Global Classrooms Conference: Act 2

19 03 2011

Onward, young delegates! Onward, points and motions! Onward, magenta business suit!

Yet another bright and early madrileña morning finds delegates and dais alike all chipper jitters pre-debate. My plenary – UNICEF 2, more commonly known as The Best Plenary – gets pointed upstairs and far to the right: the music room. My dais – my ultra-capable Director, Rapporteur, and Staff – contemplates theoretical opening ceremonies on the bongos as we alphabetically place placards. Oh my god, I think I hear the students. Are we seriously gonna be able to pull this off?

Cue the filing in of our thirty delegates, representing fifteen countries from all corners of the globe – from Sudan to Cape Verde to El Salvador to Belgium. They are looking mad sharp in their formal business attire, which lights up the geekiest debater remnants floating around in my skull. My heart she is a-thumping; the dais glances nervously at each other. Do we start? Where’s Somalia?? Who are the native English speakers here anyway???

Five minutes later and Somalia shows, and I listen to myself decisively bring down our stylin’ wooden gavel, calling the 2011 annual Madrid Global Classrooms Conference to order. Rapporteur James calls formal roll – all are present – and assures me that we have quorum. I clear my throat and prepare to center the room’s focus for the next six hours of debate and dicussion regarding our designated topic: Children in Armed Conflict. I’ve prepped a three-minute speech with a good smattering of harrowing imagery, trying to carefully walk the line between the serious nature of the topic and the early morning hour. It goes over well enough, and I proceed to open the Speakers List.

Every placard in the place shoots up – looks like these folks have been properly prompted. James and I do our best to skip around the room to construct a fair order of speakers, because once we get this ball rolling, it’s much more up to the students to determine the flow of the day’s proceedings. The U.K. begins, delivering a 1 minute and 30 second prepared speech on their country’s position – and I’m all of a sudden seeing all those practice rounds and rough drafts manifesting into calm, clear, and composed delegations. Isn’t English these kids’ second language? How can they possibly be discussing global strategy? Even barring that, how can they be speaking at length in front of a crowd of critical peers and judges? My fretting as to whether we would be able to fill the scheduled six hours of debate begins to melt away – these kids are determined to engage on a high level without pause, and I’m a mere loud-mouthed facilitator. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Speakers List moves into a series of moderated caucuses, then several extended unmoderated sessions where the students may rise and move around for more intimate and rapid exchange of ideas, plus planning of the all-important resolutions. After all, that’s the aim here; although technically the delegations are competing for awards at the end, the idea is to reward those representatives that best encourage cooperation amongst the countries. This makes things extra-sticky when the time comes to convene regarding just which delegations merit the dais’ recognition as outstanding – there’s no simple point system here, and my scrawled multi-hued notes have surely missed some key strokes of genius on the parts of various countries. Over a greedily scarfed lunch well-within illicit proximity to the priceless bongos, we manage to come to consensus. Miraculously, so do the quibbling delegations during the final round of debate: we collectively pass two forward-thinking, well-written resolutions. It’s not a mandatory part of the day’s events, but it feels productive; we done good.

Buses zip everyone back to the hoity-toity Asemblea, where the chairs of each plenary are ushered into a prominent position within the horseshoes of seats. After a few deservedly sappy wrap-up speeches from members of the Comunidad de Madrid and representatives from the American Embassy, the spotlight shines to us to present the awards. My quickly-scribbled ditty:

The Chair would like the recognize the honorable delegates from UNICEF Plenary 2, UNICEF Plenary 2, you do NOT have the floor – sorry – but you HAVE impressed me! I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed six hours of discussion regarding theoretical trade embargoes and international monetary funds so much as today. Together, we have passed two – count-em-two! – outstanding resolutions to combat the international issue of children in armed conflict, and it absolutely would not have been possible without your preparedness and professionalism. I could not possibly be more proud.

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Global Classrooms Conference: Act 1

9 03 2011

The Chair rules that motion DILATORY!!!!!

Let’s rewind a tic to last spring and the sneer on my lips upon being informed that I would be working with Madrid’s Model UN program. Given the general complete dearth of interest on the part of American high school students to participate in such an event, how, precisely, was I meant to enthuse and encourage a batch of Spanish teenagers? For god’s sake, they didn’t even speak English.

Skip forward a scene or two or three (you have a one of those fancy DVD clickers, don’t you?). Enter David Hinojar, master of the social sciences and professor extraordinaire. José Luis Sampedro has set up the Global Classrooms program this year as a fully-blown course (as opposed to its previous iteration as an after-school extracurricular), and David is at the helm, trusty Fulbright mateys Laura and Janel at his swashbuckling side.

September sees us talking climate change, assigning countries at random (“North Korea! Poland! Laos!”), and introducing the basic concepts of parliamentary procedure. This last bit activates all kinds of dormant debate geekery in the vestiges of my Lincoln-Douglas inundated high school brain, and I soak up the new series of rules alongside the students. Honorable Chair, Saudi Arabia has a point of personal privilege – can we open a window?

Mid-December brings an informative email from the Comunidad: the two debate topics of the year, Trafficking of Wild Animals and Children in Armed Conflict, along with our list of assigned countries. Laura and I have a decent understanding of the dynamics within our group of precocious cuties at this stage, and we assign accordingly. We advise familiarization over the winter break in between bites of roscón de Reyes, since upon our return we’ll have a mere two months together as a class to make Model UN magic.

January is all position papers and practice. Each pair of delegates composes a single-page document detailing their country’s experience and opinion of the assigned debate topic, each of which goes through three thoroughly revised drafts thanks to serious editing effort on the part of Laura and myself, mostly taking place during the daily Cercanias commute. We also hold what feels like an endless number of practice runs, obligating the students to make use of their country-specific research in conjunction with the newly acquired procedural knowledge (OBJECTION!!!!! … I may be crossing wires, here). I begin flexing my wings as flamboyant chairperson, functioning as both Master of Ceremonies and Keeper of the Pace, cracking the verbal whip when necessary.

The Fulbrighters reconvene for yet another Jornada at the end of the month, wherein the infinitely talented Adam constructs for us a significantly clearer image of how the actual conference will proceed. We here cast ourselves in the various roles of the dais that will convene each of the five plenaries at the conference. The Staff member takes care of note-passing and general running around tasks, the Rapporteur keeps time, the Director handles resolutions, and the Chair bangs the gavel. Was there ever really any other option for this debate nerd at heart?

… to be continued…





Recent highlights from La Frontera (entre profes y mocosos de JLS)

8 02 2011

The new year has brought with it new teaching blood, who goes by the name of Rebecca. She’s actually part of the Old Guard at el Instituto José Luis Sampedro, having worked there for years; however, she was kept busy giving birth and all that goes with it during the entirety of fall. This term finds her back and working with me four times a week.

She and I get along splendidly both in and out of the classroom, with all the fairy-tale magic that word implies. Somehow the exact same groups of rambunctious, rebellious students from the semester prior have been transmogrified into eager little beavers, anxious to catch the next directive from Miss. Apart from loving the immense learning opportunity to bear witness to classroom management techniques that actually work – respect! not wasting the students’ time! getting serious! – I find the time we spend together marvelous in that Rebecca offers me the opportunity to design and execute my own lessons. She gives me directional hints over coffee, and the caffeine hit inspires creativity along with acrid jittery goodness.

Here are five lessons I’ve whipped up in the past few weeks for our students. If you’re so inspired, feel free to use/modify them in your own classroom.

WHAT A CHARACTER
third year bilingual students – equivalent to 9th grade in the US

Rebecca’s been working with her third years to develop their own creative characters, a useful first step in the process of constructing fictional narrative. My task was to prod them into deepening this development, which took place through two descriptive exercises.

The first one offered the students a paragraph concerning a fascinating fellow known as “Generic Character:”

Generic Character had many things to do today. S/he moved around the house attending to this and that. S/he remembered to go outside and check the mailbox just in case that one thing had arrived. It hadn’t, which made her/him feel some emotion. There were still many more things to do, and the item which was to arrive in the mail would have made a difference.

Suddenly, her/his cell phone rang. S/he heard it, noticed it was from an unknown number, picked up, and greeted the person on the other end.

“Hello. Who is this?”

They were to adapt the general structure of the narrative to fit how their own character would execute the actions as seen through their creative mind’s eye. One student’s medieval invention had the message arrive by unmarked carrier pigeon.

The second part was significantly more open-ended: I wrote five prompts, and the students had to choose one to which they would like their character to respond. I emphasized the inclusion of “massive amounts of descriptive nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives – after all, it’s not just what they do, but also how they do it!”

1. One afternoon, your character is enjoying their favorite series on television. All of a sudden, the TV set begins emitting sparks and black smoke.

2. Your character is buying something in a convenience store and notices two shady young punks in the back stealing liquor.

3. While cleaning the attic, your character comes across an unusual box. Inside is a note.

4. Your character has been asked to give a speech at a university on his/her area of expertise.

5. At the bowling alley, your character sees someone very attractive two lanes down. This person is a very talented bowler.

FRUITY POETIC DESCRIPTION
second year bilingual students – equivalent to 8th grade in the US

After leading the class through a reading and discussion of the Li-Young Lee poem “Persimmons” (which is really quite wonderful, highly recommended), we had each student physically bring in a piece of fruit from home. I then led them through a general overview regarding how one might play with sensory description. We covered the power of the various parts of speech in conjunction with poetic expression; for example:

Use verbs. Verbs are strong, direct words.
* Use verbs for the smells themselves. Smells can waft, distract, hint, permeate, suggest, confuse, conjure images, command attention, or intrude upon the consciousness.
* Use verbs to describe the source of the smell. Here are some actions that you might associate with smells: baking, frying, digging, sweating, burning, rotting.
* Visualize what the smell does. Does it creep into your nose? Wrap around you? Follow you? Bombard your nostrils?

It’s immediately obvious that the vocabulary level is through the roof, even for “bilingual” students – which was a conscious decision on my part. Poetry is such a wonderful venue for confidently exploring the far reaches of language that may otherwise lay beyond one’s speaking ability, and as such I wanted to encourage pushing those comfort zones as much as possible.

The second half of the class was dedicated to individually brainstorming images/ideas that the students wanted to include in the poems they would be writing the following day. To this end, I passed out lists of adjectives pertaining to the five senses that might prove useful when considering their piece of fruit. Rebecca encouraged physically interacting with your fruit in search of inspiration; we had the students-cum-poets pensively munching appleflesh, attempting to ascertain whether it might be called crunchy, gooshy, crackling, squishy, or squelchy.

EXTRA EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!: THE RHETORIC OF HEADLINES
third year bilingual students

Rebecca had been talking periodicals with her third years; to me she posited a lesson focused purely on the art and purpose of headlines. Predictably, I took it in the direction of argument analysis; what’s a good headline if not an argument that you ought to read the paper?

First, we checked out headlines I had snagged from online news sites and magazines the night prior, ranging from the New York Times to the Huffington Post, from Cosmopolitan to Perez Hilton.

Can Europe Be Saved? – New York Times
A Continent of New Consumers Beckons – Wall Street Journal
What Men Secretly Think of Your Hair – Cosmo
The Euro Could Be Doomed – The Huffington Post
Horrifying! Five-Year-Old Gets Her Eyebrows Waxed! – Perez Hilton

The range is both funny and fascinating, if you’re the sort that’s titillated by rhetoric. With each set of headlines, we worked through a series of discussion questions together:

1. What can you tell about these news sources based on their headlines?
2. Are they informative? entertaining? intriguing?
3. MOST IMPORTANTLY: are the headlines EFFECTIVE? Why (not)?
CRITICAL THINKING: what tools do headlines use to create interest?

After establishing a decent list of what qualities the best headlines included, it was time to turn over the reigns. I found five clips from recent articles and removed their original headlines, leaving it to the students to compose their own dramatic titles based on the text. Each pair handed in an entry to be judged by presiding officials Rebecca and Janel, each aiming for a chance at a coveted prize from the assortment of Ed Hardy style temporary tattoos I brought over from the States. They dug on it, their competitiveness kicking them into high gear while considering the intersection of elements in a successful, appropriate headline to fit the texts.

I’ve since lost the winning slips of paper, and no one quite beat the original “Octomom: Why I’m Addicted to Having Babies” – but we had a blast, and I think they just might have learned. Whoa.

INTERNATIONAL RIGHT TO PRIVACY CONFERENCE
third year bilingual students

Headlines are a mere introduction to journalistic writing; we deepened the discussion with a focus on the indefinite intersection between the individual right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression as it relates to the press. An article giving an overview of different aspects one might consider started us off; we learned that most newspapers draft and adhere to their own personal interpretation of this fuzzy zone between rights.

From this jumping off point, each student was (semi-)randomly given a role, which they were informed was a secret so as to add totally unnecessary intrigue. A selection:

  • You are Lindsay Lohan: a celebrity with a (constant) drug and partying problem.
  • You are Michael Jackson (back from the dead): a celebrity who has undergone frequent cosmetic surgery and spends a great deal of time with children.
  • You are an American senator who uses campaign money to pay for his lovely beachfront condo in the Bahamas. No one knows your secret yet, but you are currently being investigated by several top reporters.
  • You are a current events journalist at the Wall Street Journal. Your salary is fixed. Recently, you have been investigating into the current activities and past actions of American senators. One of them appears to be spending his campaign money on something else.
  • You are a top reporter for The Sun, a famous British tabloid. Your salary completely depends on how many big stories you can write this year.  Recently, you’ve been looking into Lindsay Lohan, Tom Cruise, and Michael Jackson.
  • You are an avid reader of tabloids – your favorites are The Sun, The National Enquirer, and Weekly World News. You love reading juicy celebrity gossip.

As soon as we had defined “avid” for half the class, I banged my fist on a desk and welcomed the attendees to the first-ever International Right To Privacy Conference. As I was aware of the presence of a few celebrities among the invitees, I opened the floor for them to speak with respect to their personal experience regarding privacy and the press. I had slyly made sure the role of Lindsay Lohan had gone to someone particularly chatty in each class, and it managed to get the discussion ball rolling.

I barely had to intervene whatsoever as suit-jacketed moderator; the students caught on extremely quickly and were game to ham it up in their interpretation of the roles. One class ended up focusing on the politicians, using them as an example of what the public had a right to know using the press as an investigatory tool; the other went around in circles for some time as to whether Justin Beiber’s theoretical sexuality was a matter of public interest.

This roleplay style of debate was highly successful; I plan on using the heck out of it in the future.

THE MAGNIFICENT METAPHOR
third year bilingual students


The reigning ruler of linguistic devices: the metaphor (see what I did there, ah-ha, clever auxiliar has a trick or two up the ol’ sleeve yet). After soliciting a basic definition from the class – a comparison of two objects that creates a new idea through juxtaposition – I offered that I found metaphors important for two principal reasons. One, they help us “be on the same page” about something that’s tricky to understand in a literal sense. Memory in a computer is a perfect example; computers can’t remember anything, but that’s certainly the easiest way to express what it is they do when they code and store information in 0s and 1s. Two, metaphors are one of the most powerful tools we’ve got in terms of inspiring and expressing totally new ideas. Unexpected juxtapositions help us gain deeper perspective on how a subject might be understood, and this is very, very exciting to any writer looking to put something out there.

The most common issue with beginners’ attempts at metaphor is that they are bad. Straight up, top-notch metaphor is tricky. How does one use well-understood ideas in conjunction to summon totally original thought? It’s altogether too easy to fall into the cozy arms of cliché – yawn. In order to get the students thinking deeper about metaphor creation, we read and discussed a series of hints on what makes good metaphors work. For instance:

2. Keep it clear. Carl Sandburg wrote a wonderful metaphor in his poem “Fog” (“The fog comes / on little cat feet”). His metaphor is wonderful because it is clear. It is easy to imagine a fog creeping over the city much in the same way that a cat creeps up on mouse. It is simple and clear, like all great metaphors should be.

We then looked at three examples I had snagged from the net, dissecting their syntax just enough to ascertain possible meaning. I also got to draw a poodle on the board.

Enough with the introduction – production time. I wrote “High school” on the board as our subject, and asked for an object to compare it to. Each of the classes immediately offered “a prison,” which I just as immediately shot down as borrrrrrinnnnng. We eventually got to “a forest of trees putting down roots” in one class, and “a temporary birdcage for parrots” in the other – not bad.

It was time to set my parrots free: I gave them the subject prompt of Spain, and in partners they again competed for the temporary tattoo spoils. An idea bank full of freely associated thoughts I had had on the metro helped out the less imaginative, but the winners tended to be generated on the spot. The best entry, which had Rebecca and I clutching our guts in surprised laughter:

Spain is a Christmas tree, lots of lights and party but dead from the roots to the top.

Another winning entry for a different prompt:

Young love is a soft drink (with gas); the best part is the beginning and the worst the end.





Halloweird

4 11 2010

The darkest day of the American calendar must be shared with the hundreds of sugar-starved kiddos of José Luis Sampedro. No, not the day after Election Day – I’m talking about Halloween (c’mon, people, catch up).

The auxiliares – that is, Laura, James, Heather, and I – have spent several commutes ruminating on costumes. A theme eventually emerges: American Superheroes. Heather snags Catwoman, which Laura combines with Poison Ivy to make villainous feminine duo. James calls Batman, and as such I am assigned the lowly sidekick role of Robin.

Oh please. Robin is just about the least amount of super you can get. I sneakily plan an alternative get-up.

A couple chinos later, and Captain America is ready for battle.

Laura and I construct cardboard onomatopoeia, then emerge from our dark tower to the center of the recreational area during the afternoon break. We are immediately swarmed – we have informed the students that we will offer candy to anyone else who remembers to dress up. No one has, but hundreds of little ears are buzzing with the promise of sweet, sweet sugar, and we draw an unbelievably enormous crowd within seconds.

Whamm-o! Bam! Pow! Zing! The good guy triumphs in the end (of course) and the bad guy (as punishment?) holds aloft a bag ripe with Sugus. She is MOBBED, a thousand nasty smelly little fingers clutching at her wig and brambles, scrambling for a chance at the prize.

Batman and Catwoman make a late entrance, and we snap a few shots (which Heather still needs to put online, dammit) and offer one more lucha before the bell.

My own Halloween fiesta was low-key-esque. Two highlights include:

Alex as beaker-toting mad scientist, and –

Sam‘s impeccable attention to detail, from her winged cheeks to her ghostly pumpkin-spiced cake.





José Luis Sampedro Second Impressions

14 10 2010

Two solid weeks into teaching has me thoroughly enmeshed in the swing of things.

I assist in 19 classes a week, which amounts to a heavy workload; as such I consider it massive good luck that I adore the freneticism of the Auxiliar working style. It’s highly unusual that I know exactly what the plan is for each hour of the day – and here my fellow Auxiliares let loose a snigger at my understatement – but I find that I am absolutely most comfortable flying at top speed by the seat of my pants. It’s undeniable uncertainty, but the lack of rigidity means a high amount of wiggle room for the ambitious Auxiliar who just might be dreaming of brewing up a workshop series on critical thinking skills. You will be kept posted.

Quite a few general musings on the distinct qualities of the Spanish educational strategy have been posted on other Fulbright blogs, so I don’t plan on directly addressing them here. I’m also trying to allow space for my understanding of the experience to develop. I feel so differently about teaching this week than I did last week, and even then was significantly far from how I felt the week before that. Every day I wrap my head further around the quirky aspects of how the institution functions, along with how my aspirations can fit in – and flourish! – amongst the expectations and limited resources I confront every morning on campus.

I’m designing and executing a pair of classes centered around music each week with Patricia’s students. My first selection was Mika, both for the general likability of the tune as well as the clarity of the vocals. We filled in blanks, identified parts of speech, sought out synonyms, and discussed a few key points (“Does this song, indeed, make you feel relaxed? Why or why not?”). Today was the first round of student requested artists, beginning with Green Day. Almost every single lyric is an idiomatic expression of some variety; I couldn’t be prouder that my students now understand the phrase “bumper-sticker philosophy.”

There’s so much more – Laura (the other Fulbright at José Luis Sampedro) and I are slowly developing a joyful working friendship, which we hope to soon expand into the culinary realm. The other two Auxiliares, James and Heather, are a whirlwind force of expertise and dead-on impressions. I ride my patinete every morning and feel akin to the adolescent boy I never was. And, underlining it all: the students are, by and large, totally and mischievously delightful.





Tres Cantos/José Luis Sampedro First Impressions

29 09 2010

After attempting a few different combinations of walking, metro, and train, I’ve settled on a path involving segments of all three in my daily northward journey towards Tres Cantos. It takes me approximately an hour and ten minutes to get from my piso to the chalkboard, depending heavily on syncing my step with the timing of the trains.

This overcast day isn’t the best for capturing attractive photos, but the gray of the skies isn’t a wholly inaccurate reflection of the swathes of sidewalk. Tres Cantos really is this quiet. It’s a tricky thing to describe without tagging on extra implications – do we call it tranquil or desolate, sleepy or peaceful? – and as such I’ll leave it at some facts:

– Tres Cantos is the newest municipality in all of Spain. It’s a planned township, commissioned by Franco’s folks back in 1971; inhabitants began strolling its streets a decade later.

– Tres Cantos is a sister city to the planned cities of Columbia, Maryland, United States, Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Nejapa, El Salvador. Students can take advantage of international exchange programs between them.

– Tres Cantos is the area with the highest percentage of residents with a university-level education in all of Spain. I’ve been informed that this merited an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, but can’t find any evidence to support the claim.

It’s a healthy 20-minute walk from the Renfe Cercanias train station to el Instituto José Luis Sampedro, which isn’t excessive but does leave something to be desired on the days I opt for heels. Investigations into patinetes are being made.

Schools in Spain differ wildly from the comparatively hyper-decorated American equivalents. They are built for utility, and the students stay in one assigned space with others of their year while the teachers relocate each hour. As such, both classrooms and hallways are strikingly bare to my American eyes, although peacocking in both clothing and behavior of rowdy students during breaks fills the space much more than the above photo might suggest.

Due to difficulty in pinning down a workable schedule for the year – merely considering addressing the cobweb of influencing factors makes my head throb – I currently spend a good chunk of my time looking at doorknobs. No one is quite certain of our role here, least of all us, which does strike me as an odd contrast to the tenacity one has to have in order to be granted a Fulbright in the first place.

I have more gut reactions on this topic (ha, when don’t I have something to say?), but will save them up for a few weeks in order to be able to paint a richer “what-it’s-like” scene.

Laura – my Fulbright co-auxiliar – and I do manage to gain entrance to a select few class sessions. Pictured above is our coordinator, Rachel, and her group of Primer ESO students, which in the American system would translate to 7th grade. These kids have been in a bilingual program their whole lives, and as such have very high levels of comprehension and speaking.

Today, they discuss homework reviewing the parts of speech. Their vocabulary is excellent; Rachel drops in the term “phoneme” without anyone missing a beat.

The final third of the period is dedicated to introducing new vocabulary for a poem the students will learn. Rachel requests that Laura and I depict the underlined terms in picture form on the board, which is not the simplest task in chalk given ideas like “wrestle” and “tickle me pink.” The students are asked to copy down (!) our artists’ renditions of the terms, and then everybody matches drawings with words.