|What kind of teaching and learning activities are most productive in moving advanced students of Spanish toward my program’s highest objectives, especially the ability to conduct independent research on significant disciplinary questions? This question was the central motivation to create Problem-Based Units for Advanced Students of Spanish.|
Each unit is devoted to a significant problem in contemporary Spanish society and is designed for advanced-level college students of Spanish. The four PBL units in the series are:
1) ¿Mezquita o Catedral? La disputada identidad de uno de los monumentos más importantes de España (Mosque or Cathedral? The Disputed Identity of one of Spain’s Most Important Monuments)
2) ¿Arte o tortura? El debate sobre los toros en España (Art or Torture? The debate on bullfighting in Spain)
3) ¿Protección o racismo? La venta ambulante ilegal (Protection or Racism? Illegal Street Vending)
4) ¿Independencia o sedición? El movimiento independentista en Cataluña (Independence or Sedition? The Independence Movement in Catalonia)
Students begin each unit with authentic texts related to the problem and from which they must define the problem concretely. A syllabus document establishes a four-week work calendar (two meetings per week) and the requirements for a written solution report and a verbal presentation. The presentation may be delivered live in class or via VoiceThread to allow sharing with broader audiences. Links at the bottom of unit web pages guide students to bibliographies and resources that will be helpful in their research, although they are not comprehensive, so students must locate other resources and ask for help from reference librarians. Class meetings are “flipped” from the usual practice of discussion, note taking, and assimilating new content. Each team spends most of the class period sharing summaries of research performed outside of class, synthesizing new information in order to re-define the problem and propose solutions, assessing progress and determining what further research needs to happen. Students practice research, teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills repeatedly over the course of a semester in which they complete three or four PBL units. By the end of the term they will not only be more familiar with contemporary Spanish society, they will acquire stronger proficiency in Spanish (writing and speaking), stronger independent and collaborative research skills, and better self-directed learning toward solving significant problems. I look forward to implementing the PBL units this fall in an advanced-level course for Spanish majors and minors, and I welcome feedback from colleagues who may adapt and use these units in their courses.