Sunday, October 27, 2013

Spanish Civil War 1

On July 18th, 1936, a part of the Spanish army attempted a coup d'etat to take power from the democratic republican government. The insurgents led by General Francisco Franco succeeded in taking over only in about half of the territory, the other half remained loyal to the legitimate government. This situation led to a civil war that lasted for almost 3 years and caused a fracture in Spanish society which is still present today.

The Spanish Civil War has been one of the most studied topics in Spanish history. There has been an incredible amount of research on the causes, development and consequences of the Spanish Civil War. However, there is still many unknown facts related to the victims of political violence, especially after the war ended. Moreover, the civil war has become a rich backdrop for literary, film and other artistic works.

My plan for this post is to offer some interesting links on the main causes of the war, its development and consequences. I will try to find the most objective references about a historical period that even today raises deep passions in Spain. I'd like to focus on resources and works of art that deal with the following topics:
  • How the Spanish Civil War and the political repression in the years after affected the lives of anonymous citizens.
  • How the Spanish Civil War affected international relations with a special interest in the International Brigades.
  • Works of art that have been inspired by the Spanish Civil War films and novels.
  • The work of photojournalists in the Spanish Civil war: Robert Capa, David Seymour, Gerda Taro and Agustí Centelles among others.
  • The propagandist posters during the war.
There are many websites with information about the Spanish Civil War. Some of them are produced by associations or political parties that support one of the contenders. Other websites have been produced by universities or high schools. These are my suggestions:
  • Los Caminos de la memoria: this is a website created by six European institutions from 6 different countries. The website links the great worlds in Europe with the Spanish Civil War. The site is also available in 6 languages
  • Website from the high school Maria Moliner in Tudela de Duero, Valladolid, Spain. This is a very thorough website that offers students a complete vision of the Spanish Civil War. It is divided in 5 sections: causes of the war, contenders, development, international  involvement and consequences. It is highly recommended for research projects.
  • Another interesting website with a lot of data and information is kept by the high school, Sabuco, in Albacete, Spain. The Social Studies department offers this website to their students as part of their class resources for the subject.  The links to the songs that both sides sang at the time as well as all the information about casualties and the fate of the refugees will likely be very interesting to the students.
  • Documentaries about the Civil War and its historical roots, published by Didactalia. Didactalia is an educational community which offers a repository of resources for K-12 education mostly in Spanish. It also offers links to many other repositories.
  • Guerra Civil Espanola gives us an almost unlimited list of links related to the Spanish Civil War, the participants, the International Brigades, etc.
  • Two examples of webquests which can help us to create our own activities. Webquest created by Ignacio Martinez Jimenez. A webquest created in a school in Minnesota by Liz Perona.
  • A good source of information in English is the website provided by Spartacus Educational.
  • Obviously, several documentaries are available online. The documentary produced by Granada television goes deep to explain what historical facts triggered the war, its development and its consequences. Numerous people who took part in the war offer their visions and opinions of the war. The historical advisors are Javier Tusell, Hugh Thomas and Ronald Fraser, which guarantees historical accuracy and impartiality. The length of the documentary, 6 chapters of an hour each, is not very manageable in a class but it can be a good tool for research. All chapters are available online in English and Spanish.

These are suggestions of resources where to find information in Spanish about the Civil war. In my next post, I'll talk about how the Spanish Civil War influenced international relations and the views on the International Brigades.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

El Arenque Rojo, a great tool for reading and writing in the Spanish Class

I had the pleasure of meeting Gonzalo Moure in 2009 when he was invited  to work with the Spanish bilingual schools in Calgary and Edmonton. Prior to his visit, students read and worked with some of his books to prepare for their exchange with Gonzalo. I was lucky to be present for most of his visits to schools and I have to say that he has the gift to spark students' curiosity and knows how  to communicate with them. I have worked in education for many years and I know how difficult it sometimes is to engage students in discussions and make them aware of realities far from their lives and Gonzalo is a master of this difficult art.

In one of  the classes there was an animated discussion about writing stories. Gonzalo told the students that he could write a story which contains love, passion, death and mystery with only 11 words: "la gacela pensó que el tigre era hermoso, un segundo antes". He was playing with the imagination of the reader who is going to build up a story suggested by only 11 words. To our astonishment, a young student said that she had created a short story which suggests so much with only 8 words: "Reina quería matar a Rico, pero le amaba". Now, when we work with "microrrelatos", flash fiction, I always give students these examples to prove how literature has the power of suggesting and making our imagination work.
Gonzalo has published over 30 books and has won numerous literary awards. Several of his books have also been recommended by the prestigious International Youth Library, The White Ravens. His books are written for children, teenagers and young adults who are and in many cases the main characters in his stories. I always say that it is not easy to write for children and teenagers because one has to write in an informative manner but in a way that the children would not feel like they are being patronized. Gonzalo is a master at achieving this.

I also find his books attractive since they deal with social or environmental issues. His love for nature and particularly horses is one of recurrent topics. He also has a passion to talk about his experiences with working with the refugees from the former Spanish colony in the Western Sahara, one of the harshest places in the world. He has committed himself to help the children in this community offering them access to books and reading with the project of the Bibliobus, a wandering library who takes books on an old bus to the refugee camps scattered in the desert.

There are many books that deserve to be blogged about and I will do it sooner than later. I just want to introduce El arenque rojo, published in 2012. The book has an attractive, original format and can be a beautiful tool to use in our classes.  The first striking thing is the fact that there is no text in the book. We follow the red herring in a park at different moments in a busy evening in Spain while we leaf through the pages. We follow El arenque rojo which is perhaps leading us to wrong conclusion  Around the herring, hundreds of stories are shown to us through the beautiful drawings by Alicia Varela, the illustrator. There are children playing, parents with kids, grand parents reading or passing through after shopping... even the author is watching everything while he rests on a bench. And there are as many stories as our imagination can tell. On the last page of the book, there is a surprise, an attached envelope with various of the stories happening in the park according to the author. But he invites us to write the rest or reinvent those already given.

I think the book can be a great resource to invite students to write or reinterpret stories. It will make it easy for students to realize about the power of imagination and how stories can be told in almost uncountable ways. A great tool to encourage students to enjoy reading and telling stories.

Gonzalo speaks about how the book was conceived and its goals in this post on his blog.

SM publisher introduces the book on its website where we can read some of the stories in the envelope and we are encouraged to publish our story in it.

I highly recommend El arenque rojo to work with our students. I also encourage schools to try to invite Gonzalo Moure to visit them. He is a master engaging students in all kinds of activities and I am sure during his visit students will enjoy an incredible experience.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Newspaper Article about Bilingual Programs in Spain

On September 30th, 2013 the article "Bilingües a la Carrera, ("Bilingual schools boom") was published in the Spanish newspaper El País. In the article we learn about the plans of two Spanish Autonomous Communities, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha to offer bilingual programs in all the K-12 schools in both provinces. Most schools will likely select English as their second language of instruction in various subject areas. According to the article, 70% of the schools in Castilla La Mancha don't offer bilingual programs yet. In the case of Murcia 30% of secondary schools and 70% of elementary schools still need to start offering the program. The task ahead is very ambitious considering they are to complete this in just 5 years.

I find it very positive that the educational authorities try to offer the same educational opportunities to all students no matter where they live. It also seems that even though students have studied a second language from K-12, many are failing to demonstrate sufficient fluency in these target languages - something needs to be done. Parents expect their children at least to finish high school with a high command of more than one language. In addition, today's society demands citizens to have deep multicultural understanding. Needless to say that it is the educational authorities' duty to meet these demands and promote good educational programs for students.
Having said that, reading the article doesn't give you a very clear plan ahead for the expansion of the bilingual programs. University professors, experts and teachers unions in the article warn about the negative effects of implementing bilingual programs too quickly while sacrificing quality and without sufficient resources. I would like to point out four elements that appear in the article that need to be clarified to offer quality bilingual programs in most settings.
  • Resources. Spain has been suffering a severe economic crisis in the last 6 years of which we have not seen the end.. According to the article, Murcia has reduced the number of teachers in 7% and Castilla-La Mancha 15% in the last 2 years. To develop an ambitious bilingual program like this with overworked teachers in large classes is probably not ideal. On the other hand, the article is not specific about funding and plans for program sustainability. The provisions made do not seem very realistic. This is a long distance race that will require a permanent influx of money for teacher training. 
  • Linguistic capacity. The different provinces in Spain should reach an agreement about the level of proficiency that teachers who are working in bilingual programs should have. On the other hand, teachers will need to continuously work to improve their command in the target language.
  • According to the article, there is not a consistent bilingual program model in Spain and the differences among programs in the 17 Spanish provinces can be enormous. Bilingual programs should have a consistent framework all through the country. Students should have similar amount of time exposure for the subjects taught in the target language. The expectations for the students of reaching a level of achievement at the end of the program should also be similar. All students should be assessed using a same set of benchmarks created by the government or from a unified source.
  • Change in pedagogical principles. This is a key element that it is not considered very often in Spain. Pilar Garcés, a professor at the University of Valladolid, mentions it in the article: "we cannot teach a subject area in the target language the same way we used to in Spanish". Lecture style classes will not give students the skills they need for a globalized world. Unless meaningful changes are made in the bilingual programs, our students will fail. Students have to use the language in context, learn to do research and collaborate with peers using the target language.
I would also suggest a discussion about the expansion of bilingual programs in Spain. A bilingual program needs to emphasize the development of students' cultural awareness. Bilingual programs can be the trigger to encourage students to participate in international programs, work with other schools and take advantage the ICT in a globalized world. Students are more likely to continue in the bilingual programs, if they are able to make meaningful connections between the language they are learning and the culture from which it was derived.

It is encouraging that educational authorities in Spain are trying to expand bilingual programs so every student has the chance of enrolling in a bilingual program. Unfortunately, without a long time plan we won't offer quality programs and students won't acquire the command in the target language, nor the cultural awareness necessary in our globalized world. To rush the implementation of these programs can be counterproductive in the long run.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Three short Documentaries for the Spanish Class

I have already written that the short documentaries that appear in the cinema festival Notodofilmfest can be used in our classes for linguistic and thematic reasons. I'd like to introduce 3 short documentaries that have impressed me because of the topics they deal with. As in previous posts, I always try to look for resources that can be useful linguistically but also that introduce current issues which engage students in research projects or discussions.

Khessal a short film by Spanish director Jorge Dorado shows a terrible reality affecting young women in some African countries. In the short film we learn about a chemical product, khessal, which is used by many African women to whiten their skin. To have a paler skin means that they can have a better life personally and professionally. If this was not enough, most of the khessal makers use chemicals which are devastating for these young women's health. This is the reality the short film introduces and criticises.

Llamame Parker is a very surprising documentary in many ways. In fact, the first time I watched it in the Internet I thought it was a fiction film. However, it entered the documentary competition in Notodofilmfest. The topic is also quite unusual: a man in Madrid disguises as Spiderman to entertain the tourists in Plaza Mayor and earn a living this way. He is neither proud nor ashamed of doing this, he sees this activity as his job, his everyday duty. We can download the script of the short film in this blog if we want to use it in our class.

The last film is just 30 seconds long, I have spoken about this section before. A man in the Aztec traditional clothes begs for money from the motorists in Mexico city. It makes us think how difficult it is for minorities to fit in this increasingly uniformed world we live in and be able to keep their cultures alive.

These are three suggestions that can open discussions in our classes. They are linguistically interesting and deal with current topics that affect us even if we think that they are remote from our lives. My suggestion is to continue surfing Notodofilmfest to find more exciting short films.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

30 second short films for the Spanish class

In this post, I'll continue my previous conversation about 30 second long short films that appear in the Notodofilmfest. We relate these films with "microrrelatos", flash fiction, of which we have so many good examples in Spanish. I am going to introduce some of these "flash short films" that deal with the impact of technology on our daily lives.

Flatmates 3.0 by Francesco Marisei. This first short has won numerous awards for its simple but powerful message. Only one shot is enough to tell us so much about the communication society we live in. It is full of irony and sadness and it can lead to enriching discussion in our classes.

In many ways related to the previous short film, I find Las Batallitas del Abuelo, by Néstor Fernandez, very interesting. A grandfather is telling his grandson about his "batallitas" in his younger years, when he was brave, idealistic and dreamt of changing the world. Only that when he was young, the Internet took over society and changed it forever. This short is very powerful but we need to consider the language used before showing in a class.


And technology has changed the way we get involved romantically with other people, as Chicaconocechico by Pablo Vara  depicts in 30 seconds full of irony.

These 3 short films can be used to discuss about how technology is affecting and changing our lives in the era of global communication. It doesn't mean that we feel less lonely though.