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!

WHAT WILL I ADD/ DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT YEAR?

*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:



https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipMk0RMH8MFmOB_yJMuvVMH7xBx_qfLl8oqOQXbA

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