María del Mar Calero Guerrero

University of Kobe – Japan

Thesis: The development of cultural awareness and  theoretical thinking in the Spanish classroom as a L2.

Research supervisor: Dr. Montserrat Sanz, (Kobe, Japan), Dr. Arturo Escandon, Spanish & Latin-American Studies, F-ty of Foreign Studies

My theoretical background is relevant for this research project to the extent that it crystallized my motivation and intentions with it. The origin of this project can be traced back to my high school years. In literature classes, I wondered what was the importance of memorizing the dates when an author was born and had died and specific details of his life. These facts were necessary to consider only to the extent that they assisted when facing the author’s actual work. My passion for reading and writing made me decide to study Spanish language and literature when I started University. This literary background had a huge impact on me. Literature is highly undervalued in the educational system in Spain and society in general. In contrast, empirical knowledge, disconnected facts, numbers and practical issues are enormously considered in tertiary level. Nevertheless, I felt that interpreting a poem or a novel needs a high level of understanding of different conceptual frameworks such as history, economy, philosophical issues. Literature concedes coherence to all these concepts, crystallizing the author’s intention in a piece of art. The dialogue established between the author and the reader can be translated to any other form of art: paintings, dancing, music, cinema, etc. The relevance of art education is that it makes integration of knowledge possible because it implies a personal experience where the receiver has the freedom to connect to her own emotions and life stories. The interpretation of cultural artefacts such as works of art can promote a more holistic approach to education.

When I finished University, I started teaching Spanish as a SLA and I have been dedicated to this highly enriching profession for 11 years. This job has provided me the opportunity to live in 3 different countries:the United States, Spain and Thailand, teaching at different levels: private language schools, high-schools and uiversity. I have also complemented my teaching experience with a deeper theoretical knowledge about the discipline that I was teaching and finished a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics for Teaching Spanish as a SLA. The final thesis of this Master’s degree was related to dealing with the issue of how intercultural competence and critical thinking could be taught in the context were I was working: an international college in Thailand. I intended to continue researching this same topic and develop it into a Phd thesis. However, I struggled when I tried to find scholars available who were specialized in applied linguistcs, education, Spanish and critical thinking. Fortunately, I met one of my supervisors, Dr.Montsterrat Sanz at a Conference in Bangkok and I started my Phd research under her supervision, along with Dr. Arturo Escandon, who is a scholar highly versed on Berstein and Vygotsky’s theories. As a result, my original plan has been deeply enriched and it continues to develop beyond my expectations.

I have been reading, collecting data from one of my classes in a long case study research project and writing the thesis since then. Nevertheless, due to the fact that my research is conducted in Thailand and my supervisors are located in Japan, I am missing the support of a community of Phd students who share, encourage and enrich each other’s projects. I am profoundly interested in learning more from other Phd students and reputed scholars and I am eager to get feedback of my own work. I deeply believe that knowledge is constructed socially and it is the means to enable human beings to attain a higher level of freedom within ourselves and humankind in general. Therefore, I would highly appreciate it if I am considered to participate in this event.

As stated at the beginning of this motivation letter, I am highly concerned with the necessity of a more holistic approach to education. The analysis and interpretation of cultural artefacts in the SLA classroom enable students to acquire a higher mental and theoretical level and a more conscious perspective of the connections established between human beings, their activity and the cultural context where they are immersed. Therefore, the appropriation of this academic knowledge enables them to become more aware of the characteristics of their own community.

I have been engaged in the design of specific activities to promote a higher conceptual level that allows students to deepen in their interpretation of cultural artefacts. I have also been collecting data from my student’s writing assignements and recording classes where the activities are designed to promote the development of their theoretical thinking, drawing on Chaiklin and Hedeggard’s radical-local approach to instruction. Currently, I am struggling with the analysis of this data. I am planning to develop a data analysis tool based on Dynamic Assessment’s theories in the near future. Nevertheless, I will highly appreciate feedback on this issue, which is another reason why I feel highly motivated to attend this Summer Course, so my research can be enriched with multiple perspectives and the insights of other researchers and scholars.

Presentation “The development of cultural awareness and theoretical thinking in the Spanish classroom as a L2”

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