Take 3….Vida y Muerte en la MS 13

One of my favorite things about the Fluency Matters novels is the variety available. Spanish IV has read La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie Baker and Frida by Kristy Placido this year, bringing the total of novels that they have read in Spanish to six. They have been exposed to the culture of Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Spain, and they have read, among many topics, about immigration, Civil Wars, environmental issues, cultural traditions, bullfighting, polemic issues, legends, soccer, and art. They have read lighthearted topics and serious topics, but with everything that they have read, they have been exposed to compelling comprehensible input that I can mold according to the needs and interests of each class.  Additionally, with our FVR on Fridays, they are being exposed to more of these novels that THEY choose to read.

A few weeks ago, we started Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha 13 for my third time. As with every time that I begin a novel, the one constant is that nothing stays the same and I always am revising, adding and crafting new materials, trying to get that “just right” level. I always feel that I am under some pressure to get through material in a timely manner in my 50 minute classes, and it is always in the back of my mind, as Carol Gaab has said so many times, “slow down, slow down, slow down.” Such a battle!!! However, slower has definitely been better this time around.

For four weeks prior to beginning this unit, we were in a unit about their dreams and goals. Their final visual assessments are all over the wall fo the room, as I wanted that visual representation of their hopes to be a constant reminder as we began to explore the hopes and dreams of the youth of El Salvador during the Civil War. We started with a terrific reading from Martina Bex about La Masacre de El Mozote. This was the first year using this reading, and it definitely helped to prep the students for what we were plunging into. I also took Martina’s reading and created a powerpoint with many additional pictures (25 slides ) and followup explanations and materials for El Mozote. After two days using some of the materials that Kara Jacobs created for the “pre work” about El Salvador and the Civil War, we moved into the movie Voces Inocentes, the true story of a young boy growing up in the midst of the Civil War. I was very careful this year to make sure that we continued to contrast their hopes/dreams with youth in entirely different circumstances. In previous years, I pushed to get through the movie in three days, always wanting to spend more time discussing what we watched (but not doing so), but also feeling pressure to get to the novel.  I can not tell you how much better it was to spend SIX days (double the time) on this movie this year. We watched about 20 – 25 minutes each day and spent the first part of class talking about, discussing and refining what we had watched the day before. One day we did this with a partner, another day in a group of four, another day as a whole class, etc. I used some of the questions from Kara’s guide to the movie, some from a guide put together by Carmen Herrero and Ana Valbuena, and combined these with some of my own material: voces-inocentes-post-viewing-day-1-2017, voces-inocentes-post-viewing-from-day-2-2017, voces-inocentes-post-viewing-day-3-2017, voces-inocentens-post-viewing-day-4. The day after day 5, when we finished the movie, each class spent a considerable amount of time working through their reactions and questions concerning some of these (varied by class):

Marcos, simbolismo de la galleta
La reacción de Kella y Abuelita al ver que Chava no está
¿Por qué Ancha?
Cuando Chava recogió el rifle, empezó a disparar y paró….por qué
Simbolismo del arma que dejó caer Chava
El grito de “NO” al ver el fuego en la casa
El regreso de Kella, buscando a Chava (el amor que no cesa)
Cuando Chava tomó la cara de Kella en sus manos…(ahora, sí, es el hombre de la casa)…agarra su mano y dijo “Vámonos de aquí)
Vendió la máquina de coser para el viaje de Chava a los EE.UU
La reacción de Kella cuando Ricardito dijo “Ahora soy el hombre de la casa.”
Chava, no quiere ir a los EE.UU…dijo: “Pero si me quedo me van a acabar matando.”
La escena al final cuando Chava está manejando por los techos
Why was the story left up to Chava to tell? “Pero me tocó a mí”      

Finally, on day 6, we played a “game” that I have always called Levántate y Cambia, but I saw recently somewhere (I can’t remember, where!!  I’m sorry! Help!) with the name Quiz, Quiz, Change. voces-inocentes-levantate-y-cambia I took questions and vocabulary from the movie,  ran them off on cardstock and gave a card to each student.  They got up, asked a partner their question, the partner answered it, then asked his/her question, was answered, they switched cards and moved to someone else.  We then immediately went into an untimed free write, where they were free to write about their choices of symbolism in the movie, character growth/development in the movie, the effects of the Civil War, the most powerful scene, etc.  Many of their free writes were in depth and quite moving.

Another thing that I did differently with the movie this year was to preteach two of the powerful songs from Voces Inocentes:  Casas de  Cartón and Razones. Mike Peto had blogged about the impact that Casas could have if the students know it prior to the first of three times that it is used within the movie, and, boy, was he correct! My students in the past always grew to like the song AFTER the fact; it was entirely different when they understood the lyrics from the first time it occurs in the movie.  By the third time it plays in the movie, several of my students were in tears. It was equally successful to preteach Razones by Bebe (just using 1:32 of the song); the rawness of her voice, the lyrics and the moment that it plays in the movie all converged to make a very powerful moment.

Yet something else that I added this year, still prior to beginning the novel, was a study of Oscar Romero.  Since we had been exposed to the activity of priests in the movie, and we had read a bit about Oscar Romero in our prework for the Civil War, I added a reading that I wrote (oscar-romero, with a reminder that I am not a native speaker and there most likely are errors) and a study of his last address/sermon. We also watched a few clips from the movie, Romero, and one for the last sermon.

This time around, as we begin to get engrossed in the compelling biography of the narrator in Vida y Muerte, I didn’t want them to forget the Civil War in El Salvador, why so many came to the U.S. and how these teenagers (parents of the narrator) had hopes and dreams just like they have. Since The novel begins with the initiation of the narrator into the gang life, one of the first pieces of music that I have used in the past is “Gangsta” by Kat Dahlia.  It’s always a song that the students really respond to, but I wanted to push it further this year. So, before we began, we had some small group discussion, followed by a class discussion about “Gangstas.”  Side note: my students find it really, really humorous to hear me (the older teacher) say “gangsta”!  I created this document to guide their discussion: gangsta

The final step, prior to beginning the novel was the work with the song. First exposure was with lyric strips (the first 12 lines) that two students had to order as they listened. Printing the lyrics out on colorful cardstock, cutting them out and putting them in a baggie, makes it possible for this activity to be done multiple times, multiple years. dices-ser-un-gangsta-first-part-strips-for-ordering  Once they had determined the correct order, they attempted to apply meaning to the lyrics with their partner. We read the lyrics in English and Spanish, we sang them multiple times, and they were hooked. We followed that activity with a traditional cloze. This week I will use the song yet again with a second part of lyric strips from later in the song. gangsta-second-part-sentence-strips

We are now, four weeks into the start, on chapter 5 of the novel.  We’ve watched clips of movies, played Kahoot and Quizlet, worked with SMART presentations that I’ve created for Los Angeles and specific chapters, done multiple partner activities, class discussions, and Smash Doodles.It’s going to be a long time to the finish.  Last year, I went through the novel and immediately went into an Immigration unit.  HEAVY MATERIAL! This year I am breaking up the intensity/seriousness of the material by doing 4 days with the novel (Monday through Thursday) and having Friday devoted to FVR and El Internado.  So far, it is going well.  This week will bring activities with another song that has been successful with students and this novel, Así Crecí by Farruko (entire post about that song from last year here) and the creation of our own tatuajes (to go with the narrator getting his first one).

The going is slow, but it is definitely rewarding.

My YouTube playlist for Vida y Muerte.

My Pinterest page for Vida y Muerte.

My wikispace page for daily plans for Vida y Muerte, a work in progress.