Spanish Teaching Open Education Resources (OER): Opportunities and Challenges
by Inés Vañó García, Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures
Language instructors often do not agree on which teaching method is the most effective. Many believe that the one that worked for them must be the one that will work for their students. While a range of language teaching methods have worked in the past, we must keep in mind that specific methods become influential and popular when they gain the seal of approval by language departments as well as by publishing companies. These methods have traditionally given priority to grammar-based language material where the theoretical explanation is accompanied by mechanical exercises such as filling in the gap, matching, and other closed-answer activities. In my opinion, these teaching and learning environments do not foster knowledge and inquiry, as they envision students as knowledge consumers instead of students as knowledge creators. There is an urgent need to challenge this methodology in language instruction, which tends to privilege the core skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) through attention to grammar, vocabulary, and culture, with little or no attention to metalinguistic issues and the political nature of language itself (del Valle, 2014; Leeman, 2014; Martínez, 2003; Villa, 2002).
To be clear, Spanish is not a foreign language within the US, especially in New York City, where several campuses are federally recognized as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Approaches that externalize, exoticize, and romanticize Spanish are inadequate to meet the needs of CUNY students who move daily through Spanish-speaking spaces. Language pedagogy in general, and Spanish instruction in particular, would benefit from engaging with critical pedagogy frameworks. Within such approaches, students’ multilingual backgrounds become central to the language classroom, where monolingualism is not conceived as the norm. This student-centered and student-driven approach goes beyond simply acquiring linguistic skills and, motivates students to be active critical thinkers.
Critical pedagogy approaches emphasize dialogue and community building, which creates opportunities to upend presumed hierarchies between teacher and students. This approach also fosters open teaching and learning practices in which interdisciplinary collaborations (sociolinguistics, literature, films studies, among others) are encouraged. Aside from the acquisition of the linguistic skills, metalinguistic issues, together with social, historical, cultural, and political concerns, are introduced on the first day of class, even in elementary language levels.
Open Education Resources (OER) facilitate the exploration of new pedagogies; an open pedagogy based on transparency and self-reflection where there is collaboration among peers by sharing and producing language instruction material, and disposable assignments are substituted by authentic and renewable ones. Moreover, besides conceiving students as knowledge creators, the use of OER fosters the development of digital literacies. Within this framework, teaching and learning expands beyond the classroom where students can have an authentic audience and an impact on the world(s) in which they live (Jhangiani & DeRosa, 2018; Rosen & Smale, 2015).
In my review of Spanish language OERs, I found few that embrace the critical pedagogical frameworks I laid out above. The following texts support the traditional Spanish language teaching approach and its textbook-look format/organization, based on grammatical points and/or readings divided by country.
In Spanish Grammar (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US) by Bowdoin College, one can find an outline of essential grammar structures based on John Turner's All the Spanish Grammar You Really Need to Know. Beside an explanation of grammatical structures, it contains practice activities.
From a beginners’ perspective, Hola. Todos: Elementary Spanish I (CC BY 4.0) was created by faculty members of University of North Georgia under a Round Six ALG Textbook Transformation Grant. These resources are teaching materials and the authors are working on a full open textbook. Moreover, each chapter is complemented by lectures, pre- and post-class activities.
At an intermediate level, The University of Kansas Collaborative Digital Spanish Project has launched Acceso (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Although, as mentioned in its description, these materials are supplemented by a workbook provided by Pearson, we believe that they can be used without it. Here we have an example of its use in one language course at California State University (CSU) Bakersfield.
A critical pedagogical approach, on the contrary, envisions language courses as content courses in which instructors must create a teaching and learning environment to foster inquiry, motivate students to be creative and active critical thinkers, and promote interactions, spaces, and opportunities to explore, discover, review and reflect any aspect related to the (Spanish) language from political, socio-historical, and cultural points of views.
This approach helps students understand language as more than a linguistic set of norms. Being aware that although our social practices tend to normativity, linguistic norms are neither natural nor fixed, they are based on social consensus. And it is crucial that we/instructors reflect on the pedagogical practice of normativity while teaching language courses, heritage language as well as second language courses. The preconception that there is a standard variety that instructors must teach in class is a language ideology by itself: the so-called “standard” is a product of specific socio-historical processes and power relationships on behalf of a specific group of people (Milroy & Milroy, 1991). According to this critical perspective we are advocating for, linguistic and social norms should be objects/questions of public discussion and they should have a place/space in language courses. Moreover, regarding specifically heritage language courses, without delving into the terminological debate about the pejorative connotations of the adjective “heritage,” learners/students’ linguistic competence is frequently defined as “incomplete.” In other words, their linguistic abilities are constructed by these curses as a deficiency that needs to be improved.
Although, there are not many OER available within this critical pedagogical approach, as a starting point, and probably one of the best-known sites by most language instructors, we recommend the Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning (COERLL). This institute is one of the sixteen National Foreign Language Resource Center (LRC’s) in the United States funded by the U.S. Department of Education; this particular center is focused on the creation and dissemination of OER. Although the center is not exclusively dedicated to Spanish, it covers 21 different languages. In its Spanish section we can find a compilation of OER materials related to Spanish language instruction, and material specifically addressed to Spanish heritage learners. Among their OERs, we can find many original videos and interviews, although the use of the material follows a more traditional pedagogical approach to language teaching.
SpinTX (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) (Authentic Spanish videos for language teachers) is a video archive from the Spanish in Texas Corpus that also provides a collaborative site of lesson ideas based on these videos for teachers.
Actividades de práctica con aprendices del español (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) offers supplemental activities on the Spanish applied linguistics textbook Lingüística aplicada: adquisición del español como segunda lengua (Koike & Klee, 2003). These activities are based on the Spanish Proficiency Training & Learner Corpus, which includes videos of 16 heritage language learners at different proficiency levels following the ACTFL guidelines.
Taking an innovative and critical approach to Spanish language teaching and learning, as described previously, we would like to share the following OERs that are collaborative platforms:
The FLLITE project (CC BY-SA 4.0) sponsored by CERCLL (University of Arizona) and COERLL, is a collaborative space that publishes lessons that emphasize language play in second language literacy. The lessons included here aim to develop language awareness and the multiple communicative competences.
Following our belief that we can teach content through language from day one, we would like to share Empowering Learners of Spanish (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) from the University of Oregon. This initiative by faculty at the Romance Language Department is a compilation of activities that introduce both heritage and L2 students to concepts in sociolinguistics as well as to a critical approach to language ideologies.
Another collaborative project with a critical perspective is Antología abierta de la literatura hispana (AALH) (CC BY 4.0) created by Julie Ward from the University of Oklahoma. This initiative aims to create a critical anthology of literary texts from the Spanish-speaking world, including not only the canonical authors but also subaltern voices. Students are responsible for creating the critical introductions and annotations for each text. An implementation guide is available for the teachers, which includes possible assignments, rubrics and more. (They are actively looking for collaborators who are interested in implementing this critical edition assignment in their own courses).
Following this last open and collaborative project, which emphasizes the language learner’s agency during their learning process and production of an anthology, we have listed several OER based on literature. Although these resources are intended for literature courses or advanced language levels, this material can be conceived of as projects that might be entirely produced by language learners themselves (like the previous one). Coming from a critical pedagogical framework and considering a task-based approach, Spanish learners could be in charge of selecting texts, fragments and/or stories, elaborate annotations, provide a socio-cultural, historical and political context and, even comprehension questions:
Ventanas (CC0 1.0) is an anthology of literature for advanced Spanish language learners created by graduate students at the University of California, Davis. It includes texts by Miguel de Cervantes, Rubén Darío, Horacio Quiroga, José Martí, among many others. Readings are accompanied by annotations, pre-reading and post-reading exercises, discussion activities, and writing prompts in order to help students understand these works.
Leyendas y arquetipos del Romanticismo español (CC BY-NC 4.0) by Robert Sanders offers a compilation of traditional texts from the nineteenth century with a thematic focus on legends and archetypes (including poetry, drama and short story). This edition, furthermore, includes vocabulary, historical and cultural annotations to help students’ reading comprehension.
Recorridos - Don Quijote (CC BY 3.0 US) is a textbook that provides a historical and social contextualization before each chapter together with pre and post reading activities in order to assist with the teaching of Don Quixote. However, the teacher textbook is not available as OER.
Although my bibliography review has highlighted diverse Spanish language OERs supporting different teaching and learning approaches, I would like to reinforce the immediacy of rethinking language instruction. The use of OERs could be the turning point where we transform the way we teach and learn languages with the implementation of critical pedagogy frameworks. By facilitating open conversations and connections beyond the classroom in which we contribute instead of consume knowledge, we engage students with meaningful and current issues, develop critical thinking tools and strategies, and encourage them to have an impact in the world they live. Our pedagogical practices must stress the development of student agency in the process of building relationships between language and sociopolitical issues, question real-world context problems, and make power structures visible to them.
del Valle. J. (2014). The Politics of Normativity and Globalization: Which Spanish in the Classroom?. The Modern Language Journal, 98, 1, 358-372.
Jhangiani, R. & DeRosa, R. (2018). Open Pedagogy and Social Justice. Hybrid Pedagogy. https://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/open-pedagogy-social-justice/
Leeman, J. (2014). Critical Approaches to Teaching Spanish as a Local-foreign Language. In The Handbook of Hispanic Applied Linguistics, edited by Manel Lacorte, 275-292. New York: Routledge.
Martínez, G. (2003). Classroom based dialect awareness in heritage language instruction: A critical applied linguistic approach. Heritage Language Journal, 1(1), 1–14.
Milroy, J. & Milroy, L. (1991). Authority in Language. (3rd edition). New York: Routledge.
Rosen, J., & Smale, M. (2015). Open digital pedagogy = Critical pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy. http://hybridpedagogy.org/open-digital-pedagogy-critical-pedagogy/
Villa, D. (2002). The sanitizing of U.S. Spanish in academia. Foreign Language Annals, 35, 222–230.