Iulia Sprinceana, Assistant Professor of Spanish, delved into the world of dramatic arts with her SPA 350 seminar course as students culminated their class experience with student-run production in front of a live audience. She knew this would be high risk for both her students and for her as her course is not a Drama course and her students had little-to no experience in theater, but that is exactly what made this so intriguing.
Sprinceana’s previous experience with this teaching style in her spring 2015 Modern Spanish Theater course helped her reshape this course into a more effective learning experience for her students through careful alteration of a few key course components. “I was able to apply my prior experience to now, making the [course] timeline different, allowing more time to rehearse, and allowing students to pick the play themselves,” she explained.
The class spent a significant amount of time analyzing text and interpreting scenes from the eight selected plays from post-1975 Spain. Students were expected to lead discussions, prepare questions and creative activities, while developing familiarity and comfort with speaking Spanish publicly.
Students chose “Perpetual Peace,” a play by renowned contemporary Spanish author Juan Mayorga, which is a metaphorical take on terrorism. In the politically charged climate surrounding the 2016 election, students were particularly energized to look at issues of terrorism and how the threat of terrorism transforms our daily lives.
Sprinceana indicated that group cohesiveness made a huge difference in the overall success of the course; the eight students she had in her Junior Seminar class worked really well together as they became integrally involved in the production from start to finish. Students maintained a production diary, established the cast, memorized lines, scheduled rehearsals, and even connected through a video conference session with author of the play, Juan Mayorga, where they were able to gain additional inspiration for their final production.
Since the goal was for students to be engaged in high-stakes decision making processes as they navigated the nuances of planning and running a production all on their own, to allow students to fully take lead of the project Sprinceana limited her role to class time manager and student communication. The results were phenomenal; Sprinceana and participants in the audience were delighted at both the depth and quality of the production. Students were asked questions by the audience, which challenged the students to reflect on their experiences and helped reinforce the learning experience. Ultimately, Sprinceana believes her students gained valuable skills from this course, but most importantly they became better communicators and learned that taking risks enhances learning capacity and allows opportunities for increased engagement.
Sprinceana knew grading would be challenging and wanted to reduce the pressure of performance-based grading, specifically since her course was outside of the Dramatic Arts program and students had no theater experience. Final grades were assessed based on a combination of their production diaries, a creative course reflection in the form of an analytical or creative paper, poem, or memoir, and a very small portion on the production itself.
When asked what the future holds for this course, Sprinceana says she will most definitely do a course like this again and is hoping to partner with the Dramatic Arts program to create a LINC course to provide additional opportunities for both Spanish and Drama majors to creatively engage in a production.
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