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Nothing is a stretch for your students

I often read on Twitter and Facebook about teachers who are trying to decide if their students can handle a novela such as El Internado. The response is often that anything below level three cannot handle it, that it would be a stretch. Personally I think that is not helpful advice.

On one hand, it is so important to stress to all teachers considering using El Internado in any level that it is their responsibility to make the show comprehensible. We know that second language acquisition is driven by students understanding messages, not by being “challenged” to hear better. Planning on showing an authentic resource in class with the idea that the “challenge” is good for your students is misunderstanding how languages are acquired. Being challenged by incomprehensible noise does not lead to language acquisition, even if they enjoy the images flickering across the screen. We must step in and work to make it comprehensible. Certainly that is easier (and requires less interruptions) in upper level classes, but that same work of making the show comprehensible can be done in lower level classes.

On the other hand, I believe strongly that when I come across something that excites students, I should not save it for the exclusive enjoyment of upper level students. That is a delayed gratification mindset; knowing that in a few years they will actually watch a cool show does not develop intrinsic motivation in the same way that actually watching the cool show in level one does. When I developed the approach so that El Internado was comprehensible to my level 2 students we saw a huge increase in enrollments the following year. Now I teach it to level 1, hook them as early as possible, and it has paid off. Several years later we are the department with the strongest IB scores in the school. I credit it to placing our highest motivation activities in the first year of our language program.

Many teachers cannot conceive of teaching El Internado in level 1, so I have looked through my files and found a short clip of myself teaching El Internado to my level 1 students. This clip was filmed in late November after about three months of teaching. We started the year carefully focusing on the sweet sixteen verbs and, among other stories, we did a two week unit retelling the story Caperucita Roja, targeting many words used in El Internado. Here is the video:

5 thoughts on “Nothing is a stretch for your students

  1. I love this clip! I am thinking to incorporate novelas and movies in my classes, but I am always wonder how other teacher do it… do you watch the show every day? do you use it during the whole year?

    1. When I use a long novela like El Internado or Gran Hotel I limit it to one semester maximum (sometimes only one quarter) and we watch a scene or two pretty much every day. I have done it so many ways, but this seems to be the right balance for me. I like only watching a scene or two in the last 20 minutes of class because it is enough that we can discuss what happened yesterday, but not so much that it totally takes over the class. I find that if I have one day set aside for the novela then either we tend to watch too many scenes without stopping for comments (students follow the plot and enjoy it, but without the constant reading and discussion it has less impact on their language skills), or they groan more when I do stop it because they see it as their movie day. When we watch a scene everyday there is no illusion that there is a movie day; we review what has happened, may read a little from one of my student guides or I describe what will happen, we watch the scene and then discuss looking at screen shots or making graphic organizers on the board. The “little bit each day” approach keeps the novela within the frame of a fun class activity, rather than a passive movie watching time. Often by the end of the quarter I am itching to do something else and truthfully the students who become obsessed with El Internado are already watching ahead. Yes, there is a benefit to keep watching it in class, but there are so many cool things to expose them to that once they are already pursuing the novela at home then I can take the class time back to open their worlds to new things. That is how I see it, but it is perfectly fine if you keep showing it in class as long as students are really into it. Once you sense that enthusiasm is dying out among all but a group of die-hard super fans then it may be time to move on to a different cultural product, or spend more time on an FVR library.

  2. ¡Impresionante! La verdad, es que ahora, tengo muchas ganas de empezar a usar este en mis clases.

  3. Great example! Thanks for sharing! I am using El Internado in level 4, and it would be great to start it earlier. Do you have a smartboard? It looked like you were able to pause the video on the screen.

    1. That is a student sitting at my computer… the best class job I can offer! They like it so much that they pay extra close attention to my gestures, knowing that they will be replaced if they don´t. 🙂

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