First of all: I never show English subtitles. Kids who are watching at home are surely watching with English subtitles; ask them comprehension questions to make sure they are processing in Spanish in class.
The real question is should I show Spanish subtitles in class or let students “practice” listening skills? I have done it both ways. Before Netflix I championed the “go so slow that they do not need subtitles” approach. But keep in mind that, according the language acquisition theory that I am familiar with, students cannot acquire language if they do not connect the sounds with meaning. Most people find it extremely frustrating to be told to just listen closer in order to “practice” their listening skills. Before being able to hear at native speed, students need a lot of practice learning to process those sounds, first very slowly while they connect meaning to the sounds and then gradually faster and faster until they can process the hearing and meaning at the same speed as a native speaker. That is why we limit vocabulary– to give students enough repetitions to become fast processors. By the end of first semester my Spanish 1 students are fast-processing the sweet 16 verbs in a variety of tenses so I can explain a lot, but if we had not prepared beforehand then I could not imagine watching and discussing El Internado with them. Remember that the show does not limit vocabulary and does not provide CI: the teacher does that part. Since I have seen the series so many times I can now anticipate most scenes and act it out before they even see it. Even something simple like saying, Carolina va a decir “busca”, pero es cubana entonces habla con acento cubano. Escuchen, ella dice “buca”… (play video)… ¿lo oyeron ustedes? ella dijo buca en vez de busca.
Nowadays, however, I have been thoroughly converted to the “play with subtitles” camp. Part of what sold me on subtitles is reviewing the research on the massive role that reading plays in language acquisition. The research of Beniko Mason, a specialist in vocabulary acquisition, suggests that unconsciously acquired vocabulary through pleasure reading is acquired twice as fast as that acquired through traditional, conscious strategies. I am betting that the reading from subtitles of El Internado qualifies as pleasure reading for many of my students (as witnessed by the perfectly timed gasps when Marcos declares his love for Carolina, for example). Part of the reason I developed these study guides, in addition to keeping kids from getting lost, is to provide even more “pleasure reading”. I might be wrong, but I am now thinking that all of the reading associated with El Internado has a bigger impact on language acquisition than the listening, even when the listening is made comprehensible.
I have had many different approaches to how to integrate the novela into a class routine. Recently the way I have been doing this is by watching a scene or two in the last 20 minutes of class 3-4 times per week. The latest guide is really good at doing one scene at a time. Right before we transition to El Internado I glance at the guide to see which scene is next. Then we watch, with my stopping and explaining while we watch. Then we open the guide, read it together and I will ask additional questions, super simple ones that can be answered easily. Sometimes whole class responds, sometimes I choose victims. Put the guide away and then, together, we write a scene summary on the board: kids suggest sentences and I correct them/lengthen them by adding transition words as we go. I encourage speculation and description so that it is not just a repeat of the study guide. At the end of the week I may have a quick Internado assessment which includes questions, fill in the blanks, and short answer questions.
In one class period I might watch 1-3 scenes, depending upon how many of the extra activities we are doing & how much of the class time I am dedicating to El Internado. Even if the whole class is all Internado I do not do more than 3, I am more likely to identify a target structure and PQA, connecting the plot with students lives. An example of PQA with a level 1 class might go along something like this (assuming I had a good relationship with my student Travis): Carolina en El Internado quiere dos novios. ¿Por qué no? Travis, tienes tú una novia, ¿verdad? ¿Quieres dos? No te preocupes, aquí en la clase somos una familia, no vamos a decirle nada a tu novia… ¿cuántas novias quieres?) In my level 3 class I might ask them something like ¿por qué creen ustedes que es malo que Carolina tenga dos novios? En mi opinión es muy bueno que ella tenga dos novios. Hay muchas ventajas…
If students are complaining that it is going too fast (whether speaking or subtitles), then that is a good indicator that you have to press pause more often despite the cries of the others who are perfectly happy speeding along. Those whiners are the responsible ones who are telling you when the Spanish has become an incomprehensible blur!