Elementary Spanish-Heritage Speakers II (SPA 114)
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DISCOVERING EL BARRIO

This site hosts my Independent Study, “Discovering El Barrio,” for the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (ITP) Certificate. This site has been created as a model to share my pedagogical approach to teaching Spanish as a heritage language, and share the work my students produced. This project received funding from the Provost Digital Start-up Innovation Grant at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

More than simply the concern of affordability for my students, the nature of “Discovering El Barrio” came from my dissatisfaction with the textbooks available for language courses, especially Spanish heritage language ones, along with my attempt to overcome the belief that scholarship and teaching are two isolated practices. Although Open Educational Resources (OER) in Spanish language teaching instruction have been created, as I have argued in this piece, most of this material has replicated the same grammar-based teaching and learning practices from textbooks with traditional methodologies based on drills, filling in the blanks, and closed question activities. These paradigms often focus on teaching the core skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) with a multiplicity of approaches that cover grammar, vocabulary, and culture. However, these teaching and learning environments do not foster knowledge and inquiry.

Spanish is not a foreign language within the US, especially here in New York City, where several campuses are federally recognized as Hispanic-Serving Institutions.  Spanish Heritage classes, also known as Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS), have tended to focus on increasing students’ repertoire, and/or to improve their standardized version of the language; to familiarize them with a more formal and academic variety of the language they already speak at home. Rethinking and redefining the teaching and learning Spanish’s paradigm has an impact beyond the CUNY system and Higher Education since it transforms local communities. By engaging in Open and Critical Pedagogy frameworks, students’ multilingual backgrounds and lived experiences become essential to the language classroom; thus, monolingualism is not conceived as the norm. The legitimacy and authority of the discourse within language textbooks as cultural artifacts must be contested by rewriting and giving voice to silenced histories.

My Independent Study, “Discovering El Barrio,” conducted during the fall semester of 2017 at Lehman College, exemplifies my critical approach to language teaching and scholarship to the Latinx community in NYC and my commitment to innovative pedagogy. “Discovering El Barrio”  follows placed-based and task-based methodologies, empowering heritage language learners as knowledge producers: students created, produced, and edited videos based in East Harlem (“El Barrio”), resulting in publicly accessible authentic teaching and learning materials for second language learners.

I do believe that there is a public need to rethink how we, as educators, engage our Spanish heritage language learners with pedagogical practices that encourage dialogue and community building, fostering students’ inquiry and agency. One way to foster this change is by examining and questioning the linguistic, ethnic, and racial identities of the Latinx community in their neighborhoods and sharing the final product with an audience outside the classroom. Moreover, by engaging and encouraging students with these public-facing projects, students are able to acquire new digital literacies, transferable skills that students can continue to use in other coursework and, furthermore, throughout their careers.

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