By now, long-time readers of my blog probably know two things: a) I like to experiment with upper level courses (usually successfully), and b) I hate the textbooks available in my field, particularly those targeted for language learning. Even so, there are better textbooks than others, but the one adopted by my department is particularly bad, in my opinion.
I have always dared to experiment in the upper level classes because I have a clear idea of the goals and the bigger picture. I was more reluctunt to do it in the language class since there is a common syllabus for all the sections. I have some freedom in designing my quizzes and exams, but that's it. Also, I am not a specialist in SLA, therefore I lack the bigger picture that I have on those upper division courses. Well, since I've already turn in my tenure papers, I feel less reluctant experimenting. By these I don't mean a complete re-do of the syllabus, ignoring the textbook. Rather, I have started relaying less and less on the material provided by the textbooks for the "culture" section, and creating my own. An example:
This semester, I am teaching two sections of Intermediate Spanish I. The topic of the chapter is "la ciudad". The vocabulary presented seems designed by a U.S citizen who never lived in a place (in this country) with more than 50K people. The first part of the culture section is surprisingly decent: a short reading on public transportation in Latin America, and a video and some activities on the metro in Mexico City. The reading section, though, barely relates to the topic: it's a random fragment of Carmen Laforet's Nada. While I like the novel, can see why they chose it (though the fragment is barely comprehensible if you haven't read the novel before), and have even taught it in another course, I prefer more cohesion. So I scrapped that lesson, and we've started reading a short chronicle from Carlos Monsivais's Los rituales del caos (pages 17-18 in my edition). I have no idea how it's gonna go, whether I'll succeed in engaging my students, or whether it's a little too much for them.
But I am excited, I feel like I am finally able to make culture more meaningful for my students. And I love teaching Monsivais.