Finding Your "Spanish" Voice Through Popular Media: Improving Student's Confidence and Fluency


By Rebeca Maseda, Assistant Professor
Department of Languages, University of Alaska Anchorage


Context of the Inquiry


  • The class SPANA310: Selected Topics: Readings and Conversations in Hispanic Cultures may be used as an elective to satisfy the upper-division component of a Spanish major or minor at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). 
  • The course requires prior formal study of college Spanish grammar at the upper-division level to ensure student success. Thus, the prerequisite is to have completed six semesters of Spanish (from SPAN A101 to SPAN A302). &νβσπ;
  • Having completed the previous courses prepares students to undertake this practical, skills-based class.  
  • The class is subject to changes in format and content every year.
  • The class is only taught in campus, and fifteen students attend. The small size provides an ideal setting for extensive student participation. 
Students' challenges: 
  • Communicating effectively in the target language and to find contexts that mimic real-life encounters. 
  • This is related to the lack of total exposure to the target language, and the “artificiality” of the Spanish classroom.
  •  The purpose of this teaching inquiry is to assess the benefits of a class designed with the idea of increasing students' involvement in their learning process. 
  • The design follows a combination of different teaching and learning styles that includes a communicative approach, elements from a Flipped classroom and the principles of portfolios in foreign language learning. 
  • I propose the design of my course SpanA310 improves students’ fluency in Spanish through their ability to engage in activities that mimic real-life versatile situations, and in creative production of artifacts in Spanish language. 
  • In addition, the classical lecture time in which the professor explains concepts have disappeared, and the class is dedicated entirely to students performing tasks. 
  • Lastly, I believe the class SpanA310 design enhances the motivation of the learners and improves their ability to communicate in Spanish by working progressively towards a final task, the creation of a magazine with different sections (comic, horoscope, recipes, film critic, interview, etc.), and by reflecting on their learning process and achievements.


Course Artifacts

Focus of the Inquiry


Pedagogical background in Spanish language teaching: 

  • Debate communicative vs. structuralist model. Combination of both is still predominant in the U.S.
  • Attention to linguistic competencies.
  • High-culture (mainly literature).
  • Books created to teach in classrooms.
  • Compartimentation of knowledge.

A complementary way of teaching:
  •  The model I implemented is not necessarily better or worst. I presented it as a complementary way of teaching that adds what is lacking in other classrooms; the predominance of students’ voice and the involvement with a culture (popular) closer to them. I am fortunate to have students with sufficient knowledge of the language structures for me to be able to develop this class.  
  • Consideration of students as social agents capable of performing numerous tasks, and as individuals: inclusion of personal and professional spheres into the class-assumed educative sphere. Class in which students are “ bilingual extensions” of who they are (outside).
  • Inclusion of other competencies beyond linguistics (to know); to know how to do, to know how to be (existential), to know how to learn. 
  • Inclusion of recreational and aesthetic uses (write stories, poems, design posters and campaigns, draw comics, perform, etc.) of the language.
  • Use of “real materials” selected to fit the students’ experience, interests and characteristics. These real materials will offer a non-mediated socio-cultural knowledge (daily-life, life conditions, personal relationships, values, beliefs, attitudes, body language, social conventions, rituals, etc. ) 

Course Artifacts

Course Design and Implementation

 Combination of strategies in order to achieve this inquiry desired outcomes:

  • The principles of a communicative (task-based) approach (Estaire and Zanón, 1994). According to this approach, the class develops in a way that provides the student with the right tools to accomplish a final task that involves a communicative interaction. Although this seminal work was published more than a decade ago, language teachers find difficult to sustain its principles in a real context, and language learning is still highly based on a Structuralist model. Structure out of context, memorization, and individual work are substituted, in the communicative approach, by the prioritizing of context, communication and group work (Cerezal, 1997). In the first years of Spanish at UAA (101-302), students learn increasingly complex structures. But, as Lina Lee states: “One of the most important goals for students in third-year college Spanish is to acquire skills in expressing, defending, and articulating their point of view.” (2002). SPANA310, a third-year class, intends to be a fundamental opportunity for students to become active and confident in engaging in a more authentic Spanish language experience. 
  • The principles of a flipped-classroom (Bergman and Sams, 2007). According to this approach, students watch recorded power point presentation of the theoretical/lecture-based component of the lesson at home. Students devote, then, class time to engage in activities and interact with other peers and professors. In the case of SpanA310, students are responsible for reviewing the structures needed (and previously learned) to undertake the activities proposed in class. Students are required to undertake grammar quizzes before the class to secure acquisition of the necessary knowledge. Students' time-on-task and collaborative interventions are increased.   
  • The principles of portfolio development (collection of progressive student's work and student's reflection on their process of learning: strengths, weaknesses, strategies for learning, achievement of class outcomes and setting future goals). The use of the proposed portfolio project (a magazine with its different parts) in this class fits the principles behind on this approach by engaging students in a final project that requires them to employ all the language skills previously acquired. This magazine tracks and documents individual student achievement. In addition, students answer guided questions at the end of the lessons, utilize other documents such as "fichas léxicas," and respond to a Course Outcomes questionnaire.  

Love in the Times of Cholera: Personal Relationships in the Hispanic World:

For each lesson/topic: different goals, different grammar structures (from simpler to more complicated), different media (comics, songs, articles, tales, movies, shorts, advertisements, and radio and newspaper interviews); different tasks that cover all language skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing, and interpreting).

We cover the following topics:
  • Lesson 1: Perception of) gender (in)differences. ¿(In)diferencias entre los sexos?
  • Lesson 2: Romantic love. Locura de amor.
  • Lesson 3: Deteroration (falling in and out of love). Enamorarte-Desenamorarte.
  • Lesson 4: Unrequited love, difficulties of love relationships (gender differences, disillusionment, difficult dialogues…) Amor no correspondido.
  • Lesson 5: Damaging love (domestic violence…) Amores perros: "Quien te quiere te hará llorar."
  • Lesson 6: Sexuality. Sexualidad.
To have a clear broad picture of how the lessons are programmed, see documents attached. 

Course Artifacts


The main objectives of the design of the class SpanA310 were (1) to improve students’ understanding and fluency, orally and in written, and their ability to interact with others, (2) enhance their motivation and confidence, and (3) foster a sense of autonomy, creativity and ownership of their learning process and progress.

In order to demonstrate the outcome of the inquiry I considered the following kinds of evidence; first, students’ assignments and final work (the magazines), second, the students’ oral presentations and interviews, and third, students’ own testimony (guided reflection pieces, IDEA Teaching Evaluations, and hand-written teaching evaluations). 

Through course innovations students…

  • Developed confidence in speaking
  • Improved writing skills
  • Displayed increasingly complex and extensive use of syntax
  • Demonstrated originality and creativity in their magazines
  • Integrated their personal interests into the course work 

Students’ opinions:

  • “A unique opportunity to explore the language in practice (for the first time)”
  • “It had a very original project”, “I loved the freedom of being creative” , “ The class pushed you to a movement of constant learning”
  • I believe the comment by a student –“This is the closest to an immersion experience I ever had”— is everything I wished for with this class.



 I am delighted with the class outcome. The classroom environment was relaxed and students built meaningful relationships with one another that helped them to find a safe space to voice their opinions. Students also demonstrated a good capacity for collaborating and working in groups.

It is my belief that working with a variety of socio-cultural discourses, including those of the students, made them more flexible, understanding and apreciative of the diversity of customs and opinions. Students also learnt how to reasonably express their point of view.

The very diverse level of the students demanded dividing them into small task groups, which limited my ability to provide direct feedback to each student. I grouped students according to their proficiency. The amount of time they spent conversing was greater, but I had limited control over their performance; I could not identify their mistakes and provide corrective input. They developed confidence, but I would have preferred that they also had more linguistic accuracy.

On a smaller scale, I also learned which specific activities are more and less effective. For example, the majority of students commented that doing the twelve horoscopes was too much work and overly repetitive.

Overall, the design of this type of class requires a great investment of time; of the class as a whole and for coverage of all the material. Therefore, I will try to identify if there is a textbook in the market that corresponds with the same principles I am trying to put in practice with this course.

Course Artifacts

Faculty Contact

Rebeca Maseda, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Spanish 
Spanish Coordinator
University of Alaska Anchorage
Department of Languages
Administration Building 284
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, AK 99508-4614