I teach 7th and 8th grade Spanish in an inter-district magnet middle school in the urban New Haven Public School District. Across the district, there are 49 schools, with a student enrollment of more than 20,000. African American students make up more than half of enrolled students (54.82%), while Hispanics make up nearly one-third (30.95%). 11.08% of students are White, and the remaining students are from other backgrounds (NHPS).
New Haven represents the largest magnet district in the state, with 27 magnet schools. The magnet theme at my school is "communication and technology," and it is supported by a host of enrichment classes that focus on developing media literacy and technology skills. Whenever possible, I try to integrate technology into my lessons, and communication is always the primary objective of any Language learning.
As a Spanish teacher, the curriculum focuses around the 5 Cs. Communication is the most obvious goal, with Cultural understanding as a close second. The other three Cs include Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. The standards for Language learning ensure that students not only gain awareness of other peoples and practices, but also that they can analyze them and relate to them. It is nearly impossible to talk about any one of the Cs without at least touching upon another.
The ethnic makeup of my school reflects that of the city overall. The majority of students in my school are African American, while Latinos and European Americans make up the rest of the population. Students not only come from the immediate neighborhood, but other sections of the city as well. At least thirty percent of our students come from neighboring suburbs. Many of these suburbs vary greatly in terms of socio-economic classes, and have differing levels of ethnic and racial diversity.
My classes tend to be composed of higher-achieving students, and are generally heterogeneous in ethnic makeup. It can be a challenge to develop and present material that is interesting, educational, and relevant to the students. Because many of my students are not of Latino descent, they often feel that learning the Spanish language and about Spanish-speaking cultures is not relevant to them. It isn't unusual for any person (let alone a middle school aged child) to be resistant to the unfamiliar, so it is crucial that a connection is made in order to foster awareness, excitement, and growth.
By exploring the history of the Spanish-speaking world, and that of Latinos in the United States, through music, my students will have a frame of reference for understanding how and why these communities communicate as they do. This background knowledge will offer my students a view of Latinos that is relevant to their lives, and it will help them seek out comparisons and connections between other peoples and themselves.
I think it is very important for my students to understand the diversity of Latinos, and of Americans in general. By relating themselves to the music of Latinos (especially Afro-Latinos), students will gain a deeper interest and connection to the Spanish language and its community.
I have designed this unit to use with my seventh- and eighth-grade classes (Spanish I). While the language focus is rather simple (present-tense, general vocabulary), this unit may be adjusted to suit different students' needs. The basic theme of this unit is applicable to any level language class. Different songs and selections might be used to emphasize other (more complex) language concepts. Lyrical content should be considered as well, based upon the maturity level and general atmosphere of the class.