John Howell or Non-linear Reading
of Spanish-language Texts
Dennis D. Pollard, Ph.D.
Intermediate Spanish Course Coordinator
Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

The application Non-Linear Reading of Spanish-language Texts, or more commonly known as John Howell, has been in use in Spanish 276 for approximately eight years. I originally wrote the application in HyperCard, but last year it was rewritten in C++. This application is designed to teach how characters are created in a literary work and, as such, it is a part of a course which inroduces students to various aspects of textual construction and literary interpretation. The application uses clips from a movie version of Julio Cortázar's short story "Instrucciones para John Howell." Students view a clip, respond to prompts regarding the content and compare the movie version to the story itself. A notebook feature allows students to record their comments, print them and bring them to class for discussion. A fundamental aspect of these lessons is to teach students to analyze what they are reading as they go along, rather than waiting until class, as they so often do.

The image below is the menu for the four homework assignments. The first assignment consists of three parts, "Accones," "Palabras," and "Trasfondo." These correspond to three ways in which a character can be created, by what the character does, says and how the chracter interacts with the surroundings. Students click on the appropriate word to launch that clip and lesson. The four homework assignments require 4 to 6 hours to complete.

This application has proven to be particularly successful in getting students to make extra-textual connections as they read. Comments I have received from students as well as colleagues demonstrate that the lessons stay with the students as they go on to upper-division courses in the department.

The image below is from the second homework assignment. Students can control the video with the Play arrow and Stop button, as well as open and close the notebook by clicking on the "Notes" icon. The menus include a transcription of the dialogue, in Spanish, for those who have difficulty understanding some of the spoken Spanish.

The image below shows the interface for this video editor. The editor, called VIXEn (Video Interactive Exercise Engine), is downloadable from the LRC site and allows you to create content-based comprehension exercises like John Howell, using any digitized video clips. The link to the LRC's documentation library is LRC Documentation Library