«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education in the Graduate Division of ...»
As part of the camp experience, they also participated in a visit to a small pre-school for children of one of the indigenous groups in Erongarícuaro. The students had prepared in advance of their visit, back in California, by choosing a book, Bellisario, to share with the younger children. Bellisario was the story of a tiger who served as the baker for a small town, and who behaved like a human being most of the time. Bellisario was beloved by all the town’s children, but when, one night, he shed his human clothes and danced in the streets in his tiger form, the children’s parents began to feel their children were in danger, and decided to strip Bellisario of his role as town baker, and to send him to jail. In response, the children, grieving and angry, decided to paint their faces like tigers, and marched through the streets protesting, arguing that even though they had faces like tigers, they were still their parents’ children, and their parents still loved them, just as, in all but appearance, Bellisario was a human being loved by the children. The children convinced their parents to release Bellisario and reinstate him as town baker.
Peace was restored to the town as they did so. The Midville 5th graders gave a copy of this book to each child at the school, and they and the students from Cuernavaca shared it with them in two other ways.
First, each Midville and Cuernavaca student was paired with a pre-schooler for conversation and to complete an art project, a stick puppet of Bellisario. The kids worked alongside the pre-schoolers to color a picture of Bellisario, cut it out and paste it on a wooden dowel. I observed students talking with pre-schoolers about their plans for colors, about how to best execute the project, about the tools and techniques they needed to use. When they were finished with their projects, they chatted with their pre-schoolers about their school, activities they liked, and the food they then shared during snack time.
Some of them enjoyed the swing set together, others played with the gifts they exchanged or talked more about the story of Bellisario.
The students finally participated in a reenactment of the story of Bellisario. As one of the El Molino teachers, Jairo, read the story aloud, adults and students played the roles of parents and children in the story, and, of course, one adult played Bellisario. Jairo acted as narrator, and various actors had short lines to deliver throughout. All of the preschoolers in the audience waved their Bellisario puppets to encourage the character and affirm their love for him as well. The play ended with the release of Bellisario, and the event at the preschool ended with surprise gifts from the Cuernavaca students and formal thank you’s to the Midville and Cuernavaca students from the preschoolers and teachers.
These activities led the Midville students into the domains of children younger than they were, and of the small town world of Bellisario.
These social experiences provided the Midville students with opportunities to learn from teachers and their Cuernavaca friends. The range of language domains involved are too numerous to elaborate, but the activities themselves, I believe, indicate many complexities of social language uses, how to talk with children younger than they, with friends their age, with adults in a variety of language use situations.
Talleres: Learning the role of language in activity and domains of language use.
The highlight of the El Molino experience for many students was the opportunity to participate in two different talleres, or workshops, focusing on a variety of different activities and subjects relevant to life in the part of Michoacan that surrounds the camp.
Several of the high school students I spoke with after they took the Spanish Language AP exam, referred to El Molino as the highlight of their experience in the Spanish Immersion Program, and of specific talleres as the highlight of the camp (Focus group, 5/5/09).
Through the active, hands-on experience of these talleres, the students learned what role language had in completing the activity, and were exposed to specific domains of language use, some of which were familiar to them, but most of which were new. Ms.
Gomez, Ms. Flores and the staff of El Molino expected all the students to use only Spanish in these talleres, and while students were prepared to make choices in talleres ahead of time, they were also assigned to them based on the amount of language use expected of them in each taller. My observations led me to conclude that some of the leaders of the talleres preferred that students do little talking in order to complete a project, such as deshilado (needlework) or sombreros (weaving hats from reeds). These talleres seemed to focus more on the cultural value of engaging in the manual activity itself, and since the students had limited time in which to finish the project, the leaders saw chatting as a distraction from the primary goal. Several times during my observations in these two activities, students were told not to talk so much, to focus on their work. However, even in these low-language activities, students were exposed to specific domains related to the production of cultural materials, the language of needlework and weaving, and to complete the activities, they needed to be able to follow the instructions of the teachers as they talked about their craft.
However, in other talleres, Spanish language use was absolutely essential, in terms of both receiving information and instruction, and producing knowledge, or engaging in the activity. Three talleres, Cuidado de animales (Caring for farm animals), Biología (Biology), and Alebrijes (a local sculptural art form), involved a good deal of listening to informational explanation, storytelling, and instruction or direction. The vision of each teacher seemed to be to teach both activity and content about that activity, and often to engage the students in wide-ranging conversation, sometimes only peripherally related to the activity itself. One other taller, Producción de radio (Radio production), was all about language inasmuch as the final product of the taller was discourse-oriented, a radio program that included music, jokes, and an invented interview with a celebrity. Not only did this teacher engage students in conversation, he focused their attention on how things should be said in a radio show, what DJs talk like, how to ask good interview questions, and how to keep in mind the interests of an audience. In other words, this taller revolved around discourse, and emphasized awareness of language use. These four talleres involved high language-use activities.
Topics of discussion in talleres: Range of domains and sub-domains. In this section, I will discuss the range of language use domains and sub-domains in the four high language-use talleres. In each taller, the sub-domains of language use were relatively easy to identify, either because the teacher had divided the days of class to focus on specific sub-domains of the larger activity (i.e., Cuidado de animales), the activity itself involved different language use domains or genres (i.e., Producción de radio), or because the teacher engaged the students in conversation to connect an activity with themes or experiences outside the activity (i.e., Biología and Alebrijes).
Cuidado de animales. Jairo, the local farmer who taught this class, had developed a very organized curriculum for his students over the years he had been teaching the course for El Molino. He presented the activity and content from the perspective of farming/ranching, veterinary medicine and sporting (hunting, cock fighting), and would make reference to these specific domains. He had further divided up the activities/content of the course into caring for animals in several ways: feeding, cleaning/curing, mating, and preparing for sport. During my observations, he further focused his taller around three different animals, his horse, Fiona, his rabbits and his fighting cocks and chickens (Fieldnotes, 2/2/09, 2/5/09). Certain activities and content took precedence in relation to certain animals; for instance, he only discussed mating and territoriality in relationship to rabbits and sport in relationship to cocks. But cleaning and curing he discussed in relation to Fiona (washing a horse; stomach parasites and the problems they cause), his rabbits (ear mites), and his cocks (surgery to prevent injury during fights). On the first day of the taller, he introduced the students to the feeding of animals by showing them the kind of feed appropriate to each animal, and discussing why that kind of feed was so important, what these animals would eat in the wild, how their digestive systems worked differently (Fieldnotes, 2/2/09). Prior to each activity, he would sit in a circle with the students and explain the rationale for the practices they would engage in, and give specific instructions on how to carry them out. Then he would supervise as each student took turns in the activity or watched him carry it out, connecting talk and action. Though Jairo did more talking than the students did, I observed an increase in the students’ use of Spanish over the two days I participated, as they increased their knowledge of the language of the farm and caring for animals.
Producción de radio. Paolo, who taught the taller on Producción de radio, ran a very organized class, and took the role of producer of the students’ radio show, giving clear direction, manning the recording booth, and guiding the students into an understanding of how radio professionals think about their work. He had, over the years, developed a highly organized workspace for the kids, with a fully sound-proofed recording booth on one side of the workshop, an ample table for the kids to write their scripts and draw their CD covers, and lots of storage to organize his many music CDs and recordings of previous groups of students. He affirmed the choices students made in what music to include in their programs, demonstrating knowledge of the most current popular music and artists. He also critiqued their choices of jokes, their need to better understand their audience, their interview questions. While he focused on making the process of producing a show fun, he clearly was thinking about what the kids would learn about the discourse of radio programs.
By the day I observed (Day 3 of the taller, 2/4/09), the students had already selected some of their music, recorded an opening sequence welcoming their audience, selected and recorded a segment of jokes (in both English and Spanish), and determined that their invented interview would be with pop star Avril Lavigne. As the taller began, the kids finished up work on the artwork for their CD covers, while Paolo coached them on how to make them look professional. At the same time, they decided on an opening song to play, and Paolo helped them think through the need for an energetic opening.
They eventually chose Pink’s “I’m Coming Out.” He then prepared to help them draft their interview script and record the interview. To draft the interview questions quickly, Paolo worked with the whole group to generate ideas and shape the language a dj would use with a celebrity, as he typed up the script, rephrasing student ideas to fit the discourse of a dj or to be more idiomatic. The students came up with questions about Lavigne’s life and work (how she liked touring, how her current album was selling, how she liked Mexico, what her love life and experience as a mother was like, even why she dressed as a “punk”), and Paolo would help them shape both the questions and the answers through dialogue. Once the final interview was drafted with all its parts (greeting, order of questions, farewell), each student was assigned a role, with one student playing Lavigne and all the others taking turns with segments of the interview or with questions.
Recording took place efficiently, but required careful attention to Paolo’s technical directions and instructions involving everything from vocal quality and volume, to technical issues with mics and his soundboard. Marta was assigned the role of Avril Lavigne, and as one of the English-dominant students, she had trouble with pronunciation of some words, so Paolo helped her with the problem by changing the wording at times.
Through his attention to detail and direct instruction, he directed the kids to produce a high quality radio program, and instructed them in a variety of sub-domains important to radio production.
Biología. In Chapter 1, I introduced Ignacio, the teacher in charge of the taller on Biología. In his taller, students encountered a wide variety of domains of language use based on the interdisciplinary nature of the course, and on his efforts to connect that material to the lives of the kids in it. While the taller was called Biología, his larger focus seemed to be on environmental science, which included themes from sub-domains such as natural history, local history, philosophy/ethics, and popular culture. He told stories about what had happened to the environment, including the mountains, lake, plants and animals, surrounding the site of El Molino over the course of several hundred years. He explained his personal history with that locale, his own observations over the past 20 years. He challenged the students to think about the problems related to the environmental changes taking place there and in other parts of the world, urging them to improve on the research many adults had done on the problems but taking action to preserve the environment. He drew from students’ life experience (going away on vacation, keeping a house clean, going to school) to create analogies or examples to help them understand the science he presented. During their activity of hunting for sanguijuelas (leeches), he described the use of leeches in medicine in the past and the present, and connected that use to both the domains of business and popular culture by inventing the idea of the kids developing a chain of stores to rent leeches to doctors and hospitals called “Sangüi-Blockbuster.” The larger context, a humorous one, for this discussion had been connected to students and their families, the way families might call one of its members inútil (useless) sometimes when they make a mistake or don’t do something they’ve been asked to. Hunting for leeches, which would be required to get the business started, would be proof that no one was inútil since we can all attract leeches!