Quarter 1: This term, students in fourth grade excitedly delved into the task of creating their own pueblo/town. After hailing a taxi to the airport, showing their boarding passes and boarding the plane, fourth graders sat back and relaxed, enjoyed beverages, and chatted until landing. As they officially stepped into their town for the first time—Ijusthaditville, España—the actual simulation commenced, and students signed a Language Pledge, promising to use solely the target language in the Spanish Cave. After establishing bank accounts, buying their own mansions and designing the interior of their homes, fourth graders began looking for work and creating their own businesses. A typical day consists of students striving to use the language in a variety of meaningful contexts and situations. As a result, the learning environment tends to be more boisterous than not, but in a lively, jovial sort of way, where fourth graders spend their time traveling to the bank, taking out money, working at the local shops, buying, selling, bargaining, trading, and occasionally employing ‘frantic gesturing’ when they find themselves unable to recall vocabulary or simplify an idea. In addition to the town, fourth graders also took an ‘English day’ in order to integrate with their regular classroom curriculum, and talked about words in other languages that are untranslatable…
Quarter 2: This term, students in fourth grade chose new [fruit and vegetable] identities as part of the pueblo/town simulation, with the understanding that their English name and person ‘no longer exist’ in the Spanish Cave. In addition, fourth graders have also begun opening new businesses. Now, for example, there are a few street musicians who play on the classroom keyboard and earn their living from passers-by (propinas/tips); students who buy tickets to watch Sr. Wooly videos at the town cine/movie theater; and generous customers who allow the party shop to thrive financially. However, a few strange developments have made life anything but normal: increasing tension relating to the overtly amorous conversations between a girl and her novio/boyfriend, Diego (¡Mi amor!/My love!), led several town residents to the brink of insanity. It was therefore incumbent upon those affected to visit the town doctor(a)/doctor for some much-needed terapia/therapy. The rabid raccoon (mapache rabioso) that escaped from the zoo also spent some time in a group treatment center. The most effective cure? Un abrazo/a hug. Students—rather, citizens—refocused their attention amidst the unanticipated chaos with a call-response echo: ¿Qué queremos?/¡Queremos trabajar! (What do we want? We want to work!). Gracias for another memorable quarter.
Quarter 3: This term, students in fourth grade were required to think creatively when their beloved town was moved, well, across town (to the St. John building). Instead of relying on the same old, same old, fourth graders delved into the challenges of a relocated classroom, err, pueblo most audaciously—redesigning, revamping, and redecorating—for the purpose of improving upon their original ideas. Where should the panadería/bakery be located now? What about the Azkaban prison? How could vendors re-imagine the concept of a mercado from South and Central American countries to fit their own town? While this progression and conversation occurred quite naturally, it was also beautifully reflective of the creative thinking process: are students generating new ideas (divergent thinking)? Are they taking risks? Can they overcome and push past the mental obstacles of an idea that results in complete and utter failure? Did they synthesize their experience into a cogent, cohesive product (convergent thinking)? The creative thinking process manifested itself not only within the confines of the town expansion, but also in students’ linguistic development. Do students put language together in unusual and novel ways, beyond what the teacher has taught? Does the product work (was the message communicated effectively)? Welcome to a new era, the age of creative thinking! Fourth graders have hit the ground running; gracias for another magical quarter.
Quarter 4: This term, students in fourth grade extended their understanding of the word ‘pueblo’: the town does not only exist within the four walls of the Spanish Cave, but also beyond it… and thus a parque/park was borne. This outing begins with a class conversation: “¿Qué queremos? Queremos ir a jugar al fútbol en el parque” (What do we want? We want to go play soccer at the park). Later, fourth graders request relevant vocabulary; the doctoras/doctors and enfermera/nurse pack up their medical bags in case of an emergency; and students head out to play with a Guatemalan saying on their minds, “Ganamos, perdimos, igual nos divertimos” (we win or we lose, either way we have fun). Partway through the game, there is a ‘half-time show’, where a talented gymnast performs complicated flips, round-offs, and cartwheels for the class; and when it is time to go, they form two lines/filas and say, “Buen partido/good game”. Later on, students saw photos from my trip to Iguazú Falls (Cataratas de Iguazú) in Argentina; discussed what Spanglish is; and had a game week in the target language (Spanish Monopoly, rompecabezas/puzzles, La Guerra/War [card game], Spot It, and Bingo). Prior to catching a flight back to their hometown, fourth graders took a day to learn about and taste the traditional friendship drink and famous tea of Argentina, called Yerba Mate. Hasta la próxima (until next time), citizens of Ijusthaditville, España. Gracias for a beautiful year.