Digital resources have continued to become an integral part of the blended learning experience for the 21st Century student, but how can you combine a tradition that can be traced back as far as 3,000 years with modern technology? We talked to Jess Griffiths from Coburg High School who did just that, read on to find out more.
Death is certainly a tricky subject in any conversation but talking about it with Year 8 language students can actually be an engaging way to develop their vocabulary, understanding and confidence! Introducing students to celebrations like the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead helps turn the morbid and macabre into a colourful celebration of the lives of those who have passed and an opportunity to develop key language skills. Unlike many Western traditions around death, the Dia de los Muertos sees families creating elaborate altars (ofrendas), decorating tombs, spending the night in the cemetery and sharing food. All based on the belief that the dead come back to the earthly plane for one day, once a year to spend time with their living relatives.
For Coburg High School the connection to and understanding of these cultures is an integral part of their Spanish program. As Jess explains “features of the Dia de los Muertos celebration, particularly face painting and decorations, have now become popular in many countries, including Australia” and even in Coburg’s hometown of Melbourne students may see items in stores decorated in the traditional designs so it’s important that students understand how traditional celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos are still relevant today.
The other important aspect of this unit was for students to identify the key differences between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, “often our students are surprised that Dia de los Muertos has nothing to do with Halloween, particularly as they fall at a similar time in the year”.
To engage their “connected generation” learners the school’s approach “was to combine rich classroom learning with a half day celebration that the entire school participated in, through a number of cultural activities and a lunchtime fiesta” and by the end of the unit of work to make sure the students walked away with an understanding of the origins and significance of Dia de los Muertos. This started with the exploration of the traditions from the festival so students could understand its purpose and symbolism. This was followed by a series of Education Perfect smart lessons that were used to teach students the vocabulary they needed to discuss the event features such as food and decorations. On the day, using Education Perfect’s inbuilt competition tool, the Year 8 students had a live competition where they could display what they had learnt.
So, why combine something like Dia de los Muertos with language learning? For Jess “combining culture with language learning is an essential part of building a quality language program. As students understand the intricate parts of the culture, they can also begin to relate to the intricacies of the language” and Jess and her colleagues have observed that students develop a great understanding of how and why languages don’t translate perfectly as they learn more about Spanish speaking culture. In their experience, this human connection makes students more confident about speaking the language and engaging with native speakers because after all language is all about connecting with others!
Importantly, students also enjoyed being part of this experience. Coburg High School is a new school and Spanish is an elective after Year 9, so while it’s too early for Jess to say how well technology has improved her students' Spanish retention, events like this have definitely engaged students in Spanish culture, even when they choose not to study it anymore. Her students commented that their learning was “powerful” and in future, they would be able to explain to others, with confidence, why the Dia de los Muertos was significant.
With this positive feedback from students, what does the future hold for blended learning experiences for the language students at Coburg? Jess explains that programs like Education Perfect and iMovie and digital content like animations, photography and video will continue to be used regularly and the use of Skype to connect with native language speakers is something they are looking in to.
Muchas gracias to Jess for sharing her insights! If you have any ideas on using Education Perfect to create blended learning experiences for students or you would like more information on setting up a blended learning event we’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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