Using Artifacts In Teaching: The Little Box Project

  • Colleen Sweet George Mason University
  • Carrie Bonilla George Mason University
  • Carla Burns George Mason University
  • Ana Ruiz Alonso Bartol George Mason University


Location: JC Room E

In this interactive workshop, attendees will learn about different adaptations of the "Cajitas" or "little box" project in courses in the Spanish program at George Mason University. This project, originally created by Alberto Lopez Pulido to use with his students of Chican@ Studies at the University of San Diego, asks students to prepare a container of artifacts that reflect their culture, heritage, and personal experiences for Day of the Dead celebrations. Using a feminist pedagogical approach, the little box project was adapted for students at GMU to address the following challenges: How can we help students apply critical theories from a specific academic discipline to their own lives and experiences? And how can instructors embrace authenticity, particularly when they are from a different cultural background than the discipline in which they teach? The little box project was used as a midterm assignment for students in the course Introduction to Latinx Studies (Fall 2018) in order to engage students in applying critical approaches to understanding representation and the concept of intersectionality in identity. The little boxes also had a significant impact on the student's sense of community in the course and their appreciation for one another's diverse backgrounds. We will also discuss how the project was adapted again in the spring to address the needs of different learners- students in intermediate Spanish courses (Spanish 202, SPRING 2019). By creating their own "cajitas", students were required to become active curators of cultural content. Additionally, they were asked to reflect on and research examples of marginalized representations in art from the Spanish-speaking world. Overall, the project's approach encouraged students to engage more actively with cultures from the Spanish-speaking world while at the same time sharing information about their own culture(s) and backgrounds.

Author Biographies

Colleen Sweet, George Mason University

Colleen Klausner Sweet, Term Assistant Professor of Spanish and Undergraduate Academic Advisor, began teaching as a full-time Term Instructor of Spanish at George Mason University in fall 2007. She received her PhD in Spanish from the Catholic University of American in Washington, DC in 2012. Her doctoral dissertation, "Silenced Through Representation: La Malinche as Christian, Mistress, and Conquistadora" combined her interests in Postcolonial Latin American Studies, Latin American Literature, and Film Studies. She currently teaches Spanish Writing and Stylistics and Spanish in Context at GMU, while also serving as the undergraduate academic advisor for Foreign Language majors and minors.

Carrie Bonilla, George Mason University

Carrie Bonilla completed her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh (Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics in 2012) and at New York University in Madrid (MA in Spanish Language and Translation in 2007). Her current research focuses on second and third language acquisition, particularly pedagogical practices as related to the acquisition of syntax and morphology and individual differences such as cognitive aptitude. Her research has focused on questions of language learning in various learning environments, including online learning, classroom learning, and study abroad.

Carla Burns, George Mason University

A native of Perú, Carla Burns is a Term Assistant Professor in the department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University. She holds a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America where her research focused on Latin American colonial and transatlantic studies with a concentration on religious women and their role in society. She also holds a M.A. in Spanish from George Mason University.

Ana Ruiz Alonso Bartol, George Mason University

A native of Spain, she is a Visiting Scholar thanks to a program by Spain´s Ministry of Development and Cooperation. She holds a BA in Translation and Interpreting by the University of Salamanca and an MA in Spanish with a minor in TESOL by West Virginia University.

2:45pm-3:25pm Mini-Workshops, Panels, & Roundtables