16 November 2013

15 Driving Questions for Novice Spanish

Good Driving Questions have to be both open-ended and provocative. The trouble in a novice language class, of course, is finding a topic that a novice can handle, a topic that can be broken down into a digestible selection of key words and simple expressions. But more than that, you have to have a question that connects with your audience.

This past summer, @MCanion pointed me to a list of 100 Driving Questions from North Lawndale College Prep Charter HS that are, indeed, both open-ended and provocative...to me. Of these 100 questions, I found maybe 20 that I would even consider using at the novice level, in part because of the level of vocabulary required for meaningful discussion for some, but also partly because my kids just wouldn't care about a lot of them.

I would love to talk for hours about whether or not socialism is working in Latin America, spend days--weeks!--researching it. I could probably even find some nice infographics and other authentic resources, figure a way to set up vocabulary in such a way that students could take a side and defend it even at the novice level. But I think back to the sophomores staring back at me last year, trying to imagine myself getting them riled up for anything political, pulling out all the pathos and passion I could.

I do not see it connecting with any more than 20% of the class.

The same applies to topics on the Spanish Inquisition, NAFTA, Panama Canal, the effects of the events of 1492, "new Latinos," Zoot Suit Riots, Puerto Rican statehood, Guantanamo Bay, Latina power, Chicago culture, immigration policy, Latin American unity, and Basque secession. I could maybe get them to talk about the benefits of visiting a foreign country, but it still might go down like vegetables.

I know, however, that my kids have something to say about whether or not foreign language instruction should be mandatory, but A) how could this be addressed effectively in a single unit, and B) how could meaningful conversation beyond "no me gusta pero le gusta" ever happen on this topic below Intermediate Low? What's more without the recommended two years of practical personal experience in a language classroom, they don't have a real connection from which to scaffold. Plus I imagine applicable research and resources, if they're even available in the target language, would give even me jargon vertigo and would not make attractive pins on Pinterest.

However, there are a handful of topics I think students could handle with the right vocabulary frontloading and conversational scaffolding that would also push some of their built-in buttons:
  • Spoiling for a Fight
  • Who am I?
  • All Around Me
  • Artistic Side

Spoiling for a Fight
Students already have strong opinions connected to some of these topics. Someone they know or care about may be directly affected (citizens and immigration, animal cruelty) or it might be a classic teen crusade (drugs, identity)
26. Is bullfighting an art or inhumane cruelty?
27. Is ethnically based bias or prejudice sometimes warranted?
29. Should immigration be permitted to all who desire entry to the United States?
78. If the United States legalized drugs, would the drug war end?
79. What drugs hurt the United States the most?

Who Am I?
Navel gazing is the national pastime of Teenlandia. They want to find their place but also break free from labels. They want to define themselves and classify what they see around them but also
7. What makes a United States citizen? 
99. How have other countries treated race in the workplace?
100. How is identity defined in Latin America?

All Around Me
Some topics might be things students never thought to wonder about before, but once the question's out, they can see it everywhere they go. Also, a teenager will do almost anything if it means they can eat, and some topics are natural excuses.
16. Child labor is common in Latino America.  Should “Americans” quit buying products where child labor was used to produce those products?
25. Why are there so many words that Spanish and English share? To what extent do words cross cultures and why?
51. McDonalds in Mexico: What does food say about history and development?
91. How has Latin American cooking influenced the U.S dinner table?

Artistic Side
Even if they are not artistes themselves, name one kid who is not an avid consumer of audio and/or visual media. I can't do it: mine are all hooked on Pandora and YouTube.

40. Chicano Mural Painting: When is art on a wall not graffiti?  Can graffiti be art?
49. To what extent does music describe culture?
50. To what extent does modern media like MTV, Tr3s, and Latina, magazine accurately reflect Latino culture?

 The good news is that you can probably only fit at most four or five topics in a novice Spanish course, and NLCPCHS has gone and provided you at least 15 full of teen appeal and potential for novice-level discourse.

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