My teaching style can be summed up by my belief in integrating critical culture at every level and fostering student motivation. With over 8 years of teaching experience, I have taught many courses in Spanish at the elementary, intermediate, and upper university levels, including broader curriculum development and hybrid or “blended” courses. I have also taught in English, having designed and taught a course in English for the University of Michigan’s general education curriculum titled, “Revolutions and Reproductive Labor: Reorganizing Care in Latin America during the 20th and 21st Centuries.” This coming Spring, I’ll be teaching a bilingual Latinx/Latin American Studies course, developed through a Great Lakes Colleges Association Grant, with an “opt-in” portion dedicated to Heritage learners.
Below, you can read more about how I teach Spanish at the introductory and elementary levels, as well as my approach to cultural studies courses.
The Language Classroom
When it comes to language teaching, I believe that proficiency in a language is achieved by a student finding meaning in the culture to which it is tied. Many of our contemporary social and ecological challenges, for example, are experienced, told, and written about in Spanish across the Americas. Students, no matter their field of study, will be tasked with creating new, intercultural, life worlds that create meaningful dialogue with these realities. Through socio-linguistically informed and literacy-based approaches, my teaching philosophy is to prepare students to adapt to a rapidly changing terrain and to develop the tools to seek meaningful justice for themselves and others.
To do this, I bring together cultural studies and applied linguistics theories that increasingly argue for the importance of critical culture and meaning in the second-language classroom and for a language arts approach with heritage speakers. This methodology allows me to create a student-centered classroom that demonstrates how Latin America shares much of its history and politics with the United States. By emphasizing this historical relationship, the stakes of becoming more culturally competent communicators and critical thinkers are more palpable to a diverse set of students. I tailor my approach to 100, 200, bridge, and heritage language courses by providing comprehensible input. At each level, I cultivate student motivation through accessible classrooms, mentorship, and helping students learn more about their own learning processes.
Through scaffolded activities that use song lyrics, music videos, and images, 100 level students can identify linguistic patterns that they can independently apply to learning new vocabulary, grammatical constructions, or cultural themes, even if reading long passages about colonialism, race, or climate change is beyond the scope of an elementary language class. For example, in my 100 level classes, students watched the music video for Lil Nas X’s hit Old Town Road, which generated controversy among white country fans since it blended the genre with hip-hop and is sung by a queer black man. Students then read a short article that explained country music’s origins in both black and Mexican traditions. Through ‘trans-language’ practices, we began the class by brainstorming simple vocabulary words in Spanish to talk about the actions in the video, Lil Nas X’s outfit, and emotions, and then in English, students made their own discussion questions through a guided process to articulate the fragile constructions of race.
Over the next year, I plan to Creative Commons license similar activities that I have done with real images and texts from the Spanish speaking world of political displays during Día de los Muertos, Calle 13’s La Perla video, and a photo essay of Honduras and the causes of migration. I also hope to do the same for some of the activities and course components detailed below.
Starting in the 100 level and deepening this understanding at the 200 level, my students also examine intercultural perspectives and learn about Spanish as it is spoken in the United States, in online spaces, and in different countries. This allows me to incorporate anti-racist pedagogy into my courses and ask students to frame race and racism in terms of economic, institutional, and cultural structures. For example, my students watched Miguel’s music video for I found you, which is about a Honduran woman who migrates with her infant daughter, gets caught by US migration officials, and transferred many times between detention centers. My students started asking why she was transferred so often, but we ended by discussing why there were any prisons at all. This led me to design my topics 200 level course on migration for the Spring 2020 semester with a focus on abolitionist approaches.
My bridge level Spanish Conversation through film course, featuring two Spanish language Netflix series, Narcos and Ingobernable, is an example of how community building is a central aspect of my teaching pedagogy. By striking a balance between low-stakes, fun activities and heavier cultural topics, students begin to feel comfortable with me and their peers to take risks in Spanish. For example, I began to incorporate conversational icebreaker activities, role playing, debates, a mock twitter feed in which students responded to each other’s ‘tweets’ about episodes, and a final creative project (podcasts, videos, maps, etc.). Not only do these assignments offer authentic production of language and encourage proficiency, they also help students engage beyond the written reaction and see each other as worthy intellectual interlocutors. During these activities and assignments, I preemptively normalize difference and remove at least one barrier for students already nervous about speaking a new language. For instance, I decenter assumptions about gender and family life, a common topic in the elementary language class. My students also discover internal motivation and gain input by engaging in “language experiments,” which prompt them to reflect on the habits and practices of effective language learners. This also leads to community building (and oral practice), as students do “show and tell” activities to share their favorite experiment (e.g. tv shows or sports watched in Spanish) with their peers.
Although my classes are often conversation oriented, I also encourage students to engage second language writing methods through creative projects and frequent short writing assignments at all levels. I strongly believe that writing is a process and in giving students the opportunity to edit and improve their writing after receiving candid, yet supportive feedback. I often assign work that allows students to share aspects of their personal lives with me and to see feedback not as failure, but learning. I also facilitate peer feedback to reinforce that the final product is, in fact, a collaborative process achieved through many rounds of revision. For heritage students, I approach writing with a translingual and socio-linguistic perspective, seeing traditionally stigmatized constructions as sites of negotiation rather than error.
Curriculum Design, Community, and More Culture
Curriculum design can and should foster diversity and accessibility, and it forms an essential aspect of my teaching philosophy. At both Michigan and DePauw, I have worked to create more critical courses at the 200 level that also meet proficiency goals, and I have also advocated for accessible design principles. For example, instead of assuming aspects of college are common knowledge, I explain the purpose of office hours, how my syllabus works, and effective study skills. I also employ low stakes activities to make early interventions and design courses with low-cost, often open access, materials. For heritage speakers, I have used differentiated instruction and socio-linguistic informed approaches that affirm heritage variations of Spanish as valid and welcome in my classroom, helping students to expand their repertoires, while also celebrating their existing skills. This also means providing students with meaningful, country specific, cultural content that enriches their understanding of themselves, their families, and their broader socio-linguistic community. Finally, much of this work is reinforced by mentorship. Office hours and advising conversations are some of my favorite interactions with students, where I can offer personalized and dedicated attention to the whole student.
I meet students at their level and build upon the meaning they have already constructed in their lives. I enjoy working with a diverse set of students, because students who work, have children, or are immigrants have stories to tell that are themselves educational course material. As students do the practical work of applying Spanish in their jobs or communities, which language instructors must prepare them to do, I also cultivate awareness about themselves, their classmates, and about Latinx histories and futures. This will be essential work in a global, multilingual, society so desperately in need of new life-worlds.
Reach out for more information on my other upper and graduate level cultural studies courses that I have designed. Adaptable to the upper 200- 400 levels, I have designed a course titled “Coco and the Calavera” and another conversation through film course titled, “Bleeding Lines: Latin America as a Borderland.” At the honors or graduate level, I have developed a class called X²: Expropriation and Exploitation in Mexico and another on the “Columbian Exchange.” I am also equipped to teach a colonial survey course I have developed titled, “Latin American Colonial Studies: Foundational Questions of Domination and Rebellion.” For Fall 2020, I will be designing and teaching a course found in many college curriculums: “Latin American Civilization and Culture.” However, I will frame 500 years of Latin American history through an examination of the inseparable relationship between racialization and colonial environment making, questioning the very idea of “civilization” itself.
Finally, I am passionate about creating community. I encourage students to do “language experiments” where they watch Netflix or other streamed shows, listen to Spanish language music, or read Spanish language news and other media. I have organized Viewing Parties (complete with free tacos, of course!) and also encourage students to share with each other their latest “binge worthy” obsessions.