Monday, February 24, 2014

La División Nueve enters Paris!! An unknown historical episode for the Spanish class

Some years ago we had one presenter in my school in Spain who was an an old man who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. His main aim was to share his life experiences during and after the civil war. It was the first time that I heard about the concentration camps in Southern France that held around half a million Spanish citizens in very harsh conditions in the beginning of 1939. When World War II broke out some months later, most of these people who fought for the Republican government in Spain were offered 3 alternatives: to be sent back to Spain and stand trial, to build trenches and walls to protect the  French borders in the Maginot Line or to join La Legion Étrangere and fight the Nazis as a separate unit.

Our presenter in the school, as most of the Spanish refugees, joined the L E. He told us what it was like to be in a second war. Some months later, he was taken prisoner by the Nazis and sent to a work camp in Central Europe. Conditions were terribly harsh and the prisoners had to work long hours producing boots and uniforms for the German army. There are two things that stayed in my mind about his experience: one was the extremely harsh treatments that people of other races received (since they were deemed even more 'inferior' than the Spaniards). He recalled how the Hungarian gypsies in the camp were treated with particularly harsh methods. Another memory was that it took him two years after leaving the camp to start gaining weight, because his body had been so worn out.

When they were set free in 1944, he returned to his old battalion and continued fighting until the end of the war in 1945. It was the first time I heard about the stories of the Spanish exiled in Europe after the war and their involvement in World War II.  After Hitler´s defeat, they were ignored by the Allies, by France and naturally, by the Francoist regime in Spain. To make things even more devastating, the Allies' promise to rid Spain of Franco was never fulfilled. For 60 years their story was forgotten and they never got any recognition. People from lots of nationalities fought against Hitler but the Spanish republicans were the only ones who had no country to go back to.

In the 1990's people in Spain started to wonder about the fate of these people and their role in World War II. This way, to the astonishment of many Spanish people, we discovered that the Spanish soldiers from la Division Nueve were the first allies to enter  Paris and reach Paris city hall.

In 2010 French film director Alberto Marquardt produced a documentary about two of the last survivors from la División Nueve, Manuel Fernandez and Luis Royo. In the documentary, both remember their incredible experience as teens living in the Spanish republic to becoming adults through the turbulent Second World War. Through this short time span, they lived through the Spanish Civil War, being exiled in early 1939, being imprisoned in the concentration camps in France or in Northern Africa, and entering Paris as the liberators in August 1944.

In the Instituto Cervantes' website in Paris we have the opportunity of following the division Nueve's footsteps and experiencing their entrance into the city hall in Paris on August 24, 1944. It was the Guadalajara tank that reached city hall first. The website also includes links to websites and articles related to this historical events. Rutas Cervantes

A novel that recreates all this historical period very accurately is the best seller, Soldados de Salamina (Soldiers of Salamis in its English version) by university lecturer and writer Javier Cercas. The author mixes fact and fiction to recreate the life of Antonio Miralles, a fictional Republican soldier who saves the life of Sanchez-Mazas, one of the founders of the Falange political party. Sanchez-Mazas recalled this episode in his life years later when a republican soldier spared his life .

After the war, Miralles would follow the same fate as our aforementioned heroes: living in concentration camps, and 5 more years of war in campaigns in Northern Africa and  with La Nueve against the Nazis. 50 years later a journalist (the novel´s author) contacts him to learn more about his episode with Sanchez-Mazas. Miralles is now an old man who lives in a seniors' home in France and he recalls his experiences to the author. Although this story is similar to the story of  Manuel Fernandez and Luis Royo depicted in the documentary produced by Alberto Marquardt, the novel depicts these experiences through the author's eyes. As this novel is fictional, the different layers that the author adds to the story may make history even more multidimensional to young people.

The novel´s language is quite complex for secondary students, this should not be a mandatory reading but to be recommended to students with a good command of the language to enhance their learning. No matter if you read the Spanish or English version of this novel, it will prove very fascinating if you are genuinely interested in the Spanish Civil War. We can also show the adapted film produced in 2003. There are quite a lot of activities available online about the film that we can use:
In my next post I will speak about the recently published graphic novel, Los surcos del azar, by Paco Roca . The story goes back to the same events and shows the life of another of the republican soldiers who took part in the liberation of Paris.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Spanish Civil War 4, The Photojournalists

The Spanish Civil War was unique in many ways. It was the first war that was fully covered by journalists with their camera at hand. Photojournalism was born during the Spanish Civil War in the sense we understand it today. Nobody better than Robert Capa, David Seymour, aka Chim and Gerda Taro can embody the ideal of the journalist who gets involved in conflicts to show the world the tragedy of wars. The three of them committed their lives to show what was happening in the wars and especially the suffering of civilians.

Attribution Some rights reserved by xornalcerto

There are many parallelisms in the life and works of the three journalists, not in vain they worked together in different periods of their lives, shared a deep friendship and, in the case of Taro and Capa, they were romantically involved. The three of them were born in a convulsive time in different parts of Central Europe into Jewish families. A time that saw changes in borders, the fall of empires and the rise of anti-Semitism in most  European countries.

Following their wish for freedom they spent their lives taking pictures as photojournalists in numerous wars and military conflicts in the 20th century. A life that any Hollywood star would have signed for a movie. The parallelism continued up to the end of their lives. The three of them died very young while working as reporters in a war: Gerda Taro in July 1937 near Madrid during the Spanish Civil War; Robert Capa on May 1954 during the first Indochina war and Chim in November 1956 in Egypt during the 1956 Suez War.
The website by Magnum Photos offers a great collection of photos by these 3 journalists. In these collections we can have a look at photos from the Spanish Civil War but also other armed conflicts where they were sent as reporters. There are also other collections of  politicians or even movie stars. Magnum Photos was created as an international cooperative in Paris in 1947 by photographers. Among those photographers were Capa and Chim. The images below belong to their funds that can be visited in the provided links.

Another good source of graphic information is provided by the website of the Ministry of Education of Spain. The Junta de Defensa de Madrid, the organism that centralized the defence of Madrid after the coup d'etat in July 1936 created a photo archive. The idea was to show the world the disasters of the war and the suffering of the civilians. During the years of Franco's regime in Spain the archive was not available for political reasons. Today the collection is accessible online as an homage to the victims of the war.

For over 60 years most of the negatives taken by Capa, Chim and Taro during the Spanish Civil War were lost. After the ending of the Spanish civil war in April 1939 the negatives were kept in 3 small cardboard suitcases made by Chim. Then they went through an incredible journey until they were put under the custody of General Francisco Aguilar González, the Mexican ambassador to the Vichy government in 1941–42.  It is unclear  how this happened but the negatives were kept at Mr. Aguilar´s home until 1995.  After not less vicissitudes, they were placed at the International Centre of Photography with most of the rest of the works by the three photographers. We can learn about this almost unreal story in the ICF website.

A documentary that recalls the story of the 3 photojournalists in Spain and the journey of the 3 cardboard suitcases was produced in 2011, La Maleta Mexicana by director Trisha Ziff. The fate of the thousands of Spanish refugees after the war and their struggle for surviving in the concentration camps in France until Mexico opened its doors to receive them is well portrayed and documented with real testimonies of the refugees. The documentary offers a great deal of valuable information for our Spanish class. The trailer of the documentary:

And here we can see an interview to the director:

I would not like to finish this post without mention Agustí Centelles. He was a photojournalist before the war and he showed what life was like in Barcelona in the years prior to the Spanish Civil War. When the war started he continued taking pictures of Barcelona during the first days after the coup d'état. He also covered several battles with his cameras commissioned by the Republican government. After the war, he left for France carrying a suitcase full of negatives and his photography gear. His life in France was like the lives of the Spanish refugees depicted in the documentary La Maleta Mexicana. He spent several months in two concentration camps where despite the harsh conditions, he managed to build a photography lab and to continue with his work.

After the break of the Second World War he collaborated with the French resistance returning to Spain in 1946. He was never allowed to be a photojournalist any more for political reasons and he focused his work as a photographer on making portraits and working on publicity. In 1976, one year after Franco´s death, he went back to France to recover his old negatives. An outstanding selection of his photos is available on this Link offered by Faximil edicions Digitals. Going through them we can say that he definitely had the knack of being at the right place, at the right time.

His sons, Sergi and Octavi, have taken care of Agustí Centelles' work. They donated the funds to the Spanish state and in Octavi's flickr website most of his work is also accessible.
CopyrightAll rights reserved by Octavi Centelles

The life and work of the photojournalists who worked at the Spanish Civil War can be a good research project for a bilingual or IB Spanish program. Students can integrate themes from Social Studies, Art, Film Studies, and so on to create their project.

Monday, February 10, 2014

More sites for good books in eduPLEmooc

I'd like to continue showcasing websites and blogs which provide information and reviews about books that can be used in a Spanish bilingual or IB program in Alberta. I came across these three resources from the eduPLEmooc course that I am taking. 

Last week we started our group research projects. It was actually very difficult to narrow it down to one topic but eventually, I chose digital storytelling. The working group has over 30 members who come from several countries. They all work in different educational settings and thus, this makes group work more challenging and enriching at the same time. The reasons why I chose the group are these:
  • I want to learn about the  tools to create digital stories, something I have not had the opportunity to do before.
  • I am really interesting in sharing pedagogical approaches on how to better introduce storytelling in a classroom
  • I want to hear about other teachers' experiences, especially in second languages teaching and how they use storytelling to improve  the students' writing outcome.
As the course is a mooc, an open course,  we are also showcasing all of our projects to each other. I have been regularly reading what other groups have uploaded and I came across some very interesting links to get information and reviews about books for our Spanish bilingual or IB programs. These are trhe three resources I would like to share today.

A board in Pinterest kept by teacher, Toni Solano, who gives us lots of tips and suggestions for good books to use in a secondary school in Spain. I find it very intresting it because there are many references to books for young adults that can be useful for our classes and school libraries. The board is open and anyone is welcome to join and share.

Some of the educators who have been including suggestions in the Pinterest group also share a Google group about books and reading. It is open and the information that everyone supplies is also very interesting. A must-follow for all of us working with bilingual programs in Alberta.

Some of the many resources shared by the Google Group is the magazine La pagina escrita, published by the foundation Jordi Sierra i Fabra. I have already spoken about this foundation when I introduced the Jordi Sierra i Fabra awards for young writers. In the magazine there are interviews and conversations with writers, famous for their books for young adults, many of them have been already introduced in this blog. We can also find book reviews and reading suggestions. However, the section that includes short stories by young writers can be very useful for us as teachers. Every number includes 3 or 4 short stories plus around the same number of poems written by writers no older than 23. Because of the closeness in age, our students will no doubt find these stories very relevant to their lives. These may even inspire them to write Spanish stories of their own!

No. 6 (enero 2014)

eduPLEmooc has proved to be a great tool to learn form each other and share resources and information. I hope that we will have lots of interesting resources to share very soon about digital storytelling.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#eduPLEmooc, learning about Information overload and new Literacy

The best aspect of participating in an open course like #eduPLEmooc is being able to interact and share information and knowledge with other educators who are working in similar programs. Unit 3 of the course focused on the concept of information overload (also known as infoxication). We are constantly bombarded with information. We may become increasingly frustrated when we cannot retrieve the relevant information we want amongst the sea of whirling data.

The concept of information overload is not new (it was first used by Alvin Toffler in 1970) but the problem became more widespread with the launch of web 2.0. The attached link provides an accurate picture of the problem as well as tips to cope with it: Understanding information overload.

Attribution Some  rights reserved by cambodia4kidsorg

I have been trying to deal with the information overload in different ways but to no avail. In unit 3 we were introduced to new tools that help us filter and organize incoming information. Naturally, these tools may be helpful but the most practical strategies may be to exercise our common sense and be consistent when we use the web. These are some of the recommended resources that I will be using: 
  • Pinterest to store together videos, short films, songs that I have been introducing in the blog
  • The social bookmarking Diigo to keep track of blogs, websites etc. which are useful and inspiring for work.
  • Take advantage of filing host services like Dropbox and Google drive. I am getting rid of the USBs (I have around 10)
  • #hagstags and lists in Twitter to follow groups which are meaningful to our work.
  • The last tool I would like to start using is the dashboard personalized platform Netvives. It has been recomended in the course and it seems like a powerful tool to organize content and resources. 
As I said before, one of the key benefits  in participating in a Mooc course is the chance to interact with other educators. I have been thinking extensely about the concepts of PLE (personal learning environment), web literacy and ethics on the web and how to introduce these concepts in the classroom. Aitor Alazpita a teacher at IES in Salobreña, Spain, shared with the members of the course a very inspiring post in which he makes an analysis of the importance of filtering and organizing information from the web and how we need to give these tools to students to organize their own information. The concept of literacy has changed and he introduces the concept of modern literacy developed by David Warlick, which is based on 4 main ideas:
  • Exposing Knowledge
  • Employing information 
  • Expressing ideas compellinglly 
  • Ethical use
Warlick, D.F. (2004). Redefining literacy for the 21st century. Worthington, OH: Linworth.

To read more on the the topic of new literacy visit this link and/or this presentation.

Attribution Some rights reserved by ToGa Wanderings

How can we integrate all this in our daily work?  In Aitor Alazpita's school a new subject area, Comunicacion y Redes, was designed in which students  learn the concept of new literacy. They are taught the skills to filter, organize and put together all the information they reach using the web.2, something that will help them to design their PLE. At first I thought that it would be wise to introduce all this content in the SLA class, as part of the daily work. However, to develop a CTS course in Spanish for the students in the bilingual program could help them to improve their literacy skills and  create their own PLE.  At the same time they improve their Spanish and realize that Spanish can be a tool to acquire skills that can be used for all their learning processes. The course developed at IES Nazarí can be a great source of inspiration to do our own version.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blogs to get ideas about books for Spanish Bilingual Programs

In a bilingual program we have to work with books, do novel studies and analyze poems and songs. We also need, and this is essential to offer a succesful bilingual program, to give students the opportunity to use Spanish for pleasure, to discover other cultures and about themselves. It comes to my mind what Jorge Luis Borges said about reading:

Reading should not be obligatory. Should we ever speak of  'obligatory pleasure'? [...] I have always advised my students: If a book bores you, leave it; don't read it because it is famous, don't read because it is modern, don't read a book because it is old. [...] If a book is tedious to you, don't read it; that book was not written for you."

From the beginning, I have introduced novels, short stories and comics for our IB or Bilingual Spanish classes. I would use some of these resources to work with students in the classroom to do novel studies, comment or to be used to do projects. We all have limited  time so many of the resources I have introduced would be available for students as independent reading. I am trying to accommodate different authors, approaches, styles and countries of origin so every student can find resources that interest them. If we achieve that students see Spanish as a way of approaching reading for pleasure, we have certainly won an important battle.

I have already singled out around 200 short stories, comics and novels. I'll be introducing these resources in this blog and I want to have them available in my classroom so students can have access to them. Naturally, I want to continue finding new resources and the three blogs I am going to introduce are a great source of information to continue completing our list of resources and be aware of novelties.

Letras y Escenas: sobre libros

Letras y escenas is a blog kept by Alba Úriz in which she gives reviews of books. We can find reviews of novels by some of the most famous authors for young adults in Spanish. The list is broad and includes some of the last published titles so the blog is a good way of keeping up with novels. Another interesting item is the fact that the blog has over 2000 followers and their additional suggestions and comments to the reviews make visiting the blog even more worthwhile. 
Revista Babar is a very interesting case. It started as the magazine of the literacy program of Federico Garcia Lorca school in Arganda del Rey, Spain in 1989. The project was led by Antonio Ventura, a teacher in the school at the time. The magazine was published in paper until the year 2000 and since then it is published only online by some of the old students and teachers in the  mentioned school. Fortunately for us, all the previous numbers have been digitalized and are also available online. The magazine offers several sections and includes reviews of children´s and young people´s books. New articles are regularly published and there are always references to new novels and classics. All teachers are invited to submit their a book review or to talk about a reading activity developed in their school. This is a great opportunity to showcase a resource we regularly use or talk about our school projects.


GRETEL is the Research Group on children's and young people´s literature and literature education directed by Dr Teresa Colomer from Universidad Aútonoma de Barcelona. The research group is formed by professors and doctoral students from the same university, secondary teachers as well as some external specialists. The website offers an incredible amount of information and resources about writers, didactic resources, references to PhD research etc. There also is a thorough list of recommended books organized by their target ages. The list includes titles both in Spanish and Catalan as well as the versions in these two languages of books and comics originally written  in a different language.

The three blogs I have just introduced are great sources of information about books and comics that have received a positive review by professors and teachers involved in literacy programs. We can take advantage of their expertise to build up our own resource centre and introduce books in our classes.