One of the goals when teaching the unit, is to provide students with the tools and knowledge to better understand the complex history and culture of Cuba by being able to decode many of its cultural, social, political references, themes and symbols.
As much as I would like to ignore the fact, I know my students have probably never been exposed to a serious approach to Cuba. Some probably have a vague idea of its location and a few might have heard about the Cold War or Ernesto "Ché" Guevara. The unit will be introduced by questioning what they really know, in order to hopefully prompt some kind of interest.
The opening activity will be a projection of different still images (taken from the films we will work with later in the development of the unit) (9) of relevant moments in the history of Cuba, without giving the students any kind of information. I will let them decide and, hopefully someone will recognize something. I will call different students and ask them to describe the pictures.
I do not expect them to know what all the pictures represent, but I will ask them to choose one of them and write a 5-8-sentence caption for the illustration. I will make emphasis on the value of images as palpable representations of reality. A couple of students will be asked to read their captions out loud and then I will go over the pictures again briefly explaining them. Right after this, students will be asked to brainstorm on their knowledge on Cuba; they will be writing the information in a graphic organizer while I will be doing exactly the same thing on the board.
Students then will be asked to write at least five different things they would like to learn about the country of study.
The following two of days, I will introduce relevant historical information in order to provide the students with the necessary background knowledge to start thinking and analyzing things by themselves. I will alternate the way of presenting the information: power point presentations, readings with questions to discuss in groups…
Once the necessary background knowledge has been presented, students will be asked to create a comparative time-line. They will work in groups of two or three. (I will be the one deciding the groups in order to make sure they are equally balanced.)
Students will include the main historical events in the United States, Cuba and the rest of the world. They will have freedom choosing how to represent the information graphically, but they will fulfill some requirements, such as the number of events, etc, provided in a detailed rubric.
Due to the amount of information and time the unit will take, students will be working with poems more than anything else. Two texts will be used: Carlson and Hijuelos'
Burnt Sugar Caña Quemada
and Francisco Morán's,
The Island of my Hunger: Cuban Poetry Today.
Both anthologies are bilingual and will allow my students to work in poems in both languages. Students will be asked to work in pairs and will be given first the same poem to work with (as the unit develops, different pairs of students will be asked to work with different poems so they can decode them and talk about them to the other students). Before asking them to work on the meanings of the poems, the teacher will ask a student to read the English version and then another student the Spanish version. Sets of questions will be given to students in order to deeply work in the poems.
Film is the ideal instrument to explore culture in the language classroom since we can examine, analyze and contrast various aspects portrayed in the movies as well as develop student's proficiency in language skills, such as listening comprehension and/or speaking.
In this part of the unit we will watch excerpts of:
(Spain, Carles Bosch / Josep María Doménech, 2002);
Cuba: The 40 Years War
(USA, Meter Melaragno & Jim Burroughs, 2002);
Diarios de motocicleta
(Motorcycle Diaries) (Argentina-USA-Cuba-Germany-Mexico-UK-Chile-Peru-France, Walter Salles, 2004);
Free to Fly: The U.S.-Cuba Link
(USA, Estela Bravo, 2004);
Great Day in Havana
(USA, Laurie Ann Schang / Casey Stoll, 2001) and
(USA-Cuba, Anna Boden / Ryan Fleco, 2005)
These movies have been selected because of their direct relation with the topic of the unit, so the excerpts will be intertwined with the explanation of the material. For example, when going through the history of the revolutionary years, I will show an excerpt of
Cuba: The 40 Years War.
We will view the part in which the veterans from both fronts talk about their experience of the Playa Girón (Bahía Cochinos) invasion.
Every day, as they enter the classroom, students will have a transparency of a poster. (10) They will be asked to start the class describing (in English) what they think the poster represents in a piece of paper. Different students will have to read their response and then, for 5 minutes, the class as a whole will discuss and reflect on the poster answering questions about the historical period the poster refers to, point of view of the artist, theme, etc.
When working in this section in depth, at the final stage of the unit, we will view fragments of the documentary
Great Day in Havana
(USA, Laurie Ann Schang / Casey Stoll, 2001.) This movie is perfect to introduce the richness of Cuban Art to the students. The fact that the artists talk about their work will bring a perfect opportunity for discussion.
Shortly before the end of the unit, I will divide the class in two groups. One group will represent the dissident group (let's say an anti-Castro association of Little Havana in Miami,) and the other half of the class will represent many Cubans who still live in the island and firmly believe in Castro and the Revolution.
Students will have some time in a class period to get organized and discuss how to most effectively defend their position in order to make a valid argument and persuade their opposing side. Students will get a rubric and some strategies for effective speech as well as a "mini-spiel" on the importance of dialectical respect. They will also have to complete some tasks both days the activity will be worked on, in order to make sure they do not loose focus and utilize their time properly. I will be helping both groups. The second day, when the debate will take place, there will be an impartial moderator, a social studies teacher, if possible.