Sunday, October 27, 2013

Building a Strong Foundation

What do you do when through questions and conversations, you realize your students  haven't mastered something from the previous level that is key for a solid foundation and continued growth?  That happened to me last week with my Spanish 2 students. After looking at their confused expressions, I decided to stop, take inventory of what they had and hadn't mastered, and then address the problem straight on.

Solid foundation - mastery of essentials
First, to get a clear picture on exactly what the students were struggling, I gave them a non-graded, short assessment.  Through that assessment, I discovered they were weak on the nosotros form of the verb TENER, and they were frequently forgetting that, with verbs, the plural form of you, Ustedes, was the same verb form as ellos & ellas.  TENER is one of the top 7 high frequency verbs, according to people that study word frequency in languages.

After taking a poll of the results of the non-graded assessment, I drew a sketch similar to the one on the left.  I explained the importance of a solid foundation of a building, and that it was an integral part of the subsequent floors of the building.  Then I equated the building's foundation to that of the language foundation they had worked on building in Spanish 1.   

Then I erased parts of the pillars of the foundation (similar to the sketch on the right, erasing a good deal of the foundation pillars to make a point).  It was evident to everyone that a weak foundation, or maybe only one or two blocks missing in the foundation, can cause difficulties when working on higher levels.  Instead of pushing upward in the construction, it was best to go back to the foundation to reinforce and repair any weak areas. If they didn't acquire the nosotros form of TENER in Spanish 1, then it was my job to provide them with additional exposure to it, in a comprehensible way of course, in order to allow acquisition to take place. 

In the past, I would have typed up a worksheet using TENEMOS, but I didn't want the focus to be specifically on the grammar.  Instead, I wanted the focus to be on communication that required us to use the word TENEMOS.

The following day, I started class by telling the students in Spanish that we have some very talented students in our class.  In fact, we have talented AND intelligent students in our class (which gave me the opportunity to write personas talentosas e inteligentes), and added that we have talented, intelligent, AND famous people in our class.

I gave 3 examples of the talented people that we have in our class.
1. Tenemos una estudiante en nuestra clase que puede hablar con fluidez 7 idiomas.  The class played along, called out the name of one their classmates, I questioned them and waited for their admittance that it was true, and then we listed on the board the 7 languages that the person speaks.
2. Tenemos tres estudiantes en nuestra clase que vuelan a la escuela. (...that fly to school).
3. Tenemos dos personas en nuestra clase que pueden correr una milla en menos de tres minutos. (..that can run a mile in less than 3 minutes)

After those examples, each class had to tell me about the other famous, or talented, or intelligent students that we have in our class.  I made this a competition between my three Spanish 2 classes.  By the end of the day I had 3 separate lists on butcher paper of the incredible students we have in each class. Would you believe we have students that can walk on water, one that is a one man football team that can beat the Patriots, one that can jump 300 meters, one that turns into Hannah Montanta on the weekends, one that swims in lava, and one that beat Usain Bolt in a race!

It was a lot of repetitions of TENEMOS but it kept their interest because of the content, not the grammar.  On Monday, I'll review Friday's activities by asking each class if "we have a student in class that...." and go down through the lists of things from each class.  They'll hear it, they'll read it, and they'll write it on Monday.  That will be one pillar well on the way to being repaired.  A little bit of cement from time to time, should eliminate that problem and then we'll address other weak spots as they become evident.

Reminder for myself - DON'T try to mask over any problems or weaknesses that students have from previous levels and DON'T put the blame on the students.  I readily accept the fact that last year the three Spanish 1 teachers (one of which was me), should have included the nosotros forms more than what we did.  We're addressing it with our level ones this year in an effort to build a firm foundation for subsequent years.


No comments:

Post a Comment