Spanish at St. John’s

For those who have attended my back to school night orientation, you know that what we do in the St. John’s language classroom is geared towards meeting up-to-date research in language acquisition (as well as meeting the California World standards and the ACTFL performance guidelines—a subject for another blog).    Acquisition occurs when several criteria are met:  1) language has to be comprehensible (understandable), 2) there must be lots of it, both in listening and reading, 3) there needs to be plenty of repetition in a variety of meaningful contexts, and 4) it must be compelling (students want to understand).  To meet these criteria I have decided to use TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling).  This method has several cycles which include, first oral story co-creation, then reading of a short story which uses the same vocabulary and structures from the oral story.  The third cycle is the reading of a chapter book (often referred to as a “novel”) which is at the students’ level.

Since the video shows the culmination of the first part of this cycle, oral story co-creation, I will give a brief description of how this cycle works.  The oral story can be started in a number of ways.  One is with target vocabulary (usually back planned from a reading we will eventually be doing).  Another is untargeted language through the creation of a classroom “invisible.”

The video below shows a story created around a class “invisible,” so I will discuss this approach.  “Invisibles” are characters created wholly by student input.  They can be human, animals or even inanimate objects which are given human characteristics (faces, arms, legs, moods, personalities, jobs, likes/dislikes, etc.—all useful language).  When working with “invisibles,” individual student skills, interests, creativity and abilities are drawn upon to contribute.  Students who have an interest in acting get to act.  Students with an interest in videoing become videographers.  Those who are particularly good at the language record the descriptions and subsequent stories (in English and Spanish). Transcribing is used for two reasons: 1) to compile our class story book and 2) and to help me remember the stories to prepare activities.  Artistic abilities are called upon to represent the characters and basics of the story in drawings which are posted in the classroom.   The sound effects person is always the student who can imitate sounds well.

For an “invisible” to turn into a class story, a problem must arise.  This usually comes from the established mood of the “invisible” and some event in the character’s life which caused the mood. We have only just begun working with this type of oral story, and I am amazed at how students arrive at universal themes (love, heartbreak, being different) with details which reflect their worries or situations in real life and give voice to them, usually in a humorous way—and most importantly, being done in Spanish and therefore meeting acquisition criteria in a highly effective way.

This video is an example of an oral story with an “invisible” named Caillou, who is not very smart, but has a good heart.  When we first meet Caillou, he is jealous.  It turns out that his relationship with the love of his life, Felicia, is interrupted by Kim Jong Un, who blackmails Caillou’s girlfriend into coming to North Korea. Unbeknownst to Caillou, Felicia travels to North Korea to save Caillou from certain death by Jim Jong Un.   To leave Caillou without him suspecting anything, she tells him she is hungry and is going to McDonald’s.  Coincidentally, Caillou swims to North Korea to confront Kim Jong Un because he dislikes him.  When he arrives there, he finds his girlfriend with Kim Jong Un.  Because he is not very smart he briefly thinks he has mistakenly gone to McDonalds and then Kim Jong Un makes several bumbling and unsuccessful attempts to get rid of Caillou.  In the end Caillou and Felicia escape his clutches and live happily ever after.

Something to keep in mind when watching is that actors have specific things they need to do.  They must bring the story to life (and as such make it understandable for the rest of the class) through their movements and facial expressions while follow my narration.  And they must understand the narration and speak at the appropriate time.  All of this requires a good understanding of the story.

By: Sr. Stone

Author: jhollatz

I am the principal of St. John's Lutheran School and a proud dad of two girls at SJLS!

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