Dr. Anna Witte leads the dynamic Spanish Children’s Literature: Creative Reading, Writing and Storytelling study abroad program at the UW Leon Center in northwestern Spain. The Center is housed in the 16th century tower of El Palacio del Conde Luna, a gothic palace that was formerly the seat of the Kingdom of Leon and today hosts a museum and performance space. Its location in and strong connection to the Leon community makes the center an ideal place for Dr. Witte’s program, which engages UW undergraduates in local culture and life through homestays, school visits and teaching opportunities, as well as live performance. In the classroom, students explore the craft of storytelling through a survey of Spanish children’s literature course, pupeteering workshop, and several group projects.
“There’s nothing like learning about how children grow up, how they relate to adults and other kids, to learn about another culture,” says Dr. Witte. Her program provides many opportunities for cultural exploration through the lenses of child development, teaching, and storytelling. Much of her students’ time is spent engaging hands-on in local schools and in the Leon community. Students visit a local public and private school, first observing and then returning several weeks later to give lessons in English and Spanish. The lessons are great opportunities for the UW students to put their new teaching through storytelling skills in action. “Schools in Leon are basically bi-lingual,” explains Dr. Witte, and local educators are excited for American students to participate in their classrooms.
The program culminates with a public storytelling event at the Leon Center, organized and performed by the program students. The free event is publicized by the Leon Mayor’s office, and tickets sell out on the first day! This spring, UW students performed a “story salad”, mixing together several familiar stories, a song, and a puppet show for the audience of 30 youngsters. Because the event’s theme was “The Wolf”, one group even made wolf ears for every child in the audience!
“This was the best experience of my 30-year teaching career,” says Dr. Witte. “The program showed students that being in the classroom is a lot of work, but they ended up wanting more interaction with the children! I look forward to building even closer relationships with schools in Leon.” These partnerships will no doubt benefit children in Leon as well as UW study abroad students.