04 September 2008

What on earth is going on here?

I've written about how I went to grad school and learned about second language acquisition (SLA) theory that revolutionized how I approached teaching.

Then I attended an AP workshop where the facilitator used two Latin pop songs to illustrate how authentic Spanish media could be used in AP. I decided it was catchy and could probably appeal and be useful all the way down to Spanish 1.

Then I attended a TPRS workshop at the Kentucky World Language Association's fall conference last year and that rocked my world.

I decided to put it all together and see what happened in my classroom. What happened is still amazing me and is why I started this blog, why I'm documenting my action research, why I want to talk to anyone who'll listen about what I've learned. And I'm still not even sure what's going on.

I had 48 students in Spanish 2 last year. It was the only high school Spanish class I taught. No one failed. 10% earned a D for the year, and that was because they, without exception, consistently took zeros on assignments or refused to listen in class. As a high school teacher, I'm still required to give grades, much as I hate it, and when a student consistently refuses to do work, I can't give him/her anything above a zero. Also, Musicuentos does not work with students who will not listen, and doesn't work exceptionally well with students who won't watch. The other 90% earned a C or higher, the majority A's or B's. And I don't give extra credit, bonus work, or academic credit for non-academic work. My students get no points for food, none for signatures on papers, none for extra credit projects, zip. The only thing they can do is earn back half the points they miss on paper tests by correcting the missed answers to make them communicative.

As last year drew to a close, I started to pray for 10 students to take Spanish 3. I teach at a smallish private school, about 200 in the high school, and last year (my first year here) no one elected Spanish 3. Two students elected AP Spanish. And I'm like any other Spanish teacher, I know the attrition between the required classes and the electives. So I prayed for 10. This summer our guidance counselor said to me, "We have a problem. 23 students have signed up for Spanish 3."
You could've knocked me over with a feather. 23? I had to cut five because I had to cap the class at 18 because of my room size, and I didn't have an open period to teach another section. After the school year started, 2 dropped, 2 came in, and 4 more asked to come in and couldn't (including one who had dropped).

The math ends up to a 50% retaining rate between Spanish 2 and 3. But what amazes me the most is when these kids walk in Spanish 3, tell me the usual, "Oh I forgot everything over the summer," look at the picture of the clown and say, "Oh look, you got a payaso." And then the first week of school, I can ask them questions at a native rate of speed and they'll answer me. In Spanish.

So what on earth is going on here? I think the only answer I have right now is this:
Second language acquisition theory has a lot to teach us, and we'd better sit up and listen, or only the most motivated, linguistically inclined students will ever learn language.

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