Decentering Christmas in the Spanish classroom

A journey and a work in process

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Disclaimer 

For the purpose of clarity La Navidad and all the important Christian based traditions from Spanish speaking countries such Día de reyes, Las Posadas, etc, are still part of my curriculum in different grade levels.

The difference is that these traditions are now part of a bigger picture instead of the center. Inclusivity is key to the creation of an anti-bias curriculum and since I want to offer my students a more diverse view of Spanish speaking countries, and the world, they are exposed to different perspectives and information. 

Amongst my students there are kids who celebrate Navidad, Janucá (or both) Winter Solstice, Secular Navidad or nothing at all.

In my school we honor everybody. We practice inclusion by not decorating our campus with any religious specific decor. 

My classes are history driven. I grew up with Christmas traditions and I’m super fond of the rituals (mostly originated from winter solstice pagan celebrations anyway) and it would be easier for me to just teach about t what I know most. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that building bridges of understanding contributes (even if it sounds clichè) to world peace.

Just because I’m Latinx it does not mean I’m Catholic or Christian. This is one of the stereotypes that has become one of my pet peeves, especially when people try to lure me back to the “buen camino”

quoting myself here

My students know that the way I connect to the divine has drifted from organized religion, and they also know that I’m an innate researcher and read about everything and everybody.

In my classes we respect and enjoy learning about different spiritualities. We look at the world with the curiosity of a historian or an anthropologist and always, always with an open mind and heart. 

How I got started?

Definition of decenter: to cause to lose or shift from an established center or focus

especiallyto disconnect from practical or theoretical assumptions of origin, priority, or essence – MERRIAM-WEBSTER

It has been quite an interesting journey working on decentering Christianity for my Spanish Program. As many of the conscious changes in my curriculum, it all started with a conversation. This time with one of my students granfathers’ who also happened to be a Rabbi. As you might already  know, I work at a Quaker School and I have a large group of students who identify as Jewish. This grandfather, who also happened to be of Shepardi origin, planted the seeds to start a personal research about the Jewish community in Spanish speaking countries (see  my Janucá post

It was amazing to see my Jewish students connecting with these units in such a meaningful way! 

Winter Solstice Celebrations

My next step was creating a historical unit about pre-christian winter solstice celebrations in Europe, especifically Saturnalia and Yule.  My former 4th graders, who are super informed and interested in science and mythology loved this unit (thank you Percy Jackson and so many other YA books) ⚡️🧜🏼‍♂️  and it was especially meaningful to those students who celebrate secular Christmas. 

We wore wreaths and Norse helmets. We cheered with apple cider, listened to Roman music  and compared/contrasted the old traditions with the new ones. This was a history lesson, and it included the etymology of the word Pagan because I wanted my students to reflect on the pejorative way of its origin (during Christianity) and see how the word has been reclaimed (and capitalized) by different spiritual movements of European origin and the reconstructors of pre-Christian European religions to identify themselves proudly. Most of  these communities practice earth-based spirituality and mágico-religious traditions nowadays. 

This unit was quite a language acquisition success, and also a delightful critical thinking activity, that I decided to teach it this year again. My current group of 4th graders are such history lovers and they screamed when I told them we would be learning about this in December. 

This is how we do it!

The goal is to develop an understanding of the multicultural, and interfaith correlation of ancient winter solstice celebrations and modern winter celebrations by facilitating classroom discussions about it. 

  • This unit  begins with a presentation I created with simplified but key information about the solstice from a scientific perspective (longest night, the return of light, hemispheres etc) and the ancient celebrations of Yule and Saturnalia.
  • The presentation contains information about the symbolism common in these ancient celebrations and modern ones (tree, candles, log, fruit cake, wreaths, hams, holly, mistletoe, etc) 
  • It includes strong visual support and cognates for understanding
  • After discussing the presentation, we then proceed to sit on a talking circle and compare and contrast using hula hoops (Venn Diagram) and place the key vocabulary flashcards collaboratively inside each field.
  • The students then record all the information in their own Venn diagrams and add emojis for understanding. 

One of the most entertaining discussions we had was around the character of Santa. There were so many evident similarities between Saturn, The Holly King, Odin, and Santa – but their absolute favorite was definitely the Norse goat who delivers presents. 

Que tengan un feliz solsticio de invierno, colegas.

Food for thought

  • How are you decentering Christmas in your classroom?
  • How inclusive are your classroom activities this month of Decemeber?
  • Are you letting your bias run your curriculum?
  • How capitalistic is your Navidad celebration?
  • Do you take into consideration your students’ current economical status? (Talks about Santa and gifts might feel excluding)
  • Are you respectful of all spiritualities in your school community?

PS:  You can find the Winter Solstice Venn Diagram plus 16 vocabulary flashcards about Yule and Saturnalia in my TpT store. The Christmas related flashcards featured in my pictures are from Mundo de Pepita and Ole edu.

You can also find my Janucá set with 26 flashcards to storytell the exile of the Jewish community from Spain and the song 8 Kandelikas 

Also Julie from Mundo de Pepita has a great Winter Solstice tree activity for little ones in her store 


Día de Muertos

“Gracias a las fiestas el mexicano se abre, participa, comulga con sus semejantes y con los valores que dan sentido a su existencia religiosa o política. Y es significativo que un país tan triste como el nuestro tenga tantas y tan alegres fiestas. Su frecuencia, el brillo que alcanzan, el entusiasmo con que todos participamos, parecen revelar que, sin ellas, estallaríamos. Ellas nos liberan, así sea momentáneamente, de todos esos impulsos sin salida y de todas esas materias inflamables que guardamos en nuestro interior.” Octavio Paz 

Whenever I plan a unit I do it keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is that my students will be able to communicate (at their proficiency level) with native speakers. We often discuss this in class, that a language is not a list of words that you memorize, and neither is a trophy to put on your bookshelf. Language is alive, and you keep it alive by using it.

Children, in general, are very open to this idea, and after a class, we had about proficiency, they have been making a conscious effort to add more ingredients to their proficiency sandwich (further explanation in a future post.)

They know also, that communicating successfully in a second language requires more than knowing words and sentences. It also requires being able to empathize with a speaker by bringing respect and cultural understanding to the mix.

I love teaching Dia de los Muertos because it offers,  not only a unique opportunity to tour an interesting perspective rooted in an ancient Mesoamerican belief about the cycle of life, but also an excellent chance for a deeper understanding of the diverse and rich culture of Mexico.

Since it is also one of my students’ favorite units, it provides a great chance for the acquisition of vocabulary within context, and opportunities for spontaneous language practice.

I’m Chilean so did not grow up celebrating this holiday, but I have learned so much about it from the Mexican students I once had, my Mexican friends, and the Mexican-American community in general.

Personally, I’m tremendously grateful for this new perspective on life and death. It has allowed me to switch the pain I used to feel about the death of my cousin and transform it into a celebration of her life by remembering all the happy moments we lived together.

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This is the perspective I expose my students to, that Dia de Muertos is a wonderful opportunity to keep their dear departed and ancestors memories in their heart ♥️

To assess learning in the past,  I usually had my novice-mid and novice-high students write informative pieces about the holiday. This year though, I wanted my students to take a sensory virtual trip  so I could introduce them to new verbs related to the senses. We had been using ver and escuchar for a long time, but this was the perfect chance to introduce saborear and oler.

I created these two fichas that sort of look like graphic organizers, to help my students take the trip. I played “La Llorona” by Angela Anguilar and asked them to close their eyes. Then I said ” Es 2 de noviembre, estamos en Mexico!” “¿Qué ves?”  They are used to play Veo, Veo so they started naming things right away.

Then I shared the ficha on the Promethean board and we brainstormed sentences before writing. I spread all the vocabulary flashcards on my rug. Each student grabbed a clipboard and a pencil and joined us in the rug.  I played Angela Aguilar playlist (per request of my students) as they wrote. Click on the picture to access the playlist on Spotify.

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Here are the two fichas. Feel free to share, download and spread the word by reposting and tagging friends. They will be freebies for a week only.

Please do not remove the authorship mark when you use them and do not forget to tag me if you use it with your students.

Here is the link to the Viaje Sensorial for Novice-High students and up viaje-5c-20sens_33844013-2

Here is the link to the Viaje Sensorial for Novice-Mid students viaje-5c-20sens_33869377

For love & justice.

Françoise Xx

 


“You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”

Families Belong Together

Eleven years ago I taught ESL in Gwinnett county, Georgia. I did not only belong to best team of ESL teachers, but I also taught wonderful students, and was supported by hard-working, caring families. My students were immigrants.

I was an immigrant. I still am.

My students and their parents, carried on their shoulders a heavier burden than mine though. I could write a book with all tales told by my students during our readers and writers workshop time together. Tales of cold nights spent at the desert. Tales of uncertainty. Tales of escaping danger. Tales of parents working four jobs. Tales of  sharing a bed with five siblings. Tales of nostalgia for warm abuela’s cuddles. Tales of hope and resilience.

My heart has felt tight since I first heard about the separation of families at the border. I kept on picturing my back then kindergarteners in those scared faces I saw in the news. I thought to myself, what can I do besides donating money and weaving this theme into my curriculum as I have done before? (see below  – pictures of  the immigration project we did in 4th grade inspired by the Arpillera Women’s Movement in Chile)

Amidst this pondering, a good friend of mine, Carolina Gomez, a fellow educator, and source of inspiration, asked if I wanted to collaborate in the creation of resources  related to the topic. Resources that not only teachers, but homeschool guardians and parents can use with their kids.

Literature  has the power  to convey different aspects of the human experience,  it can help us see life from a different perspective. It offers vivid images that makes us feel we are part of the story.  There are studies that have proved that the empathy we feel for characters, wires our brains to have the same sensitivity towards real people.

Therefore, reading can help banish  the fear rooted in the human soul caused by the lack of familiarity and understanding of others. The type of fear that feeds stereotypes, racism, and hate.

Keeping all that in mind, I created a simple graphic poem.

I am an elementary Spanish teacher, so the resources I create, need to be developmentally appropriate for that age and also comprehensible for non native speakers.

This poem, though in both versions ( English and Spanish), can be used  with children of different ages.

I also created  Spanish and English worksheets  for the kids to write about or illustrate each stanza.  You will find all the attachments below this post.

Feel free to share, download and spread the word by reposting and tagging friends.

Do not forget tag me if you end up using it with your children.

Also visit Carolina’s blog  to download the story of Lilian.

For love & justice.

Françoise Xx

The title for this post was borrowed from the  wonderful poem Home  by Warsan Shire

Poema en Español e Inglés-2

Reading Comprehension Handout-2

guía de comprensión lectora-2


Digamos al partir nuestra canción, nuestra canción

¡Compis!

Is that time of the year again, fin de curso. My blog is not quite ready yet, but since many of you have requested that I make these resources available, I am doing an improv post for those who are still teaching these weeks of June.

These will be freebies until the end of August. If you decide to use them, please credit me and tag me on any pictures you post displaying your students work.

One is the self-evaluation/goal setting form (check my Instagram for details)

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and the other is an end of the year reflection called Mis Recuerdos Top de la Clase de Español.

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I made a poster (attached below) to help my students brainstorm ideas to fill in the Recuerdos form. Both of these fichas are such great meta-learning wrap-up activities. I have tried them with my students, and the results have been wonderful!

Muy buena suerte y fuerza para este fin de curso.

Cariños,

Françoise aka Profe Fran or @thewokespanishteacher

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