Year 2020-21, Update #1 (2)

Weeks 1-2: This week, students in second grade–along with several other classes–met a stuffed animal duck named Pato (which conveniently means duck in Spanish). Pato has a big personality, and immediately made his presence known by wearing sock pajamas to school the first day of class. He also likes to sing the classic song “Feliz Navidad” while wearing his Christmas sweater and scarf, regardless of the fact that it is August (and not December) and a million degrees outside.

By the third day, Pato was dressing more appropriately for school but insisted on wearing his mask on his head/cabeza because, in his words, “No me gusta” (‘no may goose-tah’/I don’t like it). After looking around and seeing that everyone else was wearing one–and being told sternly that he would have to go home (read: get stuffed in my backpack and not hang out with the cool second graders) if he did not wear it–he decided to follow directions. He was much too excited about the class project to bother arguing, anyway (thank goodness!).

PHOTOS: Pato not wearing his mask. Pato wearing his mask.

The class’ project began with students learning about a 500-mile hike through northern Spain called El Camino de Santiago (see link for video and photos). Grades 1-4 are starting with this because students will be able to earn miles on the hike all year long by completing Weekly Spanish Challenges. The trail is marked by arrows and shells, so second graders grabbed their backpacks (mochilas) and water bottles (agua/water!), walked up and down mountains (read: stairways) all over campus, and helped the older grades draw chalk shells and arrows on the ground. To ascertain that they would not get lost in the dark, students also colored in shells (on paper), painted them with glow-in-the-dark paint, and added glitter. We will obviously add more glitter next time. (…because Pato likes glitter. A lot.)

While listening to THIS SONG and THIS SONG in Spanish as background music, they noticed that their markers had Spanish translations on them in tiny print (red/rojo, blue/azul, etc.). The official colors of the Camino are blue and yellow in real life, which are also the school colors– perfecto!

Silliness with Pato and launching straight into a hands-on (and masks-on) cultural project have allowed for a [mostly] Spanish-immersion type of classroom environment–which is the goal. I want students to begin the year by listening to a lot of the target language, recalling any passive vocabulary from previous years, and getting excited about learning Spanish. We will be focusing in on specific words and phrases soon.

Whether they realize it or not, I am also constantly testing students in class simply by asking questions in the target language: Which color paint do you want to use next? Can you shake off the glitter over the trash can, please?! What do we do now? Cut out the shells and paste them on this strip of paper. Pato is thirsty– could you bring him a water bottle? (Students pretend to give him water.)

Many second graders are answering all of these questions and more. When a question is too abstract or the class gets lost, I return to English to clarify. This does not mean that students are already fluent or can translate all of these questions; it merely indicates that the language is comprehensible and that they are intuiting what I am saying in the moment by the context and visual cues. Language acquisition is a fascinating combination of science and art, with a slice of magic on the side! I don’t know exactly how or why this happens; I just know that it does. By the end of the year, students will be able to follow the same conversation but this time, it will be because they have acquired the vocabulary.

Long story short–short story long!–I am looking forward to an amazing year!

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to check out the video and photos at THIS LINK, and to create their own “Camino” at home. The arrows and shells are oftentimes made out of things in nature as well. Students may color or paint the shell template above; outline an arrow using some rocks or palms; collect shells at the beach; or simply draw your own arrow and shell signs and hang them up around your house. Make sure they are all pointed in the same direction, so that you don’t get lost. Feel free to send pictures, if you like!

For language input, virtual learners may also 1) participate in the Weekly Spanish Challenges; 2) sign up for a Duolingo account and do a lesson or two; and/or 3) watch a movie or cartoon in the target language (Spanish voiceover and English subtitles). Just get used to hearing a lot of Spanish!