Sonrisas Spanish Blog

In the previous post we were talking about the importance of students connecting to the content of a lesson. One of the benefits of reading quality children’s Spanish literature in your elementary Spanish class is its ability to provide this connection. There are many other benefits to reading children’s Spanish literature in your elementary Spanish class, and we’re going to start looking at them in a four to five part series.

With each distinct book, students are exposed to a distinct voice, style, and vocabulary. Each author’s vocabulary, dialect, and style provide a very different linguistic experience. By reading diverse books to Spanish learners, you can expose your students to a diversity of Spanish expression to which your students would not likely otherwise have access. For example, a teacher from Mexico can read literature written by Cuban and Spanish authors and expose her students to voice, style, and vocabulary that the teacher couldn’t otherwise express. Spanish in particular is spoken by so many people from so many distinct cultures, that without using diverse literature in the classroom, you may limit your students’ overall language-learning experience with your own dialect, vocabulary, and voice. In her article, “Teaching in the Target Language,” Helena Curtain writes about the teacher as the “culture bearer,” that is, the representative of culture in the classroom. Every time you read a book written in a distinct voice, you represent another Spanish voice, style, and vocabulary to your students. In other words, you are acting as the culture bearer.

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.

Reading children’s Spanish literature is a critical aspect of the Sonrisas Approach. We have taken a lot of time to find quality children’s books in Spanish to read in the Sonrisas lessons. One of our mantras at Sonrisas Spanish School is “If we can find a good book, then we can teach a great lesson.”

A prerequisite for an effective elementary Spanish lesson is the opportunity for students to connect with the content of the lesson. If they can’t connect with the content, there is no way for them to engage. And without engagement, they simply won’t learn. Children love books, and a great book creates an immediate connection for them. Many great children’s books are distinguished by the quality of their illustrations. Children are drawn into the story, theme, and mood of the book through pictures. And when the text is in Spanish, children have the opportunity to engage in an authentic Spanish experience.

According to ACTFL, (the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language) an “authentic” text is defined as a text prepared by and for native speakers of the target language. According to this definition, children’s Spanish literature is an ideal authentic text for teaching elementary Spanish to children. Even children’s books that have been translated into Spanish can be authentic texts. The themes in quality children’s books are universal, and children of all cultures can appreciate them. As long as the translation is true to the story and well-written (which usually means that it has been translated by a native speaker), the book can engage children and transcend cultural barriers.

The definition of literature that we embrace is all writing considered to have permanent value, excellence of form, and great emotional effect. We scrutinize each book used in the Sonrisas lessons to ensure they stand up to these standards. Reading high-quality literature to your students offers them the opportunity to connect to the content of the lesson and offers several other benefits to the elementary Spanish language classroom as well. More on these benefits in the next post.

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.

 In the August 2011 issue of The Language Educator, published by ACTFL, there is an informative article entitled A Guide to IPA Implementation in FLES Programs. Written by Kristin Davin, Francis J. Troyan, Richard Donato, and Ashley Hellman, the article gives an overview of how a fourth and fifth grade elementary Spanish class decided to use the IPA to assess its students and discusses the results of the implementation of the IPA.

The integrated performance assessment (IPA) is a standards-based performance assessment that measures language students’ performance in the three modes of communication—interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. Students complete tasks in each of the three modes and receive feedback from the teacher that facilitates their performance as they advance through the tasks. 

One of the more interesting parts of the article is when the authors talk about the idea of “backward design.” With backward design, a teacher identifies desired outcomes, then determines acceptable evidence for those outcomes, then plans learning experiences and instruction based on the evidence and outcomes. This makes a lot of sense to me. It is how most things are designed whether they are a civic project or a business. It also reminds me of the lessons in the Sonrisas curricula. Essentially, each lesson is executed using a backward design: each lesson starts with a communication objective—which is the desired outcome, contains performance guidelines—which are the evidence for the communication objectives, and then is implemented with the lesson procedure—which is the instruction. In the article, the authors state how the teacher began to “integrate the teaching, learning, and assessment in concrete ways” through the use of backward design and the guidance of the IPA.

At Sonrisas, as we progress through the development of our Level III curriculum, we are looking closely at the model of the Integrated Performance Assessment as a means to guide our instruction. Anyone interested in learning more about the IPA or reading the article mentioned here can go to the ACTFL website and click on the publications link.

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.

“STAY HUMAN!”

This is what we are saying when we get asked about the different ways that children can learn Spanish. Children don’t learn language from videos, computer programs, or audio recordings. Children learn language from humans. At Sonrisas, we create fun, effective, standards-based curricula that teachers use to teach Spanish to children.

One of the motivating factors that has caused us to take this stance is that we have been hearing more and more about language teachers losing their jobs and being replaced by video, computer, or audio programs. This is so wrong! Technology can certainly be a useful supplement in the language classroom (although this is questionable for the preschool and elementary levels—that’s a topic for another day), but it should not replace teachers! Language learning is an inherently social, human-to-human interaction, and it needs to be taught as such.

So let’s rally for teachers and say, “STAY HUMAN” to anyone even thinking about replacing them with media-based programs. If you need research to back up this belief, take a look at this video: Patricia Kuhl: The Linguistic Genius of Babies

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.