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Tracy Jian



Week of July 5

This week has been quite busy for me as all of the plans that I have been working on for the last few weeks are finally coming together and being set in motion. 

My amazing internship assistant, Bélen, and I have been working together to coordinate the logistics of the workshops that I am going to be leading. We created a flyer to spread the news about the Pre-Texts workshops and hosted an introductory meeting to give an overview to students at Instituto Desarrollo on what the Pre-Texts methodology is and what the workshops will entail. A lot of students who came to the introductory meeting and were interested in participating in the workshops were undergraduate students studying economics but we also received approval from the administration at Instituto Desarrollo to invite Master’s students to join in on the workshops. 

The main goal of the workshops is to help college students become more confident in their English language skills while also exposing them to the Pre-Texts methodology. Before inviting them to the introductory session, Bélen and I sent out a preliminary survey to assess people’s interests in Pre-Texts and their English level. Based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, a guideline to determine a student’s foreign language level, we noticed that most people were at the intermediate level with very few at the advanced/proficient level. With students from all types of English backgrounds participating, I anticipate that it will be a challenge for everyone to communicate with each other, but I believe with each challenge comes a fantastic learning opportunity where people will be able to recognize the power of Pre-Texts. 

There will be a total of seven workshop sessions each lasting two hours long and while I have spent a lot of time reviewing the nitty gritty details of the schedule, I will also have to keep in mind that my plans will likely change depending on the number of people that attend and their interests, which will definitely keep my on my toes and force me to be flexible. 

Next Steps:

  • Contact Clement for information and resources regarding implementing Pre-Texts in workshops where English is being taught

  • Prepare for workshops that will be starting next week

  • Continue drafting working papers

July 13, 2021

Today, I hosted my first Pre-Texts workshop with the students at Instituto Desarrollo, and I have to say, it was so much better than I imagined it would be. While participation was low as there were only 7 other people, it was still amazing nonetheless. Everyone was fully engaged and had their cameras on the entire way through. 

In the beginning, all of the participants were a bit hesitant with speaking English and would opt for Spanish instead. As we continued on with the workshop, they slowly started to get out of their comfort zone and began challenging themselves to participate and reflect in English. Many of them claimed that their English speaking skills were not very good but I think they underestimated themselves because we talked about various difficult concepts and they were all able to understand. It felt amazing being able to encourage all the participants to be confident in their abilities. 

The text that I selected for the seven day workshop was an excerpt from Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis (pg. 88-94). This excerpt focuses on themes of the prison industrial complex, slavery, human labor, capitalism, and it tied my interests of criminal justice with the students’ economic studies. 

To kick off the workshop, I provided the participants a general overview of what Pre-Texts was and then we did a fun lighting round of show and tell to break the ice and get to know each other better. The ice breaker involved multiple rounds, with each a new category such as favorite movie, a fear, and the students had to all quickly find a representation of their word whether that be the physical object, an image, a link, or a text. 

After that, I read the text aloud while the participants doodled and each of them shared what they drew. Most of the drawings included images of people behind bars, money to represent capitalism, and equating the supply of human labor with the growth of private prisons. The students asked the text some questions and many of them were intrigued by the prison system in America and asked questions like “Are there any private prisons? like prisons that do not depend on public funds” and “Are prisons a way to maintain public order and “punish” people for their crimes or are they a sort of loophole for big corporations/research centers to get subjects to experiment on?” Finally, at the end of the workshop session, we all did a reflection and some students expressed that they did not have a great experience with Pre-Texts before because many of the activities they did in their own classes were repetitive and that it was refreshing to see a new and more creative side of Pre-Texts. 

Everyone kept saying how much fun they had in the workshop during the reflection and I keep telling myself that this is just them being nice to me and not wanting to complain but based on their reactions, it truly seems that the first session was a success!

July 15, 2021

In today’s workshop, I introduced all the students to the tangents activity and they were all very excited about it. Many of them have had experiences where teachers in school would prevent them from going off on a tangent so they were happy to have a space where they could wander off and freely speak about what was on their minds and what the text made them think of. We talked about how private prison companies profit off of human labor and the connection between large companies like Starbucks and Whole Foods and prisons. 

Our activity today was similar to what we did in the facilitator training where Doris selected arbitrary music clips and we had to match the music clips to sections of the text. This time, rather than selecting music clips, I selected various videos on Youtube. I struggled in the beginning with selecting the videos and was overthinking the activity. Seeking the guidance of Doris, I emailed her and she responded with: “And the music fragments are absolutely arbitrary. That's the charm of the exercise. People have to make connections by abstracting meanings and feelings, and this takes interpretive effort.”

With her advice, I did just that, and we watched short clips about the architecture of humane prisons and ramen as a form of currency in prison. Many people were not familiar with the United States prison system so they were really interested in the videos and it helped them gain a better understanding of it. Each time a new video was presented, I would have the students type into the chat which section of the text they thought the video best connected with. As expected from my own experience, each time, almost no one had the same response as their peers. During our reflection, students said that the activity was a fun, new way for them to learn about and better understand a specific topic and that they had wished this type of practice was adopted in their own educational experience. 

July 16, 2021

As per usual, we kicked off the session with tangents and our conversations led to comparisons between the Paraguayan prison system and the United States prison system, what the true purpose of prisons is, and the pros and cons of providing people in prisons access to jobs while in prison. 

I was quite nervous for today because I came up with a completely new activity and they were my guinea pigs that I ran my activity with. Our activity was a pictionary game based off of vocabulary inspired by the core text., which is a website that people can use to play pictionary with friends online, is something that I used very often during the beginning of quarantine to stay in touch with my friends. Players are given random words which they have to speed draw and other players have to guess what is being drawn. At first glance, it may seem just like a game, but one great feature of that I took advantage of was its option to make your own custom set of words. Thus, I had our group brainstorm as many different words as they could think of that were directly from the text or were related to the text. Using these words, we played pictionary and students were forced to grapple with the spelling and meaning of specific words. We had to visualize concepts like capitalism, dignity, rehabilitation, deterrence, immigration, and more. I was relieved that at the end, everyone loved the activity, and I believe that it was a really fun and creative way for the students to be familiar with words that they had difficulty understanding and spelling. Imagine if we used this activity in schools rather than constantly making students take spelling exams?

Our typical group has become smaller with some people unable to come because of personal and scheduling conflicts. Even though the attendance is low, the regulars that are showing up consistently are always engaging with the workshop to the fullest extent. I actually do not mind that the group is smaller than anticipated because even with a group of under ten, two hours is already barely enough for us each day because there is so much to talk about. I find that because of the smaller group, our space has become a lot more intimate and we are having a lot of deep conversations and getting to know each other really well. It also means that everyone has more speaking time and more time to share and reflect.

July 19, 2021

I can’t believe this is my fourth workshop! Today we started off with an icebreaker and everyone was able to share what they had done over the weekend. Then we shared our tangents for the day and our discussions delved into the ways in which action is being taken to actively work against the prison industrial complex and how victims of mass incarceration can be supported. 

After our tangents portion of the workshop, we began our activity for the day which was based on poetry. I first shared some of my favorite poems and read them out loud to the students. I encouraged the students to find poems that inspired them and then they shared them with the entire group. We then took a look at blackout poetry and I explained what blackout poetry was since most of the students were unfamiliar with this form of poetry. We used the same website that Bryan and his group had used when they led the poetry workshop in our facilitator training back in June and the students created their own blackout poems using sections of the core text by Angela Davis.

I have to say, this activity was a hit! All of the students loved this activity and I was glad that the activity allowed them to get their creative juices flowing and to get them to recycle the text and turn it into something new with their own interpretations of the core text.

July 20, 2021

From day one to day five, the students have been picking up the Pre-Texts protocol quite quickly and it has almost become second nature to them. Everyone knows to invite the next person to speak during tangents or reflections and always answer the question of “what did we do?” after an activity. Our tangents session today led us to discussions about forced child labor, health and food in prisons, and Jeff Bezos going into space today.

My activity was inspired by Doris’ amoeba museum but this time our theme was centered on murals and how murals are used as a form of change and resistance. I had students scour the internet and social media for murals that connected to the text, whether that be the message of the mural itself or the fact that it was created by people affected by the prison system. Once we have all compiled our artworks and created descriptions for them, I will be compiling them into a virtual museum space. Because we can’t actually physically be together and go to a museum, I want to make up for that by making a space that is as interactive as possible where visitors can “walk” around and “visit” each artwork, and each student will be able to guide a part of the “museum tour” to share their selections. 

July 23, 2021

Today was the last workshop and I was incredibly excited to do our last activities but also incredibly sad that it was all going to come to an end. As usual, we dedicated the beginning of the workshop to tangents and 

I’m so proud of the work that I’ve done but also the progress that all the students made, whether they only came for two sessions or came to all of the workshops.

For the last 20 minutes of the workshop, we all reflected on the past two weeks and I asked the participants a few questions:

  • How do you think doing tangents has helped you with learning English and with developing your understanding of the core text and topic?

  • Describe what it was like for you to listen to the text be read to you while you were drawing?

  • How did you like the experience of using the text to make art? What has been your favorite activity in the workshops and why?


I also shared with them a Google Form with a survey that goes into more detail on how they think participating in the workshops has helped with their English listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities. They will have the weekend and Monday to complete the survey, which only takes about 5-10 minutes, and once everyone has filled it out, I will be compiling their responses and summarizing them in my working paper. 

We had 5 minutes of lucha libre where we shared our plans for the summer, but I didn’t realize that for Paraguayan students, right now is their winter break! One of the students is going to be coming to Boston and New York City and I hope to have plans to meet up with her! We all said our final goodbyes.

Next Steps

  • Collect post-workshop evaluation survey responses from participants

  • Write up working paper on using the Pre-Texts methodology in language education