29 October 2010

And the winner is...

This year I picked up some early childhood Spanish to free up some time for our K-8 teacher to increase his instruction in our grades 6-8. So I teach 3-year-olds through 1st grade. I get 10 minutes per week with 3-year-olds, 15 minutes with 4-year-olds, and 20 minutes with kindergarten and 1st grade.

The first reaction I get from language teachers at this is laughter. What can you do in 15 minutes per week? Nothing.

I laugh back. Not nothing. Something big, or so I have found. It's not earth-shattering, but it's a breakthrough for me.

A little more background--the private school where I teach is connected to a church with a very strong emphasis on adoption, and we have a lot of internationally adopted
students in our school. This year in my younger classes I have, for example, two four-year-old Russians and a 1st-grader also from Russia. I had a few questions at the beginning of the year, people asking me if I thought them taking Spanish would hinder their English acquisition. I told them, bah, absolutely not. Bring on the languages, right?

All--and I mean 100%--of my training is in secondary education. So I started this blind. I knew it needed to be immersion. I knew it needed to include stories and questions. Songs. I knew last year they learned a few words of vocabulary and did a color sheet and I knew that wasn't the route I wanted to take. But the format? Clueless. After my first day in preschool I sent a shout-out for help to @PreKlanguages who called me and gave me a 30-minute crash course in teaching preschool Spanish.

So, we're building a story. There's a red house on a green hill. The yellow chick lives in the red house (Los pollitos dicen pío pío pío). One day he takes a walk and finds a blue lake. He drinks the water. He sees his friend the brown frog. The brown frog jumps 10 times and sings "Cucú." And so on. It's crazy fun.

For 10 weeks I've been asking, ¿Quién vive en la casa? Providing options. Superman? No. ¿Tú? No. Your teacher (name)? No. ¡El pollito vive en la casa! Waiting for someone to answer. So far, nothing. Which doesn't bother me, it's natural acquisition and you just wait for it to take its course.

Until yesterday. I'm in one of my four-year-old classes and telling the story. Here's the red house. ¿Quién vive en la casa?

And there it is. One of the little boys pipes up in all seriousness, "Pollito." Like "pozhito" with a rasp on the ll and all. I jumped up and high-fived him and nearly went through the roof.

And the winner is...

One of the Russian adopted boys.

Oh and today? In a three-year-old class I asked, ¿De qué color es la casa? And a little girl answers,


She flipped the vowel to feminine. They have never done that before.

That's what 15 minutes a week can give you.

01 October 2010

In the spirit of open source: Ciudad de las bestias

Want to guide your advanced students through a culturally-relevant novel by a Hispanic author, written specifically to adolescents? Good! Intensive reading for pleasure is the best way to acquire vocabulary in any language.

I've put an incredible amount of work into writing reading guides and vocabulary lists for all 20 chapters of Ciudad de las bestias by Isabel Allende.

In the story, Alex, a 15-year-old Californian, must spend some time with his eccentric grandmother while his mother receives cancer treatment in Texas. His grandmother is a nonfiction adventure writer, about to leave with a team from "International Geographic" for the Amazon, in search of the (mythical?) Bestia--the 'abominable jungleman.' Alex's presence can't throw a wrench in her plans so he must tag along. Suddenly the California boy finds himself in the middle of the Amazon, picking off leeches, swimming with dolphins, befriending a young Brasilian-Canadian girl with whom he gets kidnapped and must embark on a journey to answer tough questions about who gets to use what in the jungle and what the future holds for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, as well as where his true riches are and where he can find purpose.

Sound like culture? communication? motivating subject matter for teenagers?

My reading guides aren't perfect--just the other day one of my students pointed out I hadn't put page numbers on a few questions-- but here they are, and I encourage you to see the power of reading come alive for your advanced students.

**UPDATE 3 FEB 2011** For new info on these guides, see this post.

I'll try to post some tips on class novel reading soon, but my first one would be to start reading together before assigning it outside of class, so students can get used to the big keys which are:
1-read the question first so you know the big idea you're looking for
2-read so you understand the gist, but not so you understand every word.