26 August 2016

Authentic Texts as Windows: Products and Perspectives

When I was in college, interpreting Spanish was like looking through a window. A very thick, very small, very dirty window. I could perceive what I was looking at, but just barely, and with great effort. You know how people used oiled skins to cover windows in medieval times? They might have been more like that.

About grad school time, I was looking through stained glass windows: the view was nicer, but not altogether clear.

I think I've got pretty clear windows now. Maybe they could probably do with some Windex and elbow grease in places--and some blinds that don't go wonky when you try to open them. But I've got a good idea of what I'm looking at now.

It's taken me about 15 years to get to crooked blinds and spotty windows.

My early college kids only get 2 years with me.

So my plan is not to show them windows, but to show them doors--doors with windows. Doors they'll eventually be able to open and walk through one day, should they take a notion.

I would say I've been pretty good about incorporating authentic texts into my class since I figured out what "authentic texts" meant. And when I say "good," I mean I made a conscious effort to use them. It was kind of painful at first--lots of medieval skin windows that were windows into the culture, but really weren't appropriate for novices.

I've since gotten better about the windows I show my students and designing tasks that are, well, reasonable for beginning language learners.

That's why we start first with peepholes instead of full pane sliding doors--simple pop choruses and infographs with plenty of culture to see behind them, but only the smallest textual focal points. Then we can get broader and fancier, eventually building up to large, glamorous doors that are mostly window--but also mostly glazed panels.

Looking through

Reading this summer's #langbook got me thinking about how I could be more intentional about how my students address culture. I had started getting students to focus on products, practices, and perspectives with the telenovela unit, but in Keys to Planning for Learning, Terrill and Clementi emphasize analyzing the relationship among the 3 P's, and I realized that's something my students need to do to be thoughtful, observant, open-minded people.

As I contemplate the research students will be conducting for their semester-long marketing projects, I decided I would like to pause when we are examining authentic texts as a class to discover the answers to some basic questions:
  • Where does this text come from?
  • Who is the author?
  • Who should read it?
  • Why should they read it?
  • Does it represent a typical perspective? 
  • Can we find other texts on the same topic from the same culture?
  • Can we find other texts on the same topic from another culture?
  • What ideas are similar?
  • What is different and why?
This ties in with some of the November Learning training that our district is investing in this year, wherein Dr. November exhorts us to have our students compare perspectives from different sources and to take advantage of Google searches with different country codes. (I confess I'm particularly looking forward to what this looks like with resources on Pokemon Go, what with the local perspectives on Pokestops around the world and all!)

Another step I'm taking to get students to actually look through the peepholes and glazed windows to the culture beyond is through the weekly blogging assignments. Here's what the assignment looks like for Spanish I:

Write a blog post in English describing a product of a Spanish speaking culture with which you have interacted recently. 
1. How the product is similar to products you have observed in your own culture
2. How the product is different from product you have observed in your own culture
3. What practices, or activities from everyday life, are associated with that product
4. What those similarities and differences lead you to believe about the perspectives in the culture, that is what is valued 
Some possible product you may choose to reflect on include:
  • Infographs
  • Music videos
  • Class library selections
  • Personal practice
  • Interest videos

When you are finished, at the label CULTURA and publish the blog post end submit the link to that post on the Classroom assignment.

The first round of posts has been...educational. It's clear we're going to explore what counts as a Product of the target culture as well as how students draw their conclusions about what is typical (apparently Nicky Jam is the ambassador for Latino Attitudes (TM)--seriously, these kids are addicted). So it's going to be important to return to their assertions about Practices and Perspectives and examine them with a critical eye.

Although some of the posts are already doing me proud and showing that some students are able to get a good view even with just a peephole perspective on things like makeup tutorials and teen dramas.

They key to unlock the doors with those peepholes--and eventually windows--is going to involve looking inward as much as outward: setting aside the barrier and examining how much of what they understood was just what they assumed from what they could see on their side of the threshold. 

Here's hoping what they see through the windows inspires them to turn that key.


  1. I love it! I always feel like I do my students a disservice on the three Ps, but I've never had a good way to talk about that stuff.
    I'm also glad that you said this happens in English in level one, because I was a little worried! I'm glad you posted about this so I can "reference" it.

    1. I figure the reflection is outside of class, so it doesn't factor into my percentage! (Shout out to @profepj3 for that revelation!) Also, I plan to have them COMMENT on them in Spanish. So there's that.