Students Learn Spanish through Real World Project

In this episode, Doris speaks with Rachel Mullen, Upper School Spanish Teacher at Hawken School. Rachel shares how her students advanced their Spanish communications, cultural awareness, and collaboration skills by working on a creative project for a multicultural marketing agency.

Doris: Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi, Doris.

Doris: How are you?

Rachel: I’m doing very well. How are you?

Doris: I’m great. Excited to talk to you. So Rachel, tell everybody a little bit about yourself.

Rachel: Well, great. My name is Rachel and I teach Spanish at Hawken Upper School and I’ve been teaching for 12 years and in my Spanish 4 Honors class, we study a unit on media and television. Before I started teaching Spanish at Hawken, I spent a year in the business world working at National City Bank in the Multicultural Marketing Department and so I wanted to incorporate my experiences in multicultural marketing into my classroom. I came to the workshop last summer because I wanted to find out ways to incorporate the principles that Doris and her team use in the entrepreneurship program into my classes.

Doris: Yeah, so you wanted to learn how to use real world problems and all those methods along with it so…

Rachel: Absolutely.

Doris: So you…like everybody…you know, what I…what my goal is at the workshop is for everybody to get what they need to be able to implement a pilot of these methods and you’re a Spanish teacher in a high school class and before you get into the details, so you said and I remember. I remember you were struggling and the question was…all right, if…what I want them to do is…if I had these learning objectives, how can I set up a real problem that they’ll care about that will result in their learning this? And what…can you talk a little bit about what your learning objectives were for the students before you even get into the details of how you did it?

Rachel: Yes. So my major learning objectives for this pilot was…so for students to be able to watch television commercials in Spanish that were produced for the Spanish speaking audiences and really be able to pick out the cultural values that were important to the Hispanic community, especially the Hispanic communities in the United States and how marketing…multicultural marketing agencies try to incorporate these core cultural values to market products and services to Hispanics in the United States. And then be able to apply their knowledge of the Spanish language and also the cultural knowledge that they deduced from watching the television commercials to create their own television commercial for the Spanish speaking people in the United States.

Doris: And so you…as you have wanted for years, I’m sure, in this class, you wanted your students to learn, kind of deeply learn the norms and cultures of the Hispanic community, yes?

Rachel: Yes, that’s correct.

Doris: Talk about your pilot, what  you were trying to do, how you set it up and it went.

Rachel: So I asked students to choose a product or service that they would like to advertise to the Hispanic communities in the United States and each student had a choice of what product or service that he or she thought was important and thought was worthy to make a television commercial for. And these products or services could have been products or services that they or their families used or it could be a product or a service that they thought would be worthy to advertise to Spanish speakers in the United States. And so at first they had to research the product or service and really be able to give details to convince their classmates that why this product or service was so important and so good that they wanted to make a television commercial in Spanish to advertise it to reach a larger population.

And so my students came to class the first day prepared to give a one minute product pitch to their classmates in order to convince the other people in the class that why it would be worthwhile to advertise their product or service with the Spanish television commercial.

Doris: And were these pitches in English or Spanish?

Rachel: These pitches were in Spanish.

Doris: That’s so cool. And then they voted and then what?

Rachel: So my students voted on the products… my classes are small so we got to choose four products. And so after they voted, we started studying how to go about making a television commercial in Spanish and we saw many examples of television commercials in Spanish and also in English and one of the campaigns that we studied very well was the Got Milk? Campaign which is one of the longest and most successful marketing campaigns in the United States that has run in both Spanish and English. And this campaign began in English to the wide market in the United States and then Grupo Gallegos which is the multi culture marketing agency that took over the campaign in Spanish started producing television commercials and print ads and radio ads in Spanish a few years later.

Doris: Oh, that’s interesting. So they studied this and they and what was the learning? What did it…what was it like when they were studying that? What did you see?

Rachel: Well, this campaign was interesting to study because it was…everyone has seen a Got Milk? print ad or has seen a Got…you know, the famous mustache. So it was something that this advertising campaign was a campaign that was just so familiar to the students that they had seen it and they had seen many, many examples in English but they probably…I knew they probably hadn’t seen how multicultural marketing agency chose to market milk to Spanish speakers all across the United States.

And so what we did was we first analyzed the messaging and the cultural values, the tone of the ad, the strategy that the advertisers were using in English and then I gave them a few minutes to say, “Okay. Now you are Grupo Gallegos. You are this multicultural marketing agency in California. The California Milk Processor Board has now hired you, the class, to market milk to Spanish speakers in the United States.” And I gave them a few minutes. Like who are the…to think about who are the celebrities that they’re gonna use. Are they gonna use celebrities like the Got Milk? Campaign did…does in English? What is the messaging? Who are the audience, you know? What is the slogan? What are you gonna do with that…the campaign slogan Got Milk? Are you going to keep, you know, translate it directly or are you going to transcreate the idea and keep the same messaging? And so they and to figure out how they would transcreate the message or how they would change the message, if at all.

And so then, after we got their ideas flowing, we actually…we saw what Grupo Gallegos produced in Spanish to market milk.

Doris: Oh, that’s really interesting.

Rachel: And we saw print ads and also television commercials. And so the students really got to see, “Wow. There is…the messaging is different. In some ways, in some ways.”

Doris: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel: And comical, actually.

Doris: Yeah. I was just gonna say so you’ve been teaching, for years you’ve been teaching in these Spanish courses.

Rachel: Yes.

Doris: Culture. And how was this interesting? I mean, it…I can tell from what you’re saying that they didn’t just straight up translate the English Got Milk? ads into Spanish. There was more to it than that and I think it’s really clever that you had them…before you showed them what was actually implemented, you had them think about themselves, what they would do and what they would consider. So how was that experience of the students engaging in a discussion or a thought process about culture…was that effective, was it different?

Rachel: I found that it was very effective because instead of me lecturing and telling them, “These are the cultural values that you find in commercials across the board,” they really had to observe what they saw and what they heard and the language and the messaging that they were hearing in these commercials and deduce what exactly…and infer what they thought the cultural values and the cultural values were really important because if you don’t have that cultural connection, if that cultural connection is off, then you’re not going to be able to sell the product or service from an advertising perspective.

Doris: And they already at this point…so they’ve…they already know that they’re going to be creating their own commercial after this?

Rachel: Yes.

Doris: And they’re gonna be showing it to an audience that includes people who really know their stuff and you’ll get to that later?

Rachel: Yes.

Doris: So they’re motivated in a big way to learn from this because they know they’re gonna have to apply it themselves?

Rachel: Absolutely. So the students got to see a lot of different examples. Not only from the Got Milk? Campaign but I also carefully chose television commercials in Spanish and English from a bunch of different companies. For example, Home Depot, MasterCard, McDonald’s and a number of other companies that advertise in the United States to both English speaking population and the Spanish speaking population.

Doris: And again, they were totally engaged through all of that?

Rachel: Yes, yes. And they had to analyze the differences that they saw and also present in front of the class what is the messaging, what is the tone, who is the audience, what is the slogan and how…and then…in English and then also in Spanish how did that messaging change or how did the audience change or how did the tone change and also what are the cultural values. What do we value in the United States versus…and how do advertisers connect with their audience versus how do advertisers in marketing agencies connect with their audience in Spanish.

And so they really got to see a lot of examples as a way to prepare them for making their own commercial.

Doris: Oh, that’s fantastic. And then when they had voted for the top products and you formed teams?

Rachel: Yes. So my students voted for the top four or five products or services that they wanted to make television commercials for and I asked them to rank on a piece of paper the top three products that they would like to help make a commercial for. And so I gave all students either their first or second choice for the product or service that they wanted to make their commercial for. And I think every student was happy with the team that they were on as far as their interests in the product or service.

Doris: Wow. So then what?

Rachel: So then…that was watching many examples and analyzing examples and the Got Milk? Campaign and the other…the other different companies that advertise in both Spanish and English. After that, we got to speak with a multicultural marketing executive who works for a multicultural marketing agency in Denver, Colorado. And my students got to speak with her and also one of her creative team members who’s a native Spanish speaker and my students got to ask all types of questions to these multi cultural marketing gurus about making TV commercials or how to go about it and they got to speak in Spanish with these two women and got to receive all types of advice about how to get started, what to look for, what type of messaging they think they should have and so my students really got to ask the experts. They only had about 20 – 25 minutes to ask their questions and receive advice about how to go about making a television commercial. So that was our next step.

Doris: And I know…our teachers are finding they’re…some of them surprised that they…people out in the industry are really, really happy to give a half hour of phone call to a bunch of high school kids. And why is…talk about what that half hour or 20 minute call did for your students. In terms of their engagement?

Rachel: So that half an hour call really gave them I think motivation, number one, to create a worthwhile product knowing that experts were going to be viewing their television commercial when they were…when it was completed. I think it also gave the projects its own type of autonomy and really, really let the students know that, “Wow. There are people in the world that use Spanish in a real life setting and create television commercials and create messages and these messages are very, very, very important in how they reflect cultural values and give information to Spanish speakers in the United States.”

Doris: Yeah, I think it’s so important that you did that.  think bringing the real world in and having the students go out and experience…wow, this really…this is real stuff. I agree…a huge motivator. So then they leave that 20 minute call and they’re really motivated and then what did you do?

Rachel: So that night my students had a journal entry that they had to work on and in this journal entry I gave them many different questions, many different reflection questions about how they were going to approach writing the television scripts. And so this journal entry…it wasn’t long. Not a long reflection but I wanted them to come to the table with some ideas so that they could use their work time well. A couple of the questions that I included in their pre-group work journal entry was, who is the target audience? What is the tone? What do you think the tone of the commercial should be? What are the cultural values that you’re gonna try to include? What is the messaging gonna be like? What do you want the audience to think, feel and do with the information that you’re gonna give them about your product or service?

And so there was a lot to think about. Also, what is the product or service? What are some adjectives in Spanish that you would use to describe your product or service. And so the students really had to come prepared to use their work time well and I think that’s super, super, super important. And I also wanted to give credit to everyone for coming prepared to work together so that they not only were using their work time well but that they came to the table with some valuable ideas that they wanted the group to think about.

Doris: Yeah. I mean, you heard me say this a bunch in the workshop but what you just said is so important that in order to learn things in such a way that you can really apply them in a lot of context… you have to not only apply it but you have to reflect. You have to have that time to reflect on what you’ve learned and make those connections and think about the why. So I love the assignment that you gave them and what…and when you placed it. Really important.

So then they…as a team in whatever class time you had and this is a single class. They’re working as a team to produce their commercial. What was that like?

Rachel: It was interesting to watch the students come in with their ideas and the work is all going on in Spanish. So they’re negotiating…they’re accomplishing a real life task in Spanish. Number one, they’re practicing the language and number two, they’re really learning how to negotiate ideas and put together moving…different moving pieces to try to create a coherent interesting, engaging, one minute television spot. So it was interesting to watch them figure all that out in one class period and that was an 80-minute class period. So they had to work efficiently and whatever they didn’t finish for homework was for homework. So they had to figure out how to work outside of class if they needed extra time.

Doris: So along the way, these teams are working and they’re creating this and then what’s their deadline look like? What do they know they were up against?

Rachel: I gave them a class period to work together and then after that they had to…the next…the following class period they had to turn in a rough draft of a script, of their television script to me. And it’s not long. It’s only a minute but they really had to incorporate a lot of different details into a one minute television commercial. And I told them that was gonna be the hardest part, to be able to get the good stuff in there and your messaging and your audience and your tone in there in that short amount of time. And that’s really I think was the hardest part for the students to pick and choose what was important and also to eliminate what was not important.

And some of the groups did really well with writing a rough draft of their television script and other students really missed the ball. Other groups really missed the ball and it was hard too to give them that feedback. Like, “Oh, I think you really need to begin over.”

But that was a great lesson I think for some of the students because in marketing, there are tight deadlines with advertising especially and so it was kind of a taste of the real world. Like, “I don’t think this is going to work. I think we need to rework some things.”

And so…but they did it and they came back with it. They came back and took my feedback into consideration and they did it.

Doris: So they had the iterations and they had to refine and they got feedback and they had to revise and refine and recreate and so what…ultimately, when all was said and done and they were finished with their commercials, what did that look like? What did they…were these written commercials? Did they produce videos?

Rachel: Yeah, they produced the videos and the students were given also one day to film in class. And they could also have filmed outside of class but I gave them an entire 80-minute block to film and I told them that I would help them with whatever they needed to film, if they needed someone to hold the camera or whatever they needed that I would be able to help them with that. So they had one block to film.

Doris: And when they were done, they had a deadline and they sent those to be reviewed and evaluated by the same women they had spoken to at the beginning of this.

Rachel: The multicultural marketers were able to view these videos ahead of time but the students didn’t know that. And so when we came to class, we…you know, once the videos were submitted, I set up another Skype call with the two women out of the multicultural marketing firm in Denver and the students got to present their videos or their TV commercials to the marketers and received real live feedback from experts. And, you know, and they were very honest which was really, really, really good. And the honest feedback was just incredible because the students were able to I think receive the feedback a little bit, I don’t know, easier but it was more valued because these are experts in the field. It’s not me, just the Spanish teacher, giving them feedback. It’s real experts. If they were really to air these commercials, these are some of the critiques or things that they would have taken into consideration before airing or even producing the commercial.

Doris: Oh wow. And this is all being done in Spanish?


Rachel: Yes, absolutely. All the feedback was being given in Spanish.


Doris: And so…and so tell me like what do you think what happened there with the whole thing? Was it a good experience as a teacher? What did you experience?

Rachel: I thought it was great. The students got to interact with experts in the marketing field and so the pilot was I think given a lot of credibility in that respect because they were getting feedback from people who do this for a living and breathe it in day in and day out and know what’s good and what’s not as far as creating television spots. And I also thought it was really interesting to see how the groups worked through issues and if there was a problem that arose, who kinda brought the team together to figure out how to fix the problem.
Doris: So what are the things your students learned?

They definitely learned that creating a television spot is a messy process. I think that it’s not cut and dry and sometimes the first idea, the first iteration of a television script might not be the one that you should go with to produce a TV spot and that’s okay. And that’s okay. It’s okay not to have a great idea the first time. I think that’s a really important message. Great ideas don’t come about the first time most of the time, you know, and it takes a group of people to really sit around the table and give and take and really try to collaborate together and respect one another’s ideas at the same time.

I also hope that my students learned a little bit about the process of creating a TV spot as well, especially some of the main points, the takeaways that they learned from speaking with the two women in the multicultural marketing firm in Denver as well.

Doris: So if I, you know, if I’m a parent, a Hawken parent and I say, “Hey, but Rachel, you know, you’re this incredible Spanish teacher and you’re teaching at this college prep school and you’re teaching honor’s level Spanish classes etc. Great but I’m not sure I really care that my kid knows how to create a commercial. This was Spanish class.” What did they learn academically in this? Like is this academic to you? Is this school?

Rachel: Absolutely, first of all, I think they learned that they can apply…there are careers out there that they can apply their knowledge of the Spanish language and then their knowledge of the Hispanic culture, the different Hispanic cultures to the business field and that what they’re learning is a very specific skill that they can apply to and actually expand their knowledge in other career fields that they might not know have existed. That’s the first thing.
Doris: So it’s relevant.

It’s absolutely relevant and especially how the Spanish…the Hispanic population is growing in the United States. Having the specific skill and the skill set especially of speaking another language and being able to understand, begin to understand different cultures is huge.

Doris: Wow. That’s massive. So were they engaged? Was it…how do you feel about it? How is it different for you and how was it for you as a teacher?

Rachel: So I really enjoyed this project and I hope to do it again in years to come and I really think that giving the students choice is really, really, really important because once you give them choice, I relinquished control of the classroom in a way and because I was able to give up some of this control and give them, give my students choice in what they were going to make a commercial for, that was meaningful and I think that they really enjoyed having say in the process.

Doris: Well, and it…from what I’ve heard about how your pilot went, it sounds like all your students were really, really engaged and that’s all of us as teachers hope for and it’s hard to get.

Rachel: Yes, they were. They were engaged and I think they were able to apply what they…their background knowledge of the language to really use their creativity and teamwork to create something original, which is very special.

Doris: Yeah. So you…I remember very clearly at the workshop that at the beginning you were really struggling with, “I don’t know these methods. How can I apply them in a Spanish class?” And how do you feel about that now?

Rachel: I hope to do it more. And I hope to think of ways to include problems that are real and matter to the students and to use authentic audiences as much as possible in other ways.

Doris: And all these methods that you’ve employed and executed so well. Rachel, I’m very excited and I think your pilot was a phenomenal success and I’m really excited to see what you do in the rest of your courses.

Rachel: And thank you. Thank you for this. Thank you for talking with me.

Doris: Yay. Thanks for talking with me.

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