positive things in the story, especially the people from Ciudad Juárez and their dreams.

There is a number of articles and videos about the novel available on the Internet. I think this interview in which Badoin answers 10 questions asked by a journalist, gives us the author's insight, of how he sees Ciudad Juarez,  a city that despite all the violence, has much room for the dreams of its citizens. It is a city to which the authors promise to go back.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What's up with Wattpad? (by Annie Fung)

This post is adapted from a Masters in Education research project by Annie Fung. Although the research was primarily intended for ESL classes, the article can be very useful for teachers working on Spanish programs.
What´s up with Wattpad?
Explore the potential of free mobile reading and writing on your laptop or smartphone!

Whenever I tell people I am doing a graduate degree in ESL, they nod and say, “That’s really interesting!” Now, they usually say this with a high pitched tone which tells me they are probably really thinking, “wow, you are kind of insane! What’s with packing your brain full of teaching theories?!” I must confess that sometimes, especially when cross-referencing multiple educational theories, I do wonder about the same thing. But theory does help with actual application in the classroom and the latest course that I took on different ESL teaching methods proved to be quite fascinating and useful. We were to explore and critique the use of technology and multimodality in the ESL classroom and that’s when I came upon the wonderful Wattpad. The following is an adapted snippet of my project which would hopefully entice you to explore Wattpad for yourself or even your students.
What is Wattpad?
Wattpad is a Canadian website that allows users to read and share original stories. Two core beliefs of the founders are that “everyone has a story to tell” and that the website should bring writers and their readers closer together.
In a nutshell, Wattpad is an interactive website with an unlimited amount of stories in multiple genres. Users can access and update their stories anytime, anywhere.

Features of Wattpad that may be useful for ESL students and teachers:
a) Accessibility for ESL students – Students can gain free access to millions of stories on the website via Internet access at home or at school and on their mobile phones. The average reading level of most stories (that I have sampled and put through readability tools) range from grades 4 to 10.
b) Multiple choices – Readers have stories of over sixteen genres at their fingertips.
c) Interactive – Like the Kobo Reader, readers can leave comments and questions for the authors and discuss the work with other readers at the touch of a button.
d) Room for creativity – Writers and their fans can create attractive and meaningful book covers to be displayed with the published works. To make reading even more exciting for readers, users can produce “book trailers” on YouTube.
e) High user input- You might be wondering if students can potentially be exposed to “bad writing” on this website. Yes! Yes, they will! But this is why our Albertan curriculum dictates that we educate students and challenge them to think critically and to evaluate the authenticity of information from the Internet and other sources. With guidance from language teachers, students can use the stories on the website to critique ideas, sentence structure, and so on.
Speaking of critique, all users are encouraged to leave feedback and to vote for stories, book covers, and book trailers that they love. Every year the website hosts the Watty Awards and participants take the quality of writing and art production very seriously. This is certain no popularity contest because award winners and runners-up usually all obtain over a million comments and votes from members of the Wattpad community!
e) Nurturing environment for budding writers- Unlike many story websites, users leave very constructive and positive feedback which not only acknowledges the writers’ efforts but also encourage them to improve on their work. ESL students would definitely benefit from such comments if they want to publish their works.
f) Multilingual stories – Although stories in English dominant the Wattpad landscape there is a great smatter of stories in Spanish and other languages. Since we now know that it is very useful for our students to continue to develop their first languages, perhaps this could be a platform for them to write and read in their mother tongue.
Before you dive into Wattpad…the “safety” and “legal” stuff…
a) “Readers discretion is advised” - As you can see, the website has many genres and it is probably a matter of time before students come to face with potential sexual or violent content. There may also be “cultural” content that may offend certain readers. Therefore, it is important that teachers and parents discuss the parameters of use beforehand. Many students likely are unaware of potentially “unsafe” or “offensive” content until they digitally open the book but teachers can lead discussions on common vocabulary that one can screen for in plot summaries and so forth so students are better prepared.
b) Privacy issues – It is important for teachers, parents, and students to fully understand the ramifications of putting information onto the Internet. While Wattpad publically states that it the authors have full copyrights to their stories school districts and parents may frown upon or forbid the publication of materials on such websites. Therefore, teachers must explore these issues before allowing publication of students’ stories in the classroom. If students are publishing stories privately, they should be made aware of the risks as well.
Final words…
There are obvious pros and cons to using Wattpad in the classroom. For a website that Margaret Atwood has claimed may be saving the endangered species (aka “new generation of young readers”), this website has great potential. Indeed, Atwood has joined forces with Wattpad to encourage young writers and readers to explore their literary potential. It is estimated by Techvibes (2013) that readers are now spending a staggering three billion minutes a month in total on Wattpad. With 1.5 million new stories updated per month, we are bound to find something entertaining and educational for everyone. But of course, sifting through the stories and using what criteria would be the next steps of research!
Want more potential teaching applications for Wattpad? Click HERE for the original project. Your feedback is very welcome!
The National Post à

Thursday, May 9, 2013

4º Encuentro de Profesores de Español de Alberta: Education Blogs

At the Encuentro de Profesores de Español de Alberta I did a presentation on blogging and its pedagogical values. My plan was to demonstrate ways to use blogs with our students in the computer lab. We were to experiment with the Blogger software a bit and how one may maintain an education blog. Unfortunately, we did not have access to computers so we simply discussed examples of best practices. In addition, we talked about how to use certain elements such as tagging in blogging .

In the last years we have seen an exponential increase in the number of blogs related to education. It is great that educators have access to information and are in touch with colleagues working in the same programs and encountering the same challenges. Having said that, I find it more and more difficult to keep so much information organized on a daily basis.

What I try to do is follow only a handful of blogs that really interest me and are relevant to my blog. Keeping up with around six or seven of them regularly can be manageable. I try to select blogs from different countries and diverse educational and cultural realities. So far they have been great sources of information for me.

To keep updated in technology developments relevant in education I follow two blogs:

1.Free technology for teachers: Richard Byrne supplies an amazing amount of information daily on ICTs and how to implement them in a school. He also offers access to many of his workshops and presentations on various technological and pedagogical topics. There are many blogs on technology but this is for me the most useful for anyone working in a school.

2. En la nube TIC is a blog kept by a group of teachers in Spain who collaborate on the posts and maintain the blog. The blog also offers other educators the possibility of publishing their posts. The idea of keeping a collaborative blog with teachers working in the same programs is very attractive. The blog can be a good tool to learn about blogging and ICTs with our students in Spanish.

During the discussion with teachers, we reflected on the pedagogical value of class blogs where a teacher provides information for students and families or the collaboration between two schools is showcased. Good examples of class blogs:
- A pie de Aula: It is a blog kept by Lourdes Domenech, a Spanish language arts teacher in a high school in Spain. She provides a lot of interesting information on resources for a SLA class, samples of lesson plans and projects students are working on, materials created by her students and many more. The blog has won several awards in Spain and the teacher updates it regularly. She also provides a link to her two other blogs where we can find most of her lessons plans organized by topics. Apart from all the information I also find very attractive the layout and the inclusion of numerous technological elements.

- Hablamos de literature infantil. Although I am not a specialist in kindergarten education, I follow this blog for several reasons. First of all I like the high quality of the posts. Second, it is a blog with the participation of several teachers from two schools, one in Spain and another one Italy. The blog is a diary showcasing the conjoint activities and projects by the two schools. Third, the blog has been going on for six years and this is not the general practice in education blogs.

To find resources for the Spanish class I often visit a very interesting blog kept by Jose Ramon. He has been a Spanish teacher for 13 years and has published text books and other resources for Spanish as a second language. The motto of the blog, Reflexionando para compartir. Compartiendo para evolucionar (Reflecting for sharing. Sharing for evolving), tells us a very interesting rationale behind it. The author shares with us numerous resources to be used right away in the class, e.g. the Game of the Goose boards with prepositions, verbal tenses in Spanish etc.

Naturally, I keep on searching for new interesting and inspiring blogs. A good way of finding more examples of best practices are the organized competitions for educational blogs. There are always interesting examples.
  • Best practices: Site from the Ministry of Education of Spain that includes examples of best practices in education blogs.
  • Espiral: This is an award on edublogs that takes place in Spain every year and it is open to blogs from all Spanish speaking countries. The blogs are organized by levels and categories and their links are available for us to visit. 
  • Buenas practicas lecturas: A site dedicated to literature for K-12 education. One of the sections is dedicated to introduce blogs form schools to introduce
The last suggestion is to have a look at the lists provided by different sources of the most influential blogs in education. Most of them are in English and very few of them are related to second language acquisition or bilingual programs. There are very good examples on technology, literacy and many more.
Blogs can be a very powerful tool to work with in our classes. We can use them to work collaboratively with other teachers, introduce resources or research projects to our students,  work collaboratively with another school... the possibilities are almost endless. In the links provided we can find inspirational examples that can give us ideas to start our own blogs.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

4º Encuentro de Profesores de Español de Alberta

The 4º Encuentro de Profesores de Español de Alberta just took place on April 27th at the University of Calgary. This is possible thanks to the leadership of the Centro de Recursos del Español in Edmonton, represented by its director, Melissa Valdés, the support of Alberta Education and the organization of  Calgary Regional Consortium. Publishers, book stores, the Universities of Calgary and Alberta also contribute to make the Encuentro a success with around 120 participants. For teachers, it is a great opportunity to get to know available resources, talk to some of the resource writers, and see new tendencies in teaching in the 15 presentations available. The best part for me is to have the time and space to "talk shop" with colleagues. The conference always offers good examples of best practices, ongoing projects and inspiring activities.

I attended two very interesting presentations. One of them was about how better introduce in the classroom the fifth component of second language teaching, the cultural component. The presenter, Isabel Vázquez, insisted in the importance of cultural awareness and the need to start introducing this component in all the class levels. She also gave us different examples of "cultural products" and how to present them in the classroom.
The second presentation was about an activity organized by bilingual school Senator Patrick Burns (SPB), Calgary Board of Education. Belén Álvarez, one of the participant teachers, told us about the experience of taking 27 grade 9 students from Senator Patrick Middle school to a linguistic and cultural program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The program designed by the Instituto Cervantes included Spanish classes in the morning, and cultural excursions to heritage locations and biological relevant sites in the vicinity in the afternoon. The program also offered cultural activities such as cooking, photography or drama workshops. Needless to say all these activities and classes were conducted in Spanish.
Students gained confidence in their skills in Spanish, something that they sometimes are not fully aware of until they start using the language outside the classroom. They also gained awareness about a unique cultural legacy that combines elements from the aboriginal peoples with the culture of the European settlers, Spanish and English. They also realized that they can use Spanish as a tool to learn about different and diversified topics.

Belén Álvarez gave us detailed information about all the activities done prior to the trip, the program in New Mexico and the follow-up after the activity. I particularly liked that
  • the activity was integrated in the curriculum of the school
  • the goals of the activity matched with outcomes in the program of studies of Spanish Language Arts but also in other subject areas such as Social Studies or Art.
  • the follow-up activities with the students have given teachers a lot of insight about continuing with the activity next year.

The program in Albuquerque was a great success and is one of the multiple activities that SPB is conducting to make their Spanish bilingual program more attractive.

In the third time slot I did a presentation about blogging and its pedagogical value. All the links provided will be available in my next post. I hope that the Encuentros continue in the future, it is a great opportunity for everyone working in the Spanish programs in Alberta to review resources and discuss with colleagues and presenters about the challenges of teaching Spanish.