"Children are artists; they learn by doing; they best acquire concepts when they are able to connect them to a manipulative or sensory experience."
Imagine a class of 25 6th graders in public school in Italy in the 1980's. Imagine them memorizing poems, Latin declensions, grammar rules; then imagine them only having one hour a week of art and music. Now imagine one of these students having a very artistic family, a designer for a father, a mother who could make any clothes one could want, a famous illustrator of children's books for an uncle, and a grandfather who pioneered progressive education ideas in the 1950's.
Imagine this student going abroad and learning a second language through a theater program at age 14 and being shaped as an educator by the ideas of Maria Montessori and Sir Ken Robinson. In very few words this is why, as a teacher of a second language, I strongly believe in teaching grammar and vocabulary through artistic experiences. Such experiences in middle school include:
• Practicing speaking through the lyrics of a song, acting it out, and creating video such as "Las Excusas."
• Studying immigration through movies such as "Bajo la Misma Luna" and "Viva Cuba."
• Learning clothing vocabulary through the creation of "Muñeca Quitapena" (Worry Dolls).
• Studying human anatomy through the legend of "Chancito de Chile."
Physical and digital resources are also used in the classroom to enhance lessons. One day students might use clay to create classroom objects of vocabulary terms. The next day, vocabulary could be reviewed with the aid of online programs, such as Kahoot.it. Students might also compete about conjugations with the help of Quizlet.
Elementary school students undertake a virtual trip to Mexico, prepare their luggage and fill it with everything they need and, in so doing, effortlessly learn clothing vocabulary. On their virtual trip they attend important events such as "Día de la Independencia, and "Días de Los Muertos;" more vocabulary, history and culture is acquired that way. They also learn about artists who shaped the history of their country such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and they even learn the ancient art of "Papel Picado." Students go through many other learning experiences as well which, depending on the grade, are designed to develop the skills needed to write, speak and understand the language but also appreciate the culture.
Children are artists; they learn by doing; they best acquire concepts when they are able to connect them to a manipulative or sensory experience. This is what Mead students of every Español class do. Teaching a second language cannot be limited to imparting knowledge on vocabulary. It means preparing children to be adults who can converse with hispanoablantes, Spanish speakers, yes, but also who can understand the similarities and the differences in people coming from all cultures. As Sir Robinson says: "The aims of education are to help people understand the world around them and the talents within them, so that they can become active and compassionate citizens, and fulfilled individuals."
As a teacher of Español in an independent progressive school, I have the perfect opportunity, and I thank you all for the privilege of teaching your children.
Curriclum Director, Español