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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“Got Llorona?”: Teaching for the Development of Symbolic Competence

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Cultural and literary texts are used in the foreign language classroom to support learners’ language development, cultural awareness, and reading comprehension. While classroom activities frequently facilitate a literal understanding of facts and events, these texts offer another potential level of analysis: symbolic dimensions, which focus on how meaning is constructed in the texts in relation to their historical and political contexts, to the readers’ own positionality and subjective experiences, and to the cultural values and beliefs that are attached to these meanings. This paper explores how to teach these symbolic dimensions through an exploration of the notion of symbolic competence. Using personal experiences teaching the legend of La Llorona in a university-level Spanish classroom, I explore two interrelated questions: 1) Can the legend of La Llorona offer insights into theorizations of symbolic competence?; 2) Can theorizations of symbolic competence be applied to the teaching of La Llorona in order to facilitate learners’ critical reflections on its symbolic dimensions? Three project-based classroom activities will be discussed to illustrate teaching for the development of symbolic competence.

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