Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
María del Carmen Caña Jiménez
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes María del Carmen Caña Jiménez, assistant professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, for her commitment to implementing instruction based on the communicative method of language learning; that is, she strongly believes that students learn best when they use language in a meaningful and communicative way.
Dr. Caña Jiménez doesn’t “teach” grammar; instead, students read technical material on language prior to coming to class and then actively use language in the classroom to communicate. The communicative method emphasizes practical usage of language and encourages students to produce language in a classroom in Blacksburg as they would in a study abroad context. This method of teaching is, by nature, a flipped classroom, in which Dr. Caña Jiménez’s role is to facilitate, moderate, and guide language production and discussion.
In her higher-level content courses, Dr. Caña Jiménez’s students grapple with the connections between cultural production and real social, political, and economic contexts. María strives to bring to the class cultural artifacts and manifestations that represent real-world issues and complexities. As such, her students not only learn about the economic crisis in Spain after the market crash of 2008, or the Spanish Civil War through novels, films, and theatre, but more importantly, through one-on-one Skype interviews. For the former, students have been given the opportunity to interview people (in their twenties) who are currently unemployed and living in the precarious conditions of the post-crisis; in the latter, students have been given the opportunity to converse with Dr. Caña Jiménez’s grandmother, a member of the last generation of Spaniards who lived the Spanish Civil War.
Dr. Caña Jiménez consistently uses technology in her culture courses to connect students here in Blacksburg to the contexts they study, as illustrated in these examples: her students in a 3XXX-level seminar teleconferenced with an award-winning Peruvian author and columnist for an international newspaper; in a 5XXX-level graduate seminar, her students teleconferenced with an expert on indigenous literatures and digital expressions. Furthermore, Dr. Caña Jiménez encourages her students to expand their studies, as noted in one of her students’ reviews of her teaching, “great communication, feedback, engagement, support, interest in making sure we are all on the right path. She has always provided us with extra literature readings for who was interested to further learn about a particular topic. Overall an extraordinary teacher and a wonderful person [sic]."
Diversity and the consideration of its relationship to our student population and campus culture is intrinsic to Dr. Caña Jiménez’s philosophy of teaching. As such, she has brought eight speakers to campus since 2011 that have discussed various cultural issues of the Hispanic world and has co-organized three iterations of the Hispanic Film Series (coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month) at Virginia Tech.
Dr. Caña Jiménez has taught 3000-level language and culture, 4000-level seminar, and 5000-level graduate courses during her tenure at Virginia Tech. She is also the coordinator of Introductory Spanish, and has taught 1000-level language courses as well as coordinated the GTAs that routinely teach at that level.
María emphasizes critical thinking in her classroom. She expects students to grow as informed citizens who are cognizant of the intricacies of culture and language on a global scale. She has also been active in the outreach endeavors of the university, leading an intensive summer course on the culture of contemporary Spain geared toward high school teachers in the commonwealth.
Additionally, Dr. Caña Jiménez is teaching a Special Studies course as an overload on the culture and technique of Spanish Flamenco Dance. The course meets once a week and students learn the steps of this traditional dance. She has secured funding from the college to sponsor their wardrobe, and they have already performed at the CLAHS Study Abroad Fair. The entire class will perform a full display of Flamenco culture in a special event in December.
Dr. Caña Jiménez’s teaching impact is clearly evident in the following student comments:
"This professor is probably one of the most animated professors I have had. She is clearly passionate about teaching and it really shows in class. It is near impossible to not participate in class since she is so enthusiastic. Also, she is willing to help students outside of class--whether it's a quick question on a reading or an hour-long discussion of an upcoming essay.”
“The in-class discussions were extremely helpful for the understanding of the texts and the overall theme of the class. The professor could make even the most complicated readings seem approachable. Also, the in-class environment was great and it seemed that everybody was comfortable enough to participate and learn. The weekly forums cemented the topics learned during class and gave students more freedom to expand the topics to other areas of interest.”
Dr. Caña Jiménez’s research work focuses on the cultural production of contemporary Spain and Latin America. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on issues such as memory, violence, and the narrative trope of childhood in recent narrative and cinema. She is currently co-editing a book on contemporary Central American literature, and is working on a monograph on the multiple manifestations of violence in Hispanic cultural production.