21G.730 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Hispanic America: One Hundred Years of Literature and Film

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 21G.730 Hispanic America: One Hundred Years of Literature and Film as it was taught by Prof. Elizabeth Garrels in Spring 2014.

This course explores artistic achievement in a culture that over the past century has engaged in constant and intense imaginative self-renewal. Students study film, narrative, and poetry, including works by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Horacio Quiroga, and Pablo Neruda, among many others.The course is conducted in Spanish.

Course Outcomes

  • To gain a more nuanced perspective on Hispanic American culture and history.
  • To experience the rich diversity of Hispanic America by studying materials created by both women and men from different countries and cultural regions in the Americas.
  • To develop critical and imaginative thinking.
  • To improve reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in Spanish.
  • To improve analytical strategies for interpreting and discussing fictional prose, poetry, and film.

Curriculum Information


One intermediate subject in Spanish or permission from the instructor. Intermediate subjects include:

Requirements Satisfied


The course was typically offered every other spring and was taught by Prof. Garrels.

Instructor Interview

"My teaching career spanned more than 35 years. I found that the mistakes 18 year-olds made in the realms of content, style, and grammar were the same year after year. So rather than writing down all my comments when I gave students feedback on their work, I created correction guides."
—Prof. Elizabeth Garrels

Prof. Garrels retired in 2014 after 35 years at MIT. This course was the last she taught on campus. Read a profile about Prof. Garrels.

Below, Prof. Elizabeth Garrels describes various aspects of how she taught _21G.730 Hispanic America: One Hundred Years of Literature and Film._

Keeping Courses Fresh

I worked hard to ensure that courses did not get worn and tired. The Internet revolutionized itself over the course of my career, and I spent a lot of time searching the web for course materials. I found incredible things, such as wonderful comic strips published in newspapers in Latin America based on famous stories. In some cases the comic strips were published during a dictatorial regime, and they took on a new significance. I integrated the comic strips with the stories we were reading in class. Students gave reports on both the comic strips and the stories. And of course, students were much more savvy than I was about the comic strips! Other resources I identified included wonderful pages about Chilean writers, among other things, published by the Chilean government. The quality of their materials is so high. Spain also published incredible materials that are no longer covered by copyright that I made use of in my teaching.

Teaching a Course on the Cheap

Many of the books I used in my teaching were either unavailable because they were out of print or were recent editions and very expensive because they were imported. In an attempt to keep costs down for students, I turned to the Internet and tried to find as many web-based materials as possible. This created a lot of extra work for me, as an instructor, because the quality of materials on the web is often poor. I had to read through the materials very carefully, identify errata, and supply students with corrections when necessary. I did all this because I felt it was unjust to ask students to spend tremendous amounts of money on course materials. I’ve become an expert in how to teach a course on the cheap!

Although I offered as many web-based materials as possible, I did typically ask students to purchase one or two books for the course. One challenge that emerged was that students would buy different editions of the book to save money. This created a problem because I often asked students to prove what they were saying in class by referring directly to the text. Time was wasted when everyone was on different pages. I attempted to address this challenge by allowing students to use different editions of the texts, but requiring that they reference the page numbers used in the edition I placed on reserve in the library. They didn’t always like this, but it was one solution for a persistent dilemma.

Systematizing Feedback

My teaching career spanned more than 35 years. I found that the mistakes 18 year-olds made in the realms of content, style, and grammar were the same year after year. So rather than writing down all my comments when I gave students feedback on their work, I created correction guides. The guides included a list of common areas for improvement, along with corresponding numbers. This allowed me to use numbers and comments that were specific when I graded papers.


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 35 % Oral class participation (quantity and quality), and attendance
  • 20% Two student presentations
  • 45% Five short essays

Instructor Insights on Assessment

The above percentages are approximate and are provided so that students can keep track of their progress. However, I also value demonstrated improvement in the quality of participation and interpretative and expository skills in written exercises. If I see a clear demonstration of improvement in these areas, I may consider enhancing the result of the numerical calculation based on percentages. My most important objective for students is that they improve their interpretative and expository skills as a result of their sustained hard work throughout the semester.

Student Information


10 students

Students in the class were from diverse majors throughout the Institute. 

Of the 10 students in the class, one was a freshmen, two were sophomores, five, were juniors, and 2 were seniors. No graduate students enrolled in the class. 

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

  • Met two times per week for 1.5 hours per session; 26 sessions total.
  • Class time was spent discussing and critiquing a variety of texts, poems, and films.
  • Student presentations on the assignments were held during five sessions throughout the semester.

Out of Class

Students spent most of their time outside of class reading literature and poems and watching films. In addition, the students worked on five papers, and two projects; one individually and one with a group.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights