It is sometimes difficult to catch a student's interest with just a tidbit of history or a random cultural fact. Linguistics is generally even less interesting to a middle-schooler. In order to pique curiosity and create excitement about a given topic, lessons need to be very interactive and engaging. Students need to relate to the material and develop a sincere interest in the subject. While most children succeed best with consistency and a rigid structure, variety is what keeps students from losing interest; the more variety in teaching techniques, the better!
Music is a way to reach others, regardless of the language. My students love music, and I know they will be excited to discover the connections between different cultures and languages through this medium. Music can also provide opportunities to learn vocabulary and grammar.
I've noticed that increasingly students will come into my classroom and ask me, "Se–orita Reyes, what does ______ mean?" Sometimes they ask about a word or phrase that they heard from a friend or family member, more often they are inquiring about a song lyric. Latino artists such as Daddy Yankee and Shakira are receiving as much airplay on English language programs as on their Spanish language counterparts. Even on television, channels are created for and marketed to the young Latino demographic by featuring programs in English, Spanish, and in many cases 'Spanglish.' With this media, the 'Latinization' of the United States has clearly reached mainstream pop culture. Now, more than ever, students are beginning to see the practicality of speaking Spanish.
In addition to the sometimes difficult task of motivating students, a major challenge in the classroom is removing oneself from U.S.- and Anglo- centered thought. Often my students try too hard to compare Spanish to English, or other cultures to their own. While comparisons can greatly improve understanding, they also can have the negative effect of creating an "us v. them" or "right v. wrong" mindset. It is imperative that students understand that all people are different, and that people create language, art, and music that is appropriate for them.
I have always been fascinated by Spanish and Latin American history, as well as with music, so I wanted to create a unit to help me share these passions with my students. I hope that by providing my students with history and works of art that they will understand and appreciate the uniqueness of the various Spanish-speaking cultures. The rich cultural history of Spain and Latin America will demonstrate the individuality of different peoples, and will allow students to see the world from different perspectives. History, along with examples of cultural traditions and cultural evolution (particularly musical ones) will prove to students that Spanish and Latino traditions have developed independently of U.S. culture, not as by-products or copies.