This is a follow up post to my original post entitled Getting buy-in for a novel: Esperanza, written when my Spanish 4/5 class was roughly halfway through the novel Esperanza by Carol Gaab. In this post, I’d like to share some of my students’ reflections when we completed the novel and touch on some of the supplemental resources I used to complement the novel. I used a lot from the Teacher’s Guide and was able to use materials I had previously created for my classroom. Other helpful resources were shared online by peers such as Martina Bex, Sharon Birch, Kristy Placido and Profe Hanson. I appreciated not having to start from scratch. I recommend checking those out and tailoring them as appropriate for the level of your students.
This was the first time I had used the novel. I chose to use it in my upper level class for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I wanted a novel that would be both “comprehensible and compelling” with current issues. Initially some of my students wondered why I had chosen a novel labeled for level one, but students did “buy-in” and were quite positive about reading the novel.
In addition to learning about Guatemala, its Civil War, and other cultural topics, the novel is ideal for opening up a dialogue regarding immigration, human rights and poverty. The Teacher’s Guide provides additional readings on these topics and more. By choosing a novel that would be in general quite comprehensible for upper level students, we can focus on exploring and discussing the surrounding issues/topics rather than working to acquire the needed vocabulary to read the novel. While there are some vocabulary words that are specific to the topic of the novel that I did introduce as target vocabulary, the overall level of the novel was comprehensible to my students.
While reading the novel, my students were able to explore those issues in a variety of ways. For example,
- Looking up information on topics such as Chiapas, Mexico and the Guatemalan Civil War (Students do a quick Google search to find out more information and then share out with the whole group.)
- Learning about the guayabera.
- Learning about the depth of poverty in other countries and observing how other people deal with it via the movie Recycled Life with a movie guide by Barbara Davis and this reading by Kristy Placido and The Landfill Harmonic and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJxxdQox7n0.
- Learning from other young people via the film Living on One Dollar combined with a movie guide from Barbara Davis.
- Learning more about immigration and watching parts of the documentary Well-Founded Fear.
- Listening to these songs:
- Learning about the Culture and Customs of Guatemala via a video of the same name from Teacher’s Discovery combined with a movie guide that I created
One of my favorite ways to get feedback is asking students to reflect on their comprehension and asking their opinions about what we do in class. I asked for written student feedback about halfway through the novel and again when we completed the novel. I often ask these types of questions on assignments, quizzes, tests, and exams. Of course, I don’t include it for every assignment/assessment, but often enough to make adjustments along the way as needed. I love to find out what the students think of their progress and read the insights that can inform my teaching and lesson planning.
Students responded to the following prompt on the section on the novel Esperanza on the final exam. “The next question will not be graded, but does need to be completed. Write a reflection on this novel, comprehension, activities, and supplemental resources (learning about world issues, etc.).” I am including six of the student responses below which were most representative:
- Overall, my comprehension of the novel was great. I was able to understand the whole story while picking up new vocabulary and key historical events. I struggled with a few comprehension activities because they were so detailed, but it helped me focus.
- I really liked the book. It was a very good read and I hope we read something a little more difficult next time. I think the present tense really messed with me, but it’s good to practice.
- Esperanza is actually my favorite book we have read in Spanish. I enjoyed the first-person narrative. The settings were also believable, especially after watching “Living on One Dollar”. It was very real the danger the characters were in. It was also very sad at points but in the end it was all well. I never knew Guatemala was as it was in the story.
- I understood the novel well. The activities were helpful and it was interesting to learn more about Guatemala. The videos were intriguing as well.
- I enjoyed learning about other issues in countries around the world. I heard about it, but I never realized how bad it was. It isn’t just Guatemala that is having issues, my choice novel is about political unrest in Argentina as well. (This student was reading La Guerra Sucia by Nathaniel Kirby during our Sustained Silent Reading time.) It’s nice to learn about other cultures and societies while building my vocabulary.
- Despite being in an AP History class, I was surprised to find out how little I knew about South America as a whole. The readings on the conflict in Guatemala were interesting and informative. As far as comprehension goes, I still need some slight work due to being rusty from my one year away from Spanish. However, I have seen a vast improvement from the beginning of the trimester to now. The activities and novel certainly helped with reteaching some of the knowledge I hadn’t retained.
As I mentioned before, this was the first time that I had used this novel. As I reflect both on my impressions of the flow and the feedback from my students, I have a better idea of how to improve the pacing of the novel and how to more effectively coordinate the supplemental readings and videos. I was surprised that a few students commented that some of the chapter follow up activities were too detailed. Although students were able to use the novel to complete them, looking at the bigger picture, some were quite specific. I will adjust those in the future. Next time I will “front load” some of the information on Guatemala and immigration prior to starting the novel to create interest and provide a background knowledge before reading about it in the novel. Like many other teachers, I vary the way students read class novels. Sometimes students read with a classmate, sometimes individually and sometimes we sit in a circle to read together. Students like the variety and the different options to show comprehension. In the first half of the novel, in small groups students did Reader’s Theater and created some visual summaries which they presented to the rest of the class. We played Kahoot! and Quizlet.live a few times for comprehension checks. Students practiced target vocabulary playing this game inspired by Martina Bex. I wrote the initial sentence on each sheet which featured some of the vocabulary that students were learning from the novel.
Overall, I am pleased with what the students accomplished and the connections they made to the novel and the issues we explored. I will use the insights gained from this experience to polish my plans for this novel and to improve my lessons for other novels in my curriculum. Have you considered using a novel that is truly comprehensible for your students and using it as a stepping stone to discuss current events or cultural themes?
Rebecca (Becky) Moulton has been teaching Spanish since 1995 at Northwest High School in Jackson, Michigan. She has been teaching with TPRS/CI since 1999. She earned her BA from Alma College in Alma, MI, her teaching certificate from Northern Michigan University, and her MA in Common Learnings in Curriculum from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI. Contact Becky at Rebecca.Moulton@nwschools.org or Twitter: @SraMoulton