Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Notodo Filmnfest, short films for the Spanish class

I came across Notodo Filmfest surfing the web in the look of resources for the Spanish class. My first impression was not very optimistic, considering the main sponsor of the festival. However, after a closer look I was very much surprised and I highly recommend to spend some time surfing its website to find very interesting resources for our Spanish classes.

Some of the features I like about the festival and the philosophy behind are:

  • The short films can be in any language (most are in Spanish) and must have English or Spanish subtitles. We can encounter many cultural realities.
  • Short films cannot be longer than 3 minutes and a half. This fact makes them very flexible for a class.
  • The Jameson Triple Distillation Award is for 30 second long films, which makes their length similar to commercials and relate them to the concept of microrrelatos that I also like to use in my classes.
  • The jury members are recognized film directors or screen play writers, so the quality of the awarded films is guaranteed.
  • There is section called Latinoamerica en corto, so we have also access to a number of short films from other Spanish speaking countries, not only Spain.
  • There is section that includes three and a half minutes documentaries. They deal with current issues in a very accessible way.
Apart from the festival website, we can have access to the films in  the YouTube watching list:

There are several short films I would like to comment on but it will be on my next post.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Humor negro (Black Humour) for the Spanish class

When someone in Canada asks me about one recurrent feature in many works of art in Spanish, I always mention black humour and  surrealism. Both appear in every aspect of our daily lives too, we just need to have a look at the political and economical situation in Spain and how people are enduring it. It has been a tradition of the Spanish to use humour to help face hard or painful situations over the centuries. This vision can be found in the poems of El Libro de Buen Amor or in many of the passages in El Lazarillo, just to give you some examples. With the current economical situation, numerous writers and film makers portray today's society with an acidic sense of humour. It seems that laughing at ourselves is one of the best remedies at the moment. 

Guillermo Barbarov, an Argentinian director who has lived in Spain for several years, gives us in this short film, Como está la cosa, a hilarious but deeply sad vision of the crisis and how it is affecting basic human rights and even people's dignity. Once our smile fades away it is difficult not to feel sorry for the two characters in the short film and sorry for ourselves at the same time.

Spanish people dread going to government offices to do any kind of business. It can be a federal, provincial or local office, there is no difference. We have to deal with apathetic civil servants and in the end, we will likely need to go back because they will send us home with more forms to fill out. This is what this short film is trying to portray.

Black humour and surrealism are present in every day activities, for example, publicity. I have already spoken of the approach to football in Spain: you support a team, no matter what and  in a way that you sometimes need to seek medical advice to deal with it (as you will see in the film below). Naturally, the problem can be easily solved: buy an annual pass for your favourite team to become fully recovered and happy. Well, it is not so simple, as the doctor suggests. There is also a dark humorous reference to what is happening with public health care in Spain because the patient is number 1,924 in today's waiting list!

This surreal approach is very common in publicity. There are many examples but the way a brand of olive oil is advertised in this commercial, is one of my favourites.
Understanding humour will enhance students' appreciation of the target language and its culture. Video clips such as these will help students digest these ideas better because the humour is more "concrete". I encourage you to revisit or find similar clips for yourselves and your students.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

III International Conference on Bilingual Teaching in Educational Institutions

There has been an exponential growth of bilingual schools in Spain in the last ten years. It  is generally agreed that getting an education in two languages is highly beneficial for students not only for professional  but also for cognitive reasons. It has not been an easy task, despite the enthusiastic interest of parents, students, teachers and educational authorities. The challenge has been very important. Teachers needed training not only to improve their fluency on the target language but also on innovative pedagogics that involve to teach content along with a second language. Resources had to be developed from scratch since a direct translation of the existing resources was not the right answer to the challenge. 

Most provincial governments developed  training or support programs so schools could offer quality bilingual teaching. Schools had the opportunity of hiring language assistants to work with teachers in their classes and help develop resources in the target languages. Teachers have also been offered summer courses to continue improving their command in the target language. Working groups, sometimes at the international level, were created to allow for the sharing of resources and experiences. I have already blogged about some of these groups who have been sponsored by a European institution or developed by between schools in two countries.

The Department of Education in Madrid in partnership with the Rey Juan Carlos University hosted the International Conference on Bilingual Teaching in Educational Institutions in 2010 and 2011. The goal of these two sessions was "[to establish] a theoretical and practical framework" for bilingual programs. Experts and researchers in bilingual settings were present at the conferences but also "a large number of teachers from every educational level interested in sharing their experiences and knowledge." Fortunately for us, the keynote speakers' presentations from both conferences are available online.  We have access to the rest of the sessions only of the 2010 conference.  I was specially interested in learning about the experiences in secondary education and some of them are extremely inspiring and give us a good insight of how teachers are teaching subject areas in the target language.

The third conference will be held in Madrid on the 18th and 19th of October, 2013. This year's title is: "Bilingual Education: Consolidation and Perspectives for the XXI Century" and it "aims to go deeper into and move forward in the analysis of bilingual education". The key themes of the conference are intriguing, as the list provided on the conference website reveals.

  • CLIL and good practice
  • CLIL assessment in different subjects
  • Bilingual education: teacher training and updating
  • Activities and resources to support CLIL methodology
  • Technological tools for bilingual education in the XXI Century
  • The importance of literacy in the bilingual classroom
  • Bilingual teaching in secondary education
  • Future challenges in bilingual programs
  • Academic language in different subjects
  • Bilingual teaching in higher education
Sadly, I won't be able to attend the conference but I look forward to having a look at the presentations once they are available online.  I just hope that all the sessions will be posted online and not only the keynote speakers' sessions. All the information above and the presentations from the previous conferences are available on this website:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Resources to better understand the Middle Ages: the prose

Continuing the showcase of Middle Ages resources,  I´d like to introduce some works in prose.
El Conde Lucanor by Don Juan Manuel is one of the first works in Spanish in prose. The author was a nobleman involved in the political intrigues of his time. He fought in different campaigns and gained territory for his king, to whom he was directly related.

The book is a series of 50 short stories that follow the same pattern. A young nobleman, count Lucanor, introduces a problem or worry to his servant Patronio. Patronio, who is a man of his time, apologizes humbly to his master because he is just a poor servant but tells him a story that is related to the proposed problem and offers a solution to it. Lucanor, of course, ends up following the "advice" from these stories. The morals of the stories also appear in a short verse at the end of the story.

Most of the stories come from known sources: classic or Arabic authors, folktales, fables etc. Our students are familiar with some of them and this can also give us the opportunity to discuss different literary traditions and how they have are always connected. On the website of the Instituto Cervantes there is an updated version of El Conde Lucanor available.

My choice to work with students in a bilingual or IB program would be either tales 2 or 5 on this website. Tale number 2 tells us the story of a father and his son who travel to the market with a donkey. They get criticized by the people they meet on the road when both of them walk, when only one of them travels on the donkey and also when the two of them are on the donkey's back. A very old tale that still today is alive in the oral tradition. The moral is simple: everyone have their own opinions and we should not let others change our minds. 

Tale number five tells us the fable of the fox and the crow. It is one of the fables attributed to classical Greek writer, Aesop. However versions of it are known to be much older and were popular in ancient cultures such as the Sumers, almost 3 thousand years BC. The moral behind the fable is well known, we have to be aware of empty flattery.

The second suggestion would be a graded version of  La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas. There are numerous adapted versions at different levels (B1, B2 or C1) available. In a previous entries I posted links to several publishers that offer updated versions of La Celestina.

Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, better known as La Celestina, is considered one of the best works in Spanish literature. The plot is quite simple: Calisto, a young nobleman, falls in love at first sight with Melibea who rejects him. He asks Celestina,  an old woman who runs a brothel, for help, taking his servants Sempronio's advice. His second servant, Parmeno, warns him about Celestina's bad reputation but Calisto is blind. Soon, also Parmeno also joins the gang to get as much money as possible from Calisto who is blinded by love and lust. Meanwhile, Celestina meets with Melibea and finally Melibea agrees to meet Calisto on her balcony. Parmeno and Sempronio kill Celestina when they find out that she doesn't want to share her payment and are convicted. Calisto goes to Melibea's place with two young servants. He uses a ladder to climb up to Melibea's balcony. When the servants are attacked by thugs sent by Parmeno and Sempronio, Calisto tries to help them, falls down the ladder and dies. Melibea, locks herself in the higher tower of the house, confesses her affair to her parents and kills herself.

La Celestina was written in a time of great changes in society: Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic kings, unified the Spanish kingdoms and the last Muslim kingdom, Granada was conquered. The same year, Columbus embarked on his first journey to the new world. Other very important historical facts took place at the time: the Jewish population had to convert to Catholicism or go on exile and the first grammar of Spanish was published by Antonio Nebrija.
Fernando de Rojas was a converso, that is, his family were Jews who had to convert to Catholicism in order to remain in Spain. However, there are references that the author and other members of his family were convicted for continuing practising their faith in secret. It is no wonder that the author depicts a corrupted society full of hypocrisy and moved by lust and greed in La Celestina.
La Celestina has great influence in Spanish literature. Cervantes "criticized" it for showing human passions in such an open way: "libro, a mi entender divino, si encubriera más lo humano". On the other hand, the similarities with Romeo and Juliet are evident and although the tone of both works is different, this could take us to interesting discussions.

Another good possibility could be to use recent books set in the Middle Ages and show a thorough documented portrait of this period.
El señor del Cero, by María Isable Molina, is set in the X century in times of the Caliphate of Cordoba. José, a young Christian living in Cordoba, is a master of mathematics. He is entrusted with a difficult mission to travel to the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll and Catalonia and copy some precious manuscripts kept in their library. In return, he will translate 3 math Arabic books and he will explain to the monks how to use the Arabic numeration and especially "sifr", number zero. During his stay in the monastery he meets Emma, they fall in love with each other and decide to settle in Castille.  The book shows a very accurate image of the times in Spain, divided in Christian and Muslim states.
There are quite a lot of activities for the book available online. The novel can be a good choice for grades 9/10 in the bilingual program.
  • Alfaguara, the publisher.
  • Wikispace specialized in literature for children and young adults.
The second novel is Cordeluna by Elia Barceló. Set in the 11th century and nowadays there are two parallel love stories, which are actually the same. A warrior and a young lady in the 11th century, two young actors in a theater company now. The love story is under a curse that has to be broken. The book is very well documented and  very entertaining. A good choice for good readers in grades 11-12 or IB programs.

We also have activities provided by the publisher: Cordeluna. To learn more about the author we can visit her blog or read this interview in English.
The Middle Ages can be a very interesting working and research topic. There are plenty of materials and resources available  and these are just examples that we can use with our students.