Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ballentine and Schlenker reflect and give thanks.

Jeff Ballentine and Todd Schlenker spent the month of July, 2011, in Spain.  We spent a few nights in Madrid on the front end of the trip and a few nights on the back end, visiting friends, museums and old haunts from 30 years ago, when I studied in Madrid as a college student.  During the three weeks in the middle, July 10-29, we did a summer course for Spanish Teachers at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, in the northern Basque country.  Our classes met every week day from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  Our three professors were experts in the Spanish language, history, culture and methods of teaching.  We learned and shared ideas for teaching Spanish at all levels.  Our excursions took us to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and to several other regional attractions like Santillana del Mar, San Sebastian, San Millan de la Cogolla, Santander and Guernica.  Our Spanish improved tremendously, and we even learned some of the Basque language, known as "Euskera."  Being students helped us recharge our batteries and gave us new insights into the old and new dynamics that make Spain the country it is today.  We need to thank the USM Faculty Grant Committee for giving us the opportunity to study in Spain this summer.  Fifteen other teachers from across the US and Canada paid their own way because of the value these summer courses offer.  They were impressed that USM had the vision and resources to invest in its teachers in this way.  So again, MUCHAS GRACIAS, USM. 

The Spanish Embassy in the US and Canada invite teachers every summer to study in Spain at a variety of Spanish Universities throughout the country.  The AATSP works in conjunction with the Spanish Embassy to aid teachers in making the proper connections.  To learn more visit: and , or click on "cursos de verano" at

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Friday, July 29, Student Presentations and farewell to Deusto

Marta, Mike, Nicole, Kevin, Irma and Stephanie

First of all, a big THANK YOU to our colleagues here who are taking this summer course for college credit.  These six teachers presented today as our three illustrious profes (pictured left) evaluated their presentations.  We all learned valuable tricks on how to present new information to students, including El Camino de Santiago (Marta), Vamos de pintxos (Mike), Las caras de España (Nicole), Puerto Rico (Kevin and Irma) and La comida del mundo hispano (Stephanie). 
The Director of our program in Deusto came today and addressed us all to listen to our comments and share her insights.  It is clear that Deusto is committed to finding ways to improve and grow an already excellent program.  She invited us as teachers to consider bringing pre-college age students to Deusto for specially tailored summer programs, like the one we just completed.  She promised to design the program to meet the developmental needs of our students, offering residence hall or home stays, courses geared for their level and fun excursions to outlying regions of northern Spain. 

After lunch today, we all begin to go our separate ways.  Jeff and I are off to Madrid, and by Sunday, the dorm will be empty, and all the workers will officially be on summer vacation for the month of August.  What a great summer so far.  El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, had a challenge to write a mini-story that relates why we love summer; in less than 140 characters.  Here's my attempt:

Yanqui nací. A Bilbao fui.  En Deusto aprendí; profes, pintxos, playas, historia, toros, cine, arte y jazz en bici.  ¿Un día, volver?  ¡A que sí!  Agur, Vizcaya.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thursday, July 28, Last regular day of classes

Music, poetry and the transiton to democracy

Begoña does her best to put us to sleep by beginning the class with a slow song by Rosanna, "si tú no estás aqui."   She wakes us up with "no dudaría" by Antonio Flores.  We grammar teachers really wake up when Begoña highlights the contrary-to-fact if clauses, contrasting them to the simple present / future tense clauses that make any sentimental romantic tear-up.  Connecting grammar and music is not new, but we are able to swap ideas and resources with the common Facebook page, linking us for future collaboration.   

The shortest short story in Spanish was written by Central American writer, Augusto Monterroso.  It goes like this:  "Upon awaking, the dinosaur was already there."  My translation is probably as good as the next guy's, but it sounds a bit more clever and nuanced in Spanish, which is another reason to have students read the original.  Today's topic in Francisco's class is how to select authentic literature in the L2 classroom.  Allow me to mention just one: it should be at the students' level +1, enough to hook them while also challenging them.  The examples, playful and thought-provoking, come from writers like Mario Benedetti and Gloria Fuentes.

Ana is our cultural attaché for today.  She explains, in a very engaging way, the transition to democracy, starting in 1975 with Franco's death, a referendum approving a Constitution In 1978, elections in 1979 and a failed coup in 1981.  There have been six national elections since, and either the PSOE or the PP wins.  The most dramatic elections coincided with the March 11, 2004 terrorist train bombing in Madrid that was attributed to Al Qaida.  Like all real democracies, like all real teachers, the transition toward our goals is always a work in progress.  Connecting, once again, the arts with the academics of everday life, Ana plays a touching song, composed after the train bombing, and an homage to the victims.  Called JUEVES, by the group, Oreja de Van Gough, it's hard not to cry.   It's a love song about two young people who ride the same morning commute, notice each other, always too shy to talk to each other, yet building that part of the relationship that precedes words.  The moment of finally finding the courage to exchange their first hello coincides with the terrible train explosion.  Enough said.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, The end is near.

Juegos de aula, el comic y la familia real
A very traditional Spanish game is called the hankerchief game.  Someone holds the "pañuelo" between two evenly divided teams.  The holder calls out a number and the numbered person on each side has to respond quickly, run and grab the "pañuelo" and run back to their side before being tagged.  We saw this being played on the beach, and the teenagers were having a blast.  There is an endless number of variations on this game, and Begoña uses it with relative clauses that call for subjunctive.  Another game to use as a warm up is called "a mi derecha," where a student who has a vacant desk to his/her right uses a relative clause and subjunctive to see who stands up and sits in that empty chair.  The new student who has an empty chair on the right does the same until everyone has gone.  Example:  I am looking for someone who has a birthday in June.  This requires subjunctive in Spanish, and if it's your birthday month you get up and sit on the speaker's right.  We can all adapt this game in some form.  Begoña pushes forward in the book, and tomorrow we get to do more subjunctive.  Yippee!

Francisco focuses on the use of comics, graphic novels and literature in general for his teaching.  Since he is a literature expert, he finds this to be a dynamic way to constantly teach culture and language at the same time while exposing students to some of the finest writers in castellano.  Spaniards have a rich literary tradition growing out of newspapers, and therefore, the comics have perhaps played a bigger role than in American culture.  Just like Peanuts was a comic before it debuted on t.v. so too have many Spanish comics evolved.  He gives us some good tips on how to use them in class, and we learn that the bubbles that hold the speech are called "bocadillos."  I asked what we called them in English, and "bubbles" seems right, but please comment if you know better.  Maddy suggested we check out  for more comic ideas. 

Royalty in Spain seems like it could be a summer course of its own, what with all the drama surrounding these European families that have defined so much of this continent's ancient and current cultural landscape.  Ana talks about "La ley sálica " known in English as the Salic Law of Succession.  This was included in the 1978 Spanish Constitution, and in short, it does not allow a women to become Queen if she has a brother.  Spain is a Parlimentary Monarchy, and you can read about King Juan Carlos and his family until you are blue in the face.  Ana highlights some of the unwritten agreements that exist between the press (paparazzi) and the Monarchy, which contrasts in interesting ways with other European royal families. The transition between the Franco dictatorship and the constitutional monarchy took up the whole class today.
King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia

Tuesday, July 26, Back to classes

After a delicious and adventure filled weekend, we are back to classes on this, again cool and wet, Tuesday.  Begoña does not hesitate to throw subjunctive mood at us bright and early.  Most of us have to teach subjunctive, so many of us are engaged as she explains how to accurately use dependent and independent clauses.  We all appreciate this theme on our own terms, and what I take away is her suggestion to incorporate cultural information while having students give an opinion about things like, for example, kissing each other on both cheeks every time you meet up with friends in Spain, or arriving late after agreeing on a time to meet.  We also play a guessing game that sends a person out in the hallway who must come back and guess where s/he is based on our clues that include indicative and subjunctive sentences.  It's fun because we are language geeks.  Example:  It's true that you hear music.  It is sad that the music is too loud. You hope that they play your favorite song.  Answer:  You're at a concert. 

Francisco probably had a lesson plan for today, but all I needed to do was ask one question, and the rest was, well, history.  Kyle Jacobs (Kip's son who studies Spanish at Carleton College) asked me to find out what I could about a case called "el caso Garzon."  It has to do with the very bold, Spanish judge who went after the Chilean Dictator, Augusto Pinochet.  Opinions abound on this current topic, and the future promises more headlines that look back more than 70 years.  The new Historic Memory Law called "la ley de memoria historica" is a touchy topic that attempts to sort out the pain and suffering of the twentieth century in Spain.  Our trip to Guernica this afternoon will surely shed more light on this polemic. 

Ana takes us out for pintxos in the casco viejo neighborhood (the old part of town).  We overeat our way to happiness and stroll through the plaza nueva before we walk a kilometer or so to the train station for our 45 minute ride to Guernica.  The key stops in Guernica include the Peace Museum, the Henry Moore sculpture, the Casa de Juntas and famous Guernica Oak Tree.  Seeing and understanding the Casa de Juntas helps us realize that Guernica played an important politcal and symbolic role in the history of the Basque Country.  This helps explain why Franco had Hitler and Mussollini bomb this otherwise small and militarily insignificant town.  Most believe it was to send a message, by hitting the Basque Country in one of its most popular trading and cultural centers.   Eyewitnesses gave their accounts to journalists while Franco's journalists claimed the "Reds" were actually responsible.  The Peace Museum makes a terrific effort NOT to glorify war, and instead focuses on the value of peace, and what it actually means to live in peace.  This is very thought provoking museum that puts peace front an center in an effort to move us forward as a people so we can avoid the things that caused this tragedy in 1937. 

The building on the right is the Peace Museum in Guernica. It's worth a visit.  Please read the Tools for peace below printed in four languages at the museum:  English, French, Spanish and Euskera. 

Tools for peace
Firm dialogue
Respect for human rights
Looking to the future
Honoring our fellow human beings
Putting ourselves in the other party's position
Listening to different opinions
Searching for common ground
Meditating to unite the wishes of both parties
Inventing and creating
Gearing the situation towards reconciliation
Admitting our mistakes
Thinking positively
Investigating and discovering other realities
Confronting postures in a positive fashion
Reviewing laws and regulations
Not stigmatizing persons and their problems
Standing up to injustice
Making our postures more flexible
Taken from the Peace Museum in Guernica, Spain,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monday, July 25, Festival de Santiago

Today is Monday, and a holiday, so no one works or goes to school.  Stores are closed, and it is still raining, so it's a perfect day to recover from the busy weekend.  When July 25 falls on a Sunday, it is an extra special year for pilgrims in northern Spain.  The legend of St. James or Santiago is an interesting one and is symbolized throughout northern Spain with a shell (see image).  Pilgrims from all over the world walk all or part of the Camino de Santiago, from southern France west to Galicia, directly above Portugal.  Bilbao is part of the Camino, and we see hikers every day.  These shells are on buildings, signs and in the pavement all along the route.

Our list of films keeps growing, and we take advantage of this cold and rainy day to watch another.  Watching a different film almost every night makes it hard to keep them all from running together.  We watch "El lobo," a film about the ETA terrorist group in the 1970's that was infiltrated by a mole known as "el lobo."  It is a good film to get a sense of that part of Spain's history.  Another particularly good film is "los girasoles ciegos," for its poetic, human quality during a difficult political time after the war.  And  "Los soldados de Salamina." also shows the human side of war, focusing on an act of mercy during an otherwise brutal campaign.  One theme in every one of these films so far is the incredibly strong roles that women play.  The saddest example of this is "Las 13 rosas;" thirteen young women, some still teenagers, who fall to a firing squad.  All of these films somehow prepare us for our visit tomorrow to the small town of Guernica, made famous by Picasso's mural, which  reminds us of what happened there, on a Monday afternoon in 1937.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday, July 24, One more week

Donostia (San Sebastian), Heineken Jazz Festival

Our hopes were high for this day, and we planned well in advance to make sure we could soak up the sun on the beaches of this popular city of 180,000 people on the northern coast of Spain, a hop, skip and a jump from France.  Hannah Reimer's friend, Igor, from ten years ago, whom she met in Germany, met up with us and introduced us to his wonderful family.  Unfortunately, as you can tell by our jackets and sweaters, mother nature didn't get the memo about sending the sun to the jazz festival.  Instead, we walked around with umbrellas, usually open, and only caught a sampling of music as a result. Usually the beach is packed with people on this day, but the cold and rain has been parked over pais vasco for several days now. 

The great thing was to be able to see a young family speaking to the children in euskera and then switching to castellano so effortlessly.  It is a beautiful thing, and research has shown that it is good for the brain to use multiple languages throughout life.  The custom of going out for "pintxos" in Donostia (San Sebastian) is something you can do regardless of the weather.  So we sampled some delicious dishes at a number of fine establishments that fill the narrow streets of this charming town. Igor, Leticia and their two children showed us a great time despite the lousy weather.  They know they have an open invitation to visit Milwaukee anytime.  The Euskera word for good bye is "agur," and you hear it all the time around town.  So thank you Igor and family for making our visit to Donosti even more memorable.  Agur!