| 1. Is your class really conducted entirely in Spanish?
Yes! Each class period will be conducted in the Spanish language at all levels of instruction. This means that both myself and my students will be interacting in Spanish for approximately 90-95% during each class period. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) - the national organization of language teaching in the United States - strongly recommends that language teachers conduct each class period through the sole use of the second language. ACTFL is the organization that developed the World-Readiness Standards and Goal Areas for foreign language education, and is the most reputable source of up-to-date information for language teachers.
My classroom environment can be thought of as "simulated immersion," through which students use the Spanish language and must negotiate meaning to both comprehend and be understood. Simulated immersion is meant to recreate the natural environment that we all were exposed to when learning our first language! Since most students cannot move abroad and live in a true immersion environment within a foreign country, this is the next best option! Essentially, students must communicate in any way possible without using the English language, just as they would in the foreign country.
2. Why do you teach like this?
Consider the following scenario. Your son or daughter wants to learn how to play the guitar, so you decide to pay for a professional to teach your child to play the instrument. After a month, you decide that you want to hear what your child can play on the guitar at this point, so you ask him/her to play for you. S/he looks at you strangely and says, "You want me to play the guitar? I doubt I can. My guitar teacher never lets me play it."
Naturally, you begin to ask for more information about what has been going on during these lessons and what your child and his/her instructor actually do during the class, then. Your child tells you that, "We don't even have a guitar to play. All we do is just talk about guitar chords, sheet music for the guitar, and what you can do with a guitar. Then we take tests on that and my instructor tells me how I am doing."
Imagine your level of frustration with your child's education as you would no doubt ask yourself, "Why aren't they using/playing guitars in a class that is meant to help one play the guitar?" Now apply this scenario to the Spanish classroom as your child says the following: "Mom/Dad, we don't really SPEAK Spanish in the class, we just learn about it - like rules, conjugations, memorizing vocabulary, you know? I have a 100 percent in the class because I ace all of the tests."
This does not and will not happen in my classroom. For more information, click on the following link to my page about "My Philosophy of Teaching Spanish."
3. How can anybody learn or understand anything when you speak entirely in Spanish?
During each class period, the students and the teacher participate in "Negotiation of Meaning," which involves deciphering meaning from a symbol that is known. Symbols can take the form of pictures, actions, word relations, visuals, gestures, or anything that can help the student comprehend and be understood in the language. This process does not involve English translations, as that would eliminate the need to actually negotiate meaning in the first place.
In short, my classroom is set up to resemble the manner in which all people learned their first language. If your child is paying attention and engaged in on-task behavior during each class period, s/he will experience great success with the Spanish language and be well on his/her way to communicating!
4. What is the "Survivor" game that you play in your class?
"Sobrevivientes" is a classroom game that allows students to be rewarded for participating, winning classroom games/activities, and being on-task during each class period - all through the sole use of the Spanish language. If at any time a student should speak in English or break any other classroom rule established during the first day of class, they are given a warning. If a student continues to speak English or engage in any type of off-task behavior, s/he will "pay" a designated fine. Eventually, a student can be eliminated if the s/he doesn't have sufficient "classroom funds" to pay the fine. Students that are on-task, follow the rules, and speak Spanish during each class will be able to use their acquired classroom money (called "Panteras") to buy certain prizes and classroom perks - mainly enhancing their overall grade. Most importantly, this game is played to create a simulated immersion environment that allows students to develop communication skills with the Spanish language! To find out more information about "Sobrevivientes," please click on the following link that will take you to "My 'Survivor' Classroom."
5. What are these "Panteras" that my son/daughter is talking about?
"Panteras" are my own self-created currency that I use to "pay" my students for participating in class and for winning classroom competitions. "Panteras" are the vital component leading to the success of the "Survivor" game in my classroom. Approximately twice each quarter, students are required to "pay" their participation dues; this becomes their participation grade. In a way, it invites the parents into the classroom as they are able to see a representation of their child's performance/participation/behavior in my classroom. Any additional "Panteras" remaining after depositing for participation can then be used to buy items from the "Survivor Store." Students are responsible for organizing and maintaining their classroom money.
6. How does effort create ability in language acquisition?
Language acquisition is without a doubt an effort-based endeavor; there are no short cuts. The average person of average intelligence needs approximately 750+ hours of exposure/contact with the language in order to be able to function at a proficient level with that language. The goal of my simulated immersion classroom is to allow each student to get as close to that level as possible considering the amount of time I see each student throughout the school year. As a result, the whole class is conducted mainly in the Spanish language. This is truly a unique experience and opportunity for your child, as most people must travel to another country to encounter this type of atmosphere. Students are required to speak to me and to each other exclusively in Spanish. This truly is the only way to learn. I also encourage students to listen to music, read magazines and newspapers, watch movies, and speak to each other in Spanish outside of my classroom.
In this type of rigorous classroom, then, student effort creates ability.
7. Why do you refer to your classroom as "rigorous." How so?
My classroom is indeed a very rigorous environment. Students are required to consistently use upper-level thinking skills along with problem solving skills as they attempt to figure out ways to express their ideas and figure out what is being said. I have very high, yet attainable expectations of each of my students. There is no time for daydreaming or off-task behavior! Also, students are required to synthesize new concepts and ideas with prior learning while expanding what they are able to express and understand.
8. Where did you learn to teach Spanish like this? How can you be so sure it works?
I completed my undergraduate studies in Spanish education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), which has one of the best Spanish education programs in the nation. During this time, I had the privilege of being advised and mentored by Dr. Eileen Glisan, who is one of the nation's foremost experts of second language acquisition methodology. Dr. Glisan was also the president of the American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) - the nation's organization for foreign language teaching. For more information about Dr. Glisan, please click here.
Currently, I am furthering my education through the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) to obtain a Master's degree in Spanish education. This program is a continuation of the teaching methodology that I learned during my college career.
**Page last updated May 20, 2015**