Problem-Based Units for Advanced Students of Spanish

Problem-Based Units for Advanced Students of Spanish

Problem-Based Units for Advanced Students of Spanish

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) presents students with compelling, real-world problems to solve collaboratively in small groups. PBL creates a rich environment for using authentic texts in scenarios that require independent research and synthesis of information as well as collaborative decision making and justification of proposed solutions. PBL tasks grow students in several of the most important areas of learning at the college level and develop the skills most sought-after by employers and supervisors: synthesis, evaluation, self-directed learning, team work, problem solving, and communication.

The purpose of these PBL units is to provide advanced students of Spanish (generally 3rd and 4th year college students) a series of compelling problems from Spanish culture and society. Each unit introduces a problem that students must solve collaboratively in small teams (4-6) using the following process:

  1. define the problem
  2. identify concepts, historical periods, and institutions that require research
  3. assign research tasks and other responsibilities to team members
  4. develop a solution to the problem and justify the solution with evidence and sound reasoning
  5. present the solution in writing and verbally

Each unit is based on particular objectives, but the skills and processes students will exercise are the same across all units: collaborative problem solving, self-directed research and synthesis of information, argumentation based on sound evidence, and communication in Spanish. Steps 1-4 of the process are iterative and take place over the course of roughly four weeks with the instructor coaching each team as it seeks information to fill gaps in understanding, revises hypotheses to incorporate new knowledge, and crafts solutions that recognize various perspectives on the problem.

Reflection and self-assessment are key components of PBL. At the end of each class period teams should complete the "autoevaluación" in order to log their progress and assign responsibilities for the next meeting. At the end of each unit the instructor should lead student teams in reflection activities to summarize new understanding, assess the process of research and development of solutions, and connect learning in the most recent unit to other units, courses, and fields of study.

The four PBL units for advanced students of Spanish are:

  1. ¿Mezquita o Catedral? La disputada identidad de uno de los monumentos más importantes de España
  2. ¿Arte o tortura? El debate sobre los toros en España
  3. ¿Protección o racismo? La venta ambulante ilegal
  4. ¿Independencia o sedición? El movimiento independendista en Cataluña

Each unit begins with texts that introduce the problem and then provides a calendar of work for approximately four weeks of class time (two meetings per week), although the calendar can be adjusted as needed. The calendar document outlines the requirements for the written solution report and the verbal presentation. The presentation may be delivered live in class or via VoiceThread to allow sharing with broader audiences. Links at the bottom of the unit page guide students to bibliographies and resources that will be helpful in their research, although they are not comprehensive, so students should be encouraged to seek other resources and ask for help from reference librarians.

The link "Para instructores" is a copy of the ¿Mezquita o Catedral? unit that has been annotated to highlight the theory of PBL that informs this unit, the role of the instructor at various stages, and the particular skill development at work in each stage. I welcome instructors and students to contact me with any feedback on the problem-based units, and I am delighted to have instructors reproduce and modify them with attribution.

David R. Thompson, Professor of Spanish

Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics

Luther College (Decorah, Iowa)