First person performing oral history in the world languages classroom no photos

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A description of Matthew Kelly's presentation at the ISSN Summer Conference 2012.

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First person performing oral history in the world languages classroom no photos

  1. 1. First Person: Performing Oral History in the World Languages ClassroomWe face challenges of context in the World Languages classroom, especially atthe intermediate and advanced levels. We have the challenge of teaching culturewithin a meaningful historical context, avoiding the errors of essentialist andracialized notions of national identity. We have the challenge of teaching historyin the context of a compelling narrative structure. Where grammar is taught, wehave the challenge of teaching students to communicate and interpret meaningwithin a context that is meaningful in itself. Finally, as we teach students toexplore narrative in the target language, we have the challenge of conductingthat exploration within the context of a challenging and personally significantperformance task.One medium that can help us rise to all those challenges is oral history. Oralhistory is the documentation and study of history through videotapes, audiotapes,or transcriptions of the narratives of individuals who experienced the eventsdirectly. Usually these narratives are collected in the form of interviews. Theseinterviews provide vivid first person perspectives on historical events unavailablefrom other sources.I wrote a curriculum unit through the Yale National Initiative last summer thatemployed oral histories of the 1968 student movement in Mexico City compiledby Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska in the book La noche de Tlatelolco. Mystudents and I explored this subject matter in the fall of 2011. This presentationwill share some of our results.The revolution youve never heard of: 2 de octubre no se olvidaIt was the summer of 1968. From Paris to Prague to Chicago, students took tothe streets and turned whole cities upside down. The young people of MexicoCity did not sit on the sidelines.There was a long standing rivalry between the students of thevocational-technical high schools and the students of the prep schools that fedinto UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. On Monday, July 22,1968, fights broke out between kids at one of the tech schools and students ofone of the prep schools. This was not unusual, but the ferocity of the policeresponse was. That Friday, July 26, a throng of students protesting the policerepression of interschool rivalry happened to meet up with a group of leftiststudents commemorating the Cuban revolution. The preps, the votech kids, andthe campus radicals fused together with the purpose of overturning Mexicosstate security apparatus. They took to the streets. Their parents took to thestreets with them.Within two and half weeks, the movement put 150,000 marchers in the streets ofMexico City. Within thirty days the number doubled. On September 13, a quarter
  2. 2. of a million Mexicans conducted a silent march to deprive the authorities of anypretext for reprisal.1Mexico was at the time effectively an authoritarian single party state. Thegovernment of President Díaz Ordaz, preparing to host the first Olympics outsidethe First World, mounted a crushing police counterstrike, detaining hundreds.Nonetheless, the Olympic Committee threatened to cancel the games if DíazOrdaz could not guarantee order.2October 2, 1968, ten days before the start of the 1968 Summer Olympics, theremnants of the student movement--around five thousand souls--gathered in thePlaza of the Three Cultures at Tlatelolco to plan their response to thegovernment. The police, military, and special paramilitary police surrounded theplaza in full force. Presidential bodyguards stationed in high rise buildings firedon the soldiers. Thinking themselves under fire from the protestors, the securityforces attacked with rifles, tanks, and bayonets. The official death toll is 39. Thebest count of the fallen is probably around 325. Over two thousand werearrested, stripped, and detained.3Setting the stageMy students began their experience by exploring the events throughdocumentary photographs available online. To create an immersive classroomexperience, we studied photographs and recreated the signs the studentscarried. Once we had created our immersive classroom environment, we usedtechnology to explore the actual setting.The scene of the crime: using Google Maps to bring history to lifeFirst we looked at the places the marches took place. Then, we explored thePlaza de las Tres Culturas in great detail. Familiarity with the physical setting andthe terrain made the students exploration of the first person narratives vivid andreal. All history is local; events take place in specific places. Students reportedthat seeing the physical location from multiple perspectives greatly enhanced notonly their comprehension of the narratives they read, but also heightened thepersonal impact. One young woman reported: When I read the girl talking about running through the ruins while bits of rock were raining down on her from all the bullets bouncing1 Red Escolar ILCE. "Cronología del moviemento estudiantil de 1968." Historias de la historia.http://redescolar.ilce.edu.mx/redescolar/act_permanentes/historia/html/mov68/cronologia.htm(accessed June 25, 2012).2 John Ross. El Monstruo: dread and redemption in Mexico City. New York: Nation Books, 2009.255.3 John Ross. El Monstruo: dread and redemption in Mexico City. New York: Nation Books, 2009.257.
  3. 3. off the walls, I felt like Id really been there. I could see it, you know? The rest of the day my contacts were driving me crazy--I kept thinking I had rock dust in my eyes.Performing HistoryI selected individual narratives representing a broad spectrum of perspectives onthe events. Students practised dramatic readings of these narratives in groups orpairs and recorded their results. Their grade was based on a portfolio of theirthree favorite recordings.The beauty of reading aloud for expression rather than reading silently forcomprehension is that students paid close attention to reading for nuance. Lessadvanced students sought the help of highly proficient students in parsing thesyntax, morphology, and pragmatics. While the project was not designed as anexercise to teach structure, a number of students reported it was the mostmemorable lesson in language structure they had experienced.Students recorded their readings in pairs, using either their own cell phones orcameras loaned by other students. While large numbers of the students did nothave personal access to smart phones, a "stone soup" approach elicited a highdegree of volunteerism and cooperation.In addition to the dramatic readings students performed, students also learnedone of the songs sung by the 1968 marchers. A group of student musicians in theclass learned the song and provided live accompaniment.The Days of the DeadThe final component of the unit was for students to share the experience with thewider community. My students of all levels of Spanish collaborated to build amemorial ofrenda (commemorative altar) for display in the community Days ofthe Dead celebration held at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte,North Carolina. The ofrenda memorializing the dead of October 2, 1968incorporated the reproductions of marchers posters the students made earlier.Students transported the altar to the festival, assembled it, and stood by toexplain the events the altar memorialized to members of the public. Severalstudents met and spoke with members of the community who lived in Mexico Cityduring the events and who shared with students their own memories andexperiences. Festival organizers and members of the public were moved by thestudents awareness of the events of 1968. My students won third place in apeoples choice competition among the ofrendas.
  4. 4. Works CitedRed Escolar ILCE. "Cronología del moviemento estudiantil de 1968." Historias de la historia. http://redescolar.ilce.edu.mx/redescolar/act_permanentes/historia/html/m ov68/cronologia.htm (accessed June 25, 2012)."El movimiento en México de 1968." historia68. www.palimpalem.com/2/historia68/userfiles/Tlatelolco_foto_2.jpg (accessed June 26, 2012).Richman, Joe, and Anayansi Diaz-Cortes. "Mexicos 1968 Massacre: What Really Happened? : NPR." Radio Diaries. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97546687 (accessed June 26, 2012).Ross, John. El Monstruo: dread and redemption in Mexico City. New York: Nation Books, 2009.

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