Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Resources & Ideas for Teaching About Colombia in Your Elementary Spanish Class

COLOMBIA IS ONE OF MY "PAISES ADOPTADOS", one of several countries I am particularly attached to outside of my native US. I have many dear friends from Colombia, who have made the culture a treasured part of my heart. Here are some ideas on how you can incorporate this amazing country in your elementary Spanish classes:

Resources for Teaching about Colombia in Elementary Spanish Class

*NATIONAL SYMBOLS: Just as here in the US, national symbols are a great introduction to the culture and identity in other countries, ones which little kiddos are typically really interested in. Coloring the flag is a great place to start, along with looking at the map and identifying regions and/or landmarks. Colombia's national symbols are:
-National Flower: Cattleya Trinnae, May Flower, which is a species of orchid
-National Bird: Andean Condor
-National Tree: Wax Palm Tree

*MUSICALIBRE.COM.CO is an incredible website from Colombia full of children's songs, games, and more. And don't miss Cantoalegre, another AMAZING resource of songs and videos from Colombia!

Resources for Teaching about Colombia in Elementary Spanish Class

*FERNANDO BOTERO is a famous artist whose paintings and sculptures (the ones appropriate for littles) can be used to practice colors, numbers, shapes, and lots more! Along with images of his works, here is a great short video for kids from Argentina :

*MAKE PATACONES...MMMMMMMM! One of my favorite Colombian foods, I can't get enough of them! And, since they are so easy to make, they are a great choice for class (as well as not having to worry about nut allergies or gluten free!). Here's a link to a simple recipe from Una pizca del hogar.

*SPEAKING OF DEAR FRIENDS, CAROLINA from Fun for Spanish Teachers has a series of great resources about her native country. Here are a few, and be sure to explore her blog for more!
-A FREE downloadable mini book featuring various aspects of Colombia- grab it by clicking this link!
-Super cute BULLETIN BOARD SET!! I love the photo booth props that go along with it! Click here

Resources for Teaching about Colombia to Elementary Spanish Class

*EL BIBLIOBURRO is truly an amazing man (Carolina has met him!) and an inspiration to all. Team up with your school librarian to teach about him and reinforce the importance of reading and books in one's lives. 'Waiting for the Biblioburro Esperando el Biblioburro' by Monica Brown is a great picture book to share with elementary students.

*PEPITA VA A COLOMBIA Activity Pack is part of our travel series featuring our rabbit, Pepita, and introduces students to Colombia in context with simple sentences in Spanish, and includes additional activities to teach about this terrific country! You can find it here!

Resources for Teaching about Colombia in Elementary Spanish Class

Have fun!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Using Photos of Yourself and Family to Convey Meaning in a 90% Target Language Classroom

I'M A BIG PROPONENT OF TEACHING FROM 'I' OUTWARD in foreign language classes, meaning beginning with autobiographical information and working outward from there. When I think about novice speakers and what situations they might find themselves in in relation to native speakers, most likely they will be introducing and/or answering questions about themselves, so vocabulary and structures that help them interact is key. To that end, learning the first person singular becomes quite important, and serves a secondary purpose as well- building community in your class. There are loads of activities you can do that involve students talking about themselves, such as graphing and polling the class about how many brothers/sisters they have (or pets!), what their favorite color/fruit/animal/number/etc is, sharing likes/ dislikes/ preferences with food, and so on. All of these are very accessible activities for novices, and helps them stay in the target language rather than tasks which see students devolving into using English because the task really isn't at the right language level for them. But I digress....

Strategies for teaching 90% in the target language

OF COURSE, IF WE WANT OUR STUDENTS TO SPEAK IN THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR, and we also teach 90% in the target language, I believe we need to model the construction. Yes, you can also translate, or go through an explanation of the 'why', but most specifically with little kids (and with all ages, in my opinion), modeling concrete sentences works very well for these types of simple autobiographical constructions. I find that one of the best ways to help me convey meaning when modeling sentences using 'yo' is to point to photos of myself WITH my family, my pets, my house, etc. My students quickly intuit that I am talking about myself, because I am in the picture! The construction(s) we are focusing on then becomes all the more comprehensible and I can ask them questions whose answers use that construction, without needing to translate.

Señora: Soy yo. Yo tengo un perro. Es mi perro, Yosha.
Señora: Mason, soy yo, Señora. Yo tengo un perro. ¿Cuántos perros tienes tú?
Mason: dos
Señora: Ah, bueno, yo tengo un perro. Tú tienes dos perros, ¿cierto?
Mason: Sí.
Señora: Ah, repite 'Yo tengo dos perros.'
Mason: Yo tengo dos perros.
Señora: ¡Qué súper! Y Lila, ¿cuántos perros tienes tú? Yo tengo un perro, y Mason tiene dos perros. ¿Y tú, Lila? ¿Cuántos perros tienes tú?

and so on, coming back to kids who have already answered, sometimes asking them the question again to elicit the answer a second time (I like to keep them on their toes! :) ) and gradually adding in more questions, always modeling and pointing to the photo as I go. This example activity can be done completely in the target language with the aid of just one photo! (and my adorable Yosha :) )

So, get your camera out, co-opt your family into a photo shoot and corral the pets! Have fun! :)


Monday, July 3, 2017

Reflections on Teaching Kindergarten Spanish 100% in the Target Language

SO, THIS PAST YEAR I DECIDED, SOMEWHAT LAST MINUTE, TO TEACH MY KINDERGARTEN CLASSES ALL IN SPANISH, 100% in the target language....oh, and not only that, but I pretended that I didn't understand English either, which as I look back, was one of the best professional decisions I have ever made. I'll come back to that in a moment, but suffice to say, the language learning I saw taking place in my students was amazing, even better than all my other kiddos being taught at 90%, which I had been thinking was astounding in and of itself. Here are my reflections on how my year went, a year where after 23 years teaching, it was so exciting to still be learning, growing professionally and trying something new!

Teaching Kindergarten Spanish 100% in the Target Language

LET ME START FROM THE BEGINNING, as it were...the first week of school I asked my Kindergarten homeroom teachers to introduce me to their students, tell them that I teach Spanish, and that I don't speak or understand English. Honestly, I hadn't planned on that part (the no speaking/understanding English part) until a few minutes before my first class arrived, but as I said above, I am so grateful I did! Why? Because it set up a dynamic where my students had to figure out how to communicate with me in a way I would understand. This is profoundly different than the typical dynamic where we, as teachers, are the only ones in the room trying to figure out how to communicate in a comprehensible fashion, and that difference is key. I firmly believe my students' brains had to literally rewire in order to function effectively in class, a true immersion setting within the short time frame I have with them each week. Rather than relying on English when they couldn't remember a word in Spanish, they had to learn to use gestures, point, act things out, and use the limited Spanish they did know to get their requests, messages, and needs across....AND THEY DID IT!  And they did it because they BELIEVED they needed to. Some better than others, admittedly, but WOW! my kiddos picked up vocabulary and expressions on a scale I had not seen before, even my 90% students.

SO HOW DID I DO IT? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure! It was very organic, and often experimental, but here are a few things that were key:

*I took the concepts of teaching 90% in the target language and applied them to every minute of class. (Click on the categories '90%' and 'comprehensible input' to see my many posts on this!)

*I learned to be even more patient than usual... as in, I didn't expect language acquisition to happen at the snap of the fingers. Waiting for the process to unfold, without rushing it or worrying that it wasn't going to happen at all, was a true test for me...I had to have faith that, yes, they were going to understand this one word or phrase, I just had to give it time. And just like teaching 90%, as a teacher, it's necessary to make the commitment to having some things just take longer (like giving instructions for example!).

*I narrated everything I did (part of the 90% technique- see my post here on this) which provided loads of input in context.

*I didn't worry if they didn't understand every single word I said; it was my objective to surround them with language, most, but not necessarily all, of which was comprehensible. I relied on the idea that they would negotiate / intuit meaning based on the context.

*I never reacted or answered a kid who said or asked me something in English. I stayed in character the entire year; I did fudge some "understanding" on my part when they were trying to get a point across, most especially when it was a behavioral issue where a kiddo was upset. In these instances I would "understand" far more quickly than in some other situations where it wasn't key that I dealt with hurt feelings, bullying, or other issues. This 'staying in character' was one of the most challenging aspects, especially when around other adults, students, or parents in the building.

*My tone, facial expressions, and body language did a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of building relationships with my students. It is amazing how much we convey without ever saying a word, and put to bed any worries I had that I wouldn't be able to build relationships with my students without the use of English.

*As always, I was very intentional about building a common core set of vocabulary that we all worked off of- I say this because I want to be sure I am clear that I still followed my curriculum, helping my students learn the skills that I have laid out for Kindergarten Spanish. The backbone of the curriculum centers around themes in which vocabulary/ structures are introduced, practiced, and reinforced, with subsequent themes building on and expanding previous content. Without a common language to interface with, one that I've identified as key words/structures/ skills, I feel too much random action can happen which is more difficult to build upon throughout the year and, going forward, throughout the K-4 sequence and beyond. This is not to say impromptu conversation didn't, or doesn't happen; it happens regularly in my classroom, but I look for ways to tie that impromptu conversation back into, or bring into that impromptu conversation, our core vocabulary and structures so that they keep coming up, keep being reinforced and practiced. This goes back to that intentional planning behind everything I teach; it's always at the back/ front of my mind, and continued to be the focus even while teaching 100% in Spanish. Intentional planning + comprehensible input + organic, natural interactions= a great equation for learning!

*I reached out to parents and informed them of what I was doing and why. This was important to get them on board, and to reassure them that their kid would be well taken care of - which, they were!


*Establish a set of signs (hand signals) that I can teach the kids from the start so they can communicate certain requests with me- we already have a sign for going to the bathroom, but I would like to add a few others. (Such as 'It's an emergency!'). These I will couple with visuals to help convey meaning when they are initially introduced.

*Have a series of photos on my wall of various locations and people around the school, most especially the nurse's office and nurse. These I can then point to (or they can) when referencing these locations and people. (Other locations, for instance, include the playground and cafeteria). These, along with other key visuals, I will be sure to put at a height THEY can reach to point to!

*Model, teach, and incorporate the following key words/phrases right from the first day together: yo, tú, es mi turno, repite, quiero, esto/esta (I, you, it's my turn, repeat, I want, this). There are lots of other words that I did start with and am glad I did; I just want to be sure these are included as well, right from the beginning. I think I waited too long to realize I needed to emphasize these. I mean, seriously, how did I miss how important 'turno' is to a 5 year old??!!

*Speak with my colleagues, secretaries, principal and parents beforehand to give them a better head's up of how I was going to interact with THEM when my Kinder students are present (as in, no talking in English with them if the Kinders are in earshot). The importance of getting their cooperation and understanding around this became more and more evident as the year progressed.

*In the spirit of the above, I need to create a series of short phrases in Spanish and images to go along with them that allow me to communicate with colleagues, etc, when it is necessary without lapsing into English. Some examples include '_____ is in the bathroom.', '_______ is at the nurse's office.', 'I need to touch base with you later about ______.' I can then point to these when talking in front of the students.

CURIOUS AS TO HOW MY CLASSES LOOKED AND SOUNDED? Visit my Youtube channel where I've posted a number of videos of us in class, including this one from our very first day together: