Monday, May 28, 2018

On Using a Television Series in Class

This year in my level 3 classes, I decided to jump on the El Internado bandwagon.

I had already seen all the episodes and knew the storyline was edgy and highly compelling (to say the least!). I marked all the scenes I would need to edit in order to make this series appropriate for my school. I purchased all the TPT resources I could find and sent home permission slips. I hyped it up in my classes.

After the first 10 minutes of episode one, I knew my students were hooked! Many of them went home that night and watched the end of that episode and one or two more! They were excited to come back to class to see what was going to happen with Marcos, Ivan, Paula, and Maria. They talked about it in the hallways and engagement was at an all-time high in my classes.

We only watched 10 minutes, once each week. Then we would discuss in more manageable Spanish what had occurred. I gave simple yes/no quizzes at the end of class. Then we would follow-up with a review on Monday. At this pace, it took us 6 weeks to finish episode one... which was just fine with me! I knew we were never going to be able to watch season two due to the student-teacher affair.

In January, we took a break from our television series to read a class novel: Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha. I discovered that a lot of the vocabulary I would need to pre-teach had been done for me with El Internado. Score! Engagement was also very high with this novel and all the activities we did before and after.

After Spring Break, we returned to El Internado. Students were super pumped that we were going to be watching their favorite show in class again.

Then one day it happened.

I was sitting at my desk, watching for the scene I needed to edit and... I got sidetracked by something on my desk! I glanced up and right there on the projected, very large screen was a naked María. I was horrified. I had missed editing that scene. I felt sick to my stomach. Yes, I was technically covered by the permission slips I had sent home. But still. Naked María at school? In MY classroom? To their credit, students did not react at all. I believe they followed my lead and were not going to make a big deal out of it since I did not make a big deal out of it. They purposely said nothing and did not make eye-contact with me. Only one student in class turned around to see if I realized what I had done. He saw the look on my face and quickly turned away.

HOW could I have let that happen?

Right then and there, I decided no more El Internado. I did not shut off the episode right then, however. In fact, I kept playing to our planned stopping point for the day and followed it up with a discussion. I knew there were no more scenes to edit for that episode, so I even played it the following days.

But Naked María stuck in my mind like nothing else. I was constantly afraid that an angry parent would call or email. Or that they had already called the principal. Or worse, the superintendent. Make no mistake, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my job and don't ever want to jeopardize it. But I had done that very thing by being sidetracked for a short moment.

After the shock had worn off, I told students that I had other things planned for the end of the year. Equally fun activities where engagement was sure to be high. I did not announce that we would not return to El Internado, I just never planned it into the schedule again.

Now that the year has ended and I can reflect on what went well and what didn't, I see that El Internado provided a lot of positives for my classroom. Engagement was high. We watched an actual show from Spain and students were naturally curious about the culture. Students were talking about my class outside of our class period and, more importantly, outside of the 'what are we doing in there today' context.

The downside...

There were a few negatives, too, however that I attribute to my allowing that type of edgy content into my classroom. The fact that scenes had to be edited gave the show, and by extension my classroom, a taboo effect. I was the 'cool' teacher - but not for the reasons I wanted. I was not 'cool' because I cared nor was I 'cool' because I was providing them with a skill they would use in the future. No, I was 'cool' because I was bringing taboo subjects into the classroom. Naked María should have never had the opportunity to make an appearance.

And while I was 'cool' I also lost a little respect and a little bit of class control. Students felt free to make inappropriate comments and use 'cool' slang and swear words they hadn't used before. I did not like being this 'cool' teacher. Not one bit! Add this to the fear that at any time one of those students could get angry at me and cause a big mess over Naked María...

Nope. Nuh-uh. Not happening again.

So the end result for me is that the risk does NOT outweigh the benefit. I think I knew that going into it, but somehow convinced myself that I could make it work. Yes, the engagement was high. Yes, students had a very compelling reason to want to learn Spanish. But honestly, they were just as engaged in reading Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha where there existed zero opportunity to lose my job. Knowing that students, including my own children, see similar things on TV all the time doesn't make it appropriate. Sorry, Naked María, but you've made your first and only appearance in my classroom.

**El Internado resources are no longer available for purchase on TPT because Atresmedia, the owner, is moving into creating educational materials.


  1. I so appreciate your honesty in sharing your experience with this! Many teachers have grappled with the decision to use this show in class, and I think your experience will be valuable in helping them think through their choice!

  2. Thank you! I LOVE El Internado and I had many of the same thoughts: I could edit, they would love it, etc., etc., Your experience has helped me make an informed decision.

  3. JJ, I really am so sorry this happened in your class room, but thank you so much for writing this post. I have long felt like in some teacher circles that I was being prudish and less "cool" because I refused to use El Internado in class or even say that it was appropriate for any classroom. My general impression was unlike other teachers, I wasn't willing to do "whatever it takes" to get teenagers engaged in the language and culture. Again, I'm sorry this came about in such a hard way, but thanks for the perspective that maybe "whatever it takes" is not the way to go.

  4. This is exactly why I hesitate to show El Internado to my students as well. I have watched the entire TV series at home with my husband on Netflix. I wanted to watch every single episode before starting the series with my students. But after watching the entire series, I have decided that I also do not feel comfortable showing it in my class. Lots of swearing, sex, alcohol/drug use. Too much that is inappropriate for a classroom. I agree with you.


Post-Reading: Circle the Wagons

I have wanted to try Carrie Toth's " Circle the Wagons " post-reading activity for some time and I found the perfect unit to ...