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Using WWB in the Classroom: Teachers' Ideas

Posted on February 22, 2016

During the piloting phase of Words Without Borders Campus, we have worked with teachers of English, world literature, global history and citizenship and other subjects. It has been inspiring to hear about some of the ways educators have used the materials, and how their students have responded. 

Alona Guevarra, an instructor in the English Department at Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines, used Carmen Boullosa's poetic response to Mexico's drug wars, “Sleepless Homeland,” with her Introduction to Poetry and Drama class. In order to extend students’ interpretive understanding into a creative project, Guevarra assigned students to work in groups to create their own reinterpretations of the poem. One group of students made the video below.

Lit 14: Sleepless Homeland from Clar Tagaza on Vimeo.

Of the video and the assignment, Guevarra says: 

The students were able to relate to the poem's symbolic level and tie it up with their generation's concerns. I also think that the poem is relatable given some similarities between Mexican and Philippine socio-historical realities. The problems of 'homeland" are quite similar in the two settings.

(If you’re interested in filmmaking in the classroom, take a look at two articles from Edutopia: one gives tips on how to insert movie-making into your lesson plan and the other is a playlist of instructional videos about filmmaking.)

Like Alona Guevarra, Vermont teacher Whitney Kaulbach, of Lamoille Union High School, connected the contemporary literature on the site to current events. Kaulbach used Iman Mersal’s poem “Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me” after the Paris attacks in November. First, Kaulbach had her AP World History students read and pass around the poem, annotating favorite passages and highlighting questions or connections. Then, she played a video of Mersal reading her poem “The Clot” in Arabic. Kaulbach says she wanted the students’ first experience hearing Arabic to be “pretty and peaceful and not connected to the news.” 

Finally, Kaulbach posted documents on the wall for students to walk around and read, leave comments on and look for connections with: a BBC timeline of Egyptian history available in the Context tab of Mersal's “Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me;” a quote by Bernie Sanders on international forces; and a map of ISIS attacks from the New York Times. 

(Over on Education Week’s Global Learning blog, guest blogger Susanna Pierce also wrote about the challenge of teaching about terrorism.)

Miciah Hussey, an instructor in the “Great Works of World Literature” course at Baruch College in New York, also taught Iman Mersal's poetry, as well as the story “Dreams and Memories of a Common Man,” by Marcos Matías Alonso, and an excerpt from Prison Memoirs, by the Tiananmen Square protest leader Wang Dan. 

Hussey began a culminating class discussion with the question, “What’s one issue you would write about if you were writing a novel?” Gentrification, economic equality, racial equality, and freedom from oppression topped the students lists; they were then able to find similar themes in the readings (gentrification in Alonso and Mersal’s literature; freedom from oppression in Prison Memoirs.) In class, students watched the "Tank Man" video filmed during the Tiananmen Square protests, available in the Context tab of "Prison Memoirs," and discussed their responses to Wang Dan and the other authors. These kinds of discussions contributed to students' understanding of the overall theme of Hussey’s class – world literature and human connection.

We would love to hear from educators who taught with materials from WWB Campus. If you’d like to share new ideas, or were inspired by the ones in this post, please write to [email protected].