Editor’s note: This post is the fifth (and final) in a series by Dr. L.J. Randolph on the subject of critical pedagogy, social justice oriented teaching, inclusivity, and anti-racism in the language classroom. Read the rest here.
In this post, I share about how I use a piece of literature that’s almost 100 years old in order to frame a discussion about historical and present-day issues of race and identity. I hope this post helps you as you imagine how you might move from comprehension to critical reflection in your own classes using a variety of resources.
The text is “Negro bembón” (“Thick-lipped Black Man”), published by Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén as part of the collection Motivos de son (1930).
The presentation linked below explains the progression of activities that I follow to introduce the poem and engage students with comprehension and reflection activities.
Although the process differs slightly for each resource or topic, I do try to include each of the following components when introducing a text:
- preparation (essential questions, standards, and can-do statements)
- personal connection
- historical context
- comprehension activities
- linguistic analysis
- thematic analysis
- connections to justice movements
The text conversation below (shared with the permission of the student) presents one example of how students may connect with the content in unexpected ways. Here, the student reflects on how the poem and related activities helped her to connect to the experiences of some of her family members, including her Black husband and Black stepson.
Student: The reason why I was so reluctant [to take a Spanish class] is because every single Spanish teacher I’ve had in the past just wants you to memorize a bunch of vocabulary words and I feel like they don’t really teach but you incorporate soo [sic] many different things it’s impossible for a student to not learn. Also on my fathers side of the family we have some Mexicans that are married into our family and I’ve got some mixed race Mexican cousins and I showed them the poem from module 2 and they loved it. They loved how respectful and inclusive your class is.
Me: That’s so wonderful! I’m glad they liked the poem. I definitely try to be intentional about including multiple perspectives from a variety of Spanish-speaking people … so I’m always appreciative when people notice. Thanks again!
Student: Well I had to get them to explain the poem and to be honest I felt kind of bad because we discussed all the issues and problems they’ve faced because they’re mixed with Black and Mexican and it was shocking and eye opening and I appreciate that kind of knowledge and awakening. And I’ll admit race wasn’t a conversation that I really had growing up because my family wasn’t racist. We just weren’t raised like that, But I never knew about the race issues in America and especially in the south until I met my husband. He’s Black but he’s an immigrant. He was born and raised in Jamaica so he’s very dark skinned and the looks we receive when we go out in a public [place] is just crazy sometimes especially from white people. And then to read that poem was just heart breaking.
Me: I can imagine! I’m glad that what we’re studying in class helped spark or continue other conversations. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and reflections with me. I enjoy hearing about the different connections students make to the content.
Student: No I should be thanking you instead and it definitely did open my eyes and force me to think about my past experiences. And it’s nerve racking to me because I’ve also got my step son which my husbands son and I’ve a lot of funny looks whenever he calls me mom out in public. I’ve raised him since he was 3 months old so he knows me as his mother but sometimes white people will stare at me whenever he calls me mama and I answer to him. So after completing module 2 it was a rude awakening but it was a needed awakening! So again thank you very much and I hope you enjoy your night Professor.
So, what are your thoughts? Has this presentation changed or enhanced the way that you incorporate literature (or other texts) as a way to promote critical language study? What other strategies have been successful in your own classes?
L. J. Randolph Jr., Ed.D., is an Associate Professor of Spanish and Education and coordinator of the World Language Teacher Education Program at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He teaches courses in Spanish language, contemporary Latinx cultures, and second language teaching methods. His research focuses on a variety of critical issues in language education, including the teaching of Spanish to heritage and native speakers and the incorporation of critical and justice-oriented pedagogies.