teaching and learning languages in the pyp: spanish @ spicewood

As part of Spicewood Elementary’s vision, we are always “aspiring to be a community of caring, global-minded thinkers”. In order to have an appreciation and acceptance of other countries besides our own, pyp teachers carefully design Units of Inquiry that provide students with activities and discussions that bring in different perspectives. As an IB campus, our students experience the Spanish language first hand, making connections to units within the classroom through unique approach to teacher an additional language.
This week, we get a chance to hear from our Spanish teacher herself, Mrs. Teal. See our interview below as she shares just how she does what she does with our community.
What Learner Profile Attributes are best used when learning an additional language? 
Probably the most crucial learner profile attribute for learning a new language is being a risk-taker.  It can be a little scary to try to communicate in a language that you are just learning.  I try to give students plenty of opportunities through a variety of fun and low-stress activities to apply and practice the language. 

Being a thinker is another super important attribute.  Students aren’t just learning a language; they are learning about language and they are learning through language.  I love seeing the light bulbs come on as students begin to understand new concepts and recognize patterns in language and apply what they have already learned to new vocabulary structures.  What a privilege to be learning Spanish as elementary students!

 What does a typical Spanish class look like?
Spanish always begins with a ‘Can-Do Review’.  This is a review of all the lesson objectives we have had since the beginning of the year.  For example, in first grade one of our lesson objectives was “I can use Spanish to tell where something is.”  So each time a 1st grade class comes to Spanish, I give them an opportunity to prove they can do that.  I might show a picture of a monkey in a tree and challenge students to tell me where the monkey is.  They could say ‘El mono está en el arból.’ (The monkey is in the tree.) Or they could say, ‘El mono está en la selva.’ (The monkey is in the jungle.)  Once we have reviewed all the previous lesson objectives – and this goes pretty fast – we move on to the new Can-Do for the day.  A typical class will include some of the following: reading, songs, chants, books, skits, games and activities.  I find that the more students move, laugh, and talk, the more they learn and remember.  I try to always introduce new vocabulary in context so that they are hearing it in a more natural way rather than learning lists of words that they don’t know how to use in every day speech.
 How do you feel you best connect to whats going on in the classroom’s unit of inquiry? Can you provide a specific example?
Over the course of the year, I have several over-arching objectives.  One is to teach Spanish – the language, which includes vocabulary structures, grammar, syntax, etc.  Another objective is to connect to at least 2 of the homeroom units of inquiry for each grade level.  Finally, I want to teach the students a little bit about the Spanish-speaking world.  I have been very intentional about designing a curriculum that allows me to address all 3 of these big objectives together, rather than separately.  Here is an example.2nd grade in my class is learning about Spain.  One of the 2nd grade units of inquiry that provided an authentic and relevant connection was their Sharing the Planet unit.  The central idea for this unit is: Living things share natural resources.  This connects perfectly with Spain in regard to the Iberian lynx.  The lynx is the rarest feline in the world due to several factors, one of which is habitat loss.  As cities expand to accommodate a growing population, more and more trees are cut down.  Another great connection is the Cantabrian Brown Bear of northern Spain.  This bear has not been hibernating in recent years due to warmer temperatures year-round.  There is no need for them to hibernate since they can find food even in the winter months.  From a language standpoint, we are learning enough vocab talk about this in Spanish. 2nd grade also has a unit of inquiry in my class.  It is a How We Express Ourselves unit, and the central idea is Language is a way to get knowledge.  As the year progresses, we talk about the importance of knowing language, the different forms of language (written, verbal, non-verbal, etc.), the benefits of knowing more than one language, and how we depend on language to get knowledge.  

How can parents best support their child learning an additional language at home?
Some ideas that spring to mind are:
  • Ask your child what they are learning in Spanish and ask them to teach you or demonstrate for you what they know. Want to jog their memory?  Look at my website  under ‘What is my child learning in Spanish?’  You’ll see the synopsis of each lesson and words to songs and chants, etc.  There are even some videos and links to peruse!  Keep checking back because I’m still working on the links page, and I’m adding weekly to the lessons for each of the 6 grade levels.
  • Provide spontaneous opportunities to practice Spanish in fun ways. Using the numbers around the house to count or on the highway looking at road signs is an easy way to practice number recognition.  Dice games or number guessing games would be another fun option.
  • Look for online Spanish games that your child can play.
  • If you have a Spanish-speaking person in your life, ask them to speak Spanish to your child. (ie. Relatives, neighbors, a nanny, etc.)
  • If your child has a Spanish-speaking friend, make a point of having them over to play. Challenge the kids to only speak Spanish for the next 5 or 10 minutes with a simple reward if they do. 
  • Provide very simple (pre-K level) books for your child to have around the house. Ask them to read to you and compliment their accent!
  • If they watch cartoons that have Spanish woven into them (ie. Maya and Miguel, Dora the Explorer, etc.) have them start a list of Spanish words that they hear with their definition.

A BIG THANK YOU goes out to Mrs. Teal for taking some extra time to explain the inner workings of Spanish at Spicewood Elementary. Be sure to visit her informative website to keep up on what your child is learning in class. I know I’ve learned so much already just by getting the opportunity to work with Mrs. Teal one on one as well as come sit in on some of her Spanish classes.

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