Our graduates usually tell us they have placed into Spanish 2 in 9th Grade. One high school even indicated that they would like to send observers to learn how we teach Spanish here! How do St. Anne's students develop their ability to speak Spanish?
Susie Duffy is a key member of our faculty who has taught Spanish at St. Anne's for 13 years. An alumni parent of Giancarlo Duffy '06, she currently teaches third, fourth, and fifth grade Spanish. She took the time to describe how her work with students progresses.
How do you develop your students' ability to speak Spanish?
In 3rd Grade, my goal is to develop their listening comprehension and speaking ability in Spanish based on good listening skills, so that when I ask them a question they know what I'm asking, and are able to respond. My goal is for them to be able to hold a short conversation.
In 4th Grade, I hold them more accountable for always expressing their ideas in complete sentences in Spanish. They continue to improve in their speaking skills and their comprehension improves. By the end of the year, my goal is for them to be making presentations in Spanish drawing on the knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure that they have learned, without reading or memorizing.
By the end of 5th Grade, they are more conversational. They are reading in Spanish. It is exciting because I can see them bringing parts of our studies that they have learned in the past to express themselves in our current topics. Their oral presentations have become more substantive. Their sentences are more complex and they are expressing meaning and their own ideas in Spanish.
How do you approach Spanish instruction in these grades?
I never teach my students just the words. We have to use them in conversation in communicative situations. We play guessing games, and we use "por que?" a lot, which can mean "why?" or "because" depending on the context. Every year we are constantly reinforcing what we've learned in earlier units and in prior years. We incorporate words and concepts from their other classes as well.
Students start making short presentations in Spanish to their classmates in 3rd Grade. By 5th Grade, we are doing a lot of presentations and skits - in groups and as individuals. I also ask native speakers to come to the class in 5th grade to speak to the students in Spanish. The students are prepared to ask and respond to questions; in other words, they have a conversation with our Spanish speaking guests. We end the year by researching and giving a presentation on a Spanish speaking country.
What are some of the highlights?
In Third Grade, we end the year with a "fiesta de frutas." It is not simply a party when we enjoy fruits; I use it as the basis of our lesson to learn how to express what they like. Everyone has an opinion about what fruits they like and don't like, and this lesson takes advantage of that. They also have to say why they like or don't like the fruits. This is important, it's getting them to make meaningful sentences in Spanish. The children are excited to be able to say what they like and don't like in another language!
We end 4th Grade by acting out longer skits, which they write and perform. In the skit, they greet each other, imagine having a meal together, and say their farewells. They use vocabulary for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is an opportunity to use and reinforce the words and sentence structures they have been learning all year, as well as their listening and conversational skills.
"Día de los Muertos," is always a favorite in 5th Grade, when students celebrate the life of a family member who has died. Día de los Muertos is a very important day in Mexico and other Latin countries that we study. The Día de los Muertos presentations are always a very meaningful highlight and students are proud of the displays they have created about their relative.
By the end of 5th Grade, I feel kind of sad. We have done so much and learned so much! I leave them at a level where I know they can progress onto more sophisticated comprehension and expression. They are conversational to a certain level. They can express themselves at a personal level. They are ready to go on to 6th Grade, where they will continue to review, add much more grammar, reading, speaking opportunities, and study of Latin American history and culture.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to increase our study of cultures. I would like to bring more native experiences to our school. I am working with Charlotte Howard to identify some Latin American painters. I would like to increase our study of Latin Cultures in 3rd and 4th Grade and to bring people from outside, for example, flamenco dancing, instruments, music.
I was here as a parent when the school opened, and I have been teaching here for 13 years now. I love this school, first as a teacher because I have the freedom to teach in the way I think is best for my students to learn Spanish. Of course, I love the students, otherwise, I would not be teaching! I feel respected as a teacher here.