Some Updates

Long time no post!  I have been busy with various projects and haven’t had too much time to post. I’m hoping to be able to post on a more regular basis, now that some of these commitments are winding down. I have some upcoming posts on teaching and on my research.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been teaching at a program with SIG, Summer Institute for the Gifted, hosted by Boston University Academy. SIG is nation-wide, with summer programs at universities including Berkeley, Harvard, Amherst, and several others. BUA’s campus has courses for children ages 5-12. I designed and taught two courses, one for 7-8-year-olds on detectives, and a theatre class for 8-12-year-olds. I have some experience teaching theatre from teaching “Spanish Writing & Performance” at Harvard, a course that focuses on analyzing short stories and works of drama through creative writing and dramatic interpretation. The notion of performance is integral to literary studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and numerous other disciplines, and the idea of identity as performance is one that I’ve tried to convey to these young students. Even if they haven’t wholly grasped it, I think it is important to introduce them the notion that identity is fluid and performative. I tried to drive this home when assuring those students who were shy or apprehensive about taking an acting course that we act all the time: we aren’t quite the same people with our families as we are with our friends or with our teachers. During the course, students updated and reinterpreted classic fairy tales, an activity that suggested the pervasiveness of particular stories, tropes, and archetypes, though I think the students saw it more as just good, creative fun! They also brainstormed and acted out an advice column for audience members on how to behave during a theatrical performance – how to “perform” as an audience member, if you will – and practiced dramatic readings of a number of written pieces. For their final project, students collaborated in groups to create a short original piece complete with costumes, props, and sets. I’ve been amazed at how much they have accomplished and learned in just three weeks!

For the detective course, I was a bit more out of my wheelhouse. I’ve never taught a science course before, and a major part of the course was introducing students to the forensic science that helps solve crime (fingerprinting, DNA analysis, footprint analysis, hair and fiber analysis, etc.). It was challenging in the best way possible! I learned quite a bit about forensics, and I immensely enjoyed setting up labs for the students and helping them complete them. There was also a literary component to the course wherein we read a variety of detective stories, analyzing the methods that fictional detectives use to solve crimes. We found that in children’s literature, detectives tend to rely on logic alone, rather than making use of forensic science. For their final projects, several students chose to write their own detective stories, which featured detectives who analyzed blood samples, footprints, fingerprints, documents, surveillance intelligence, etc. Other students went different creative routes and created detective board games or video games, which required players to collect clues and to interview witnesses to solve the crime.

One thing I really like about teaching at SIG is that each student is given the chance to work at his or her own pace and to find his or her own style of learning. During the school year many of these students are at conventional schools, in which students all go through material at the same pace. There is nothing inherently wrong with that: when you have 30 students in a class and need to get through required curricula, it’s hard – if not impossible – to give each student the individual study plan he or she might like to have. SIG is a nice complement to conventional teaching, and three weeks is a manageable amount of time for an instructor to tailor individualized learning plans for each student.

I do try to do something similar as far as possible in my own language and literature courses. I like to meet with students near the beginning of the semester to ask them why they are taking my course(s) and to ask what they most want to get out of studying Spanish language/culture/literature. We as a class have to cover certain concepts, but each student can delve deeper into topics that most interest him or her in individual assignments and exams. I also try to factor in the students’ own interests when considering the materials we study and the methods and media we use to learn. (Stay tuned for a post on technology and language learning!) Working at SIG has inspired me to continue to keep communication with my students open so that I know how I can best help them meet their individual goals.

Other than teaching at SIG, I’ve been keeping busy with some other projects. I’ve been tutoring high school students in the Boston area who are gearing up for the fall semester and I’ve been working on my own research projects. As much as I love teaching, I think it’s important not to neglect my own research, especially as my research helps me to be a more informed, and more creative instructor. I’m currently polishing up a paper on Santiago Rusiñol’s representations of Granada in his travel writing, drawings, and paintings, and I’m hoping to get a post on Rusiñol’s work up soon.

Thank you for reading! I hope everyone out there is having a productive summer.

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