Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Teaching Across the Curriculum in Spanish Classes

Every teacher has heard about the importance of teaching across the curriculum; from K-12 teachers through doctoral dissertation directors, the subject can stir up debate and dissension. On the one hand, this phrase can be seen as just another fad in education, driven by sociopolitical forces by people who may have never taught.

For those who think this way, teaching across the curriculum is sometimes viewed as another way to dumb down the subject that should in focus at any given time. On the other hand, teaching across the curriculum is usually viewed in a positive light since it helps students see the interconnectedness of disciplines and appreciate the application of knowledge.

This posting isn't going to settle any debates. I'm not even sure the debate is genuine. It seems a bit manufactured to me, a bit like the so-called conflict between teaching facts or teaching reasoning skills. What I will do here is provide specific, practical suggestions about how to introduce relevant and useful content into the Spanish classroom that will transfer to other classes that students are taking. The methods I will present are best suited for intermediate (roughly speaking, second-year students). Of course, my suggestions will also work for other languages.

In a foreign-language classroom, teachers have always been involved in "integrating" disciplines or "teaching across the curriculum" even when we have not called it that or even been very aware of it. The reason is simple. When we teach a foreign language, we are teaching people how to re-map the world in terms of language. Often, this "rewiring" of a student's mind brings about new perspectives on thought, expression and even cultural or religious values. Bilingual people know this. Monolingual people do not, because they cannot. Monolingualism is a bit like color blindness.

I'd like to offer an idea to teachers who would like to approach teaching across the curriculum in an organized way and, at the same time, introduce information about the Spanish-speaking world. One way to do this is by assigning four students to work in a group to study, then present orally, four different aspects of one country of the Spanish-speaking world.

Since foreign-language classes tend to be too large to be pedagogically effective, most teachers have learned to work around this by dividing the class into small groups who work together, so the suggestions I have will be easy to implement. In addition, since there are so many Spanish-speaking countries and subgroups, you'll never run out of material. So, first, divide the class into as many groups of four as possible.

Next, assign each group a country. For resource material, I can think of no textbook that can beat the online database at LANIC. Next, each student can be assigned or volunteer to investigate one of the following aspects of that country; the links below will give you the details about how I have used this method successfully:

1. Geography
2. History
3. Economy or Politics
4. Arts & Culture

No comments: