September 27, 2011

Missy, why you want to learn Spanish?

A picture of Stella counting "uno, dos, tres "
Well sort of. . .  maybe one day!
When you are new to a language. . . you hear the same things over and over again. I don't even think the kids or teachers realize how many times certain phrases are repeated.

The first thing I picked out of the long mumble of this foreign language was "Mira!" Look! From that word I began to pick out different phrases in this sea of what was essentially nonsense to me. I'm starting to wonder, is this what the students hear too? A phrase here, a glimpse of a word they may have heard before? How should this change how I teach?

I've been at the same school for 6 years. I teach a lot of the bilingual classes (Spanish.) In art though, it seems to make little difference what one's native language is when it comes to making the art work. Today was a perfect example. I taught the same lesson three times to three 5th grades. It was a weaving lesson that has been floating around the blogs (you know the one where you weave up and down and side to side). . . well cutting the looms with my other "higher level" classes resulted in many mistakes (not cutting on the fold.) So many mistakes that I took all these cut paper mess ups and made a hula skirt. This seemed to make the kids who failed on the first try feel better to see me WEARING their mistakes and doing a little hula if they were particularly upset. Fast forward to todays 4th and 5th grade combo class bilingual . . . NOT ONE mistake making their looms. So language was obviously not a barrier.

I am especially interested in how language is really learned. I took years of French and never really got it. But, now, I feel like I'm understanding most of the conversations the kids are having it seems like magically. When they ask me a question in Spanish I answer them (in English most times) without realizing that they even asked in Spanish! I think this has something to do with the repetitive nature of the questions and easy vocabulary of the art room tools. But something is definitely starting to happen in my brain! One of the paras brought this to my attention. He said, "you are understanding more Spanish this year. You are answering their questions when they tell you in Spanish." I guess I was! I was walking around pretty proud after that. 

Then comes the SPEAKING part. This is a lot harder because it takes guts. I try everyday to at least say the vocabulary words we're using in Spanish (even if I fail miserably) mostly to break down the barrier of the kids speaking in English. For example today we were doing Leaf Texture Rubbings so I was learning the word hoja (leaf.) One word might not seem like a lot, but of course one word lead to "Missy this is how you say _________ in Spanish." This translating is helping me get to know those new kids who sit there in silence looking at the table while their "English" speaking teacher talks at them. They perk up when they hear something they understand and seem to be following along too.

Today a boy in second grade (that I've had since Kindergarten) said to me "Missy, why you want to learn Spanish? Is your boyfriend Spanish?" Thrown a little for a loop by the question I said, "No. . . " He said "do people in your house speak Spanish?" "No, I just want to learn it." "Then you're gonna need a kid like me to be your son."
It was one of those moments where you have NO IDEA what to say!


Phyl said...

I love the little boy's comment!!

A few years ago two Danish children moved into my district with their mom. The kids didn't speak a word of English, and of course their ELA teacher didn't know a word of Danish. The little girl, in the 2nd grade, was very bright and social and picked up the language fast, but her fourth grade brother, a sweet boy but a struggling learner, with horrible buck teeth that made him very shy, struggled much more. The first day he arrived in my art class, we were beginning a weaving done with straws held in the hand. He watched carefully, and without a word he began. I would see him get up from time to time, look at the color wheel poster, and then knot on a new piece of yarn. The finished weaving was a magnificent rainbow of color, all in analogous sequence.

Ironically, last year, I was doing the wampum belt weaving project when a new 4th grader arrived, adopted from Japan. Again, Sarah watched and copied, and was wonderfully successful. Less than a year later, she understands EVERYTHING - amazing.

There must be something about weaving...

sadie said...

I am dually certified, to teach Spanish and Art--don't ask, long story, but suffice it to say that my Art cert saved me from being unemployed. Amazing, Huh?
Anyhoo, the learning language bit--according to language acquisition theory, the repetition (input) is super important and many language classes are being taught in an immersion style (only in the target language with visuals to help with comprehension). Similar to how our babies learn their native language--repetition and visuals to support meaning. The first ability a language learner will acquire is reading or listening followed by writing and then speaking. The speaking piece is often last because one must really be "thinking" in the target language to be able to have conversation flow.
I, too, teach bilingual classes and love every minute of being able to use my Spanish (I do love teaching Art more though). The kids are always shocked when I can understand what they are saying to me and each other and am able to respond in Spanish. I also find that I do not need to rely on my knowledge of Spanish to instruct the children as the universal language of art speaks for itself!

Unknown said...

Sadie, Thanks! That is really interesting that the speaking is last and repetition part. I figured this much so I do repeat repeat repeat vocab in english and for me in spanish.

That is also interesting that you were a Spanish teacher who went to art? Recently we had a Spanish teacher go to media. Language is getting cut it seems. Glad that you are enjoying the art classroom and able to use your Spanish!

Phyl: YES there is something about weaving I'm sure of it! I love the sequence of color from the color wheel. They notice everything on the walls! Especially non english speakers. It is amazing and I need to change my wall displays more often because of it! Except the color wheel of course:)