Since we talked last weekend I have been taking up your and Diana Noonan’s (DPS World Languages Coordinator) challenge/mandate of using less English in the classroom. It seemed like an odd idea, after all, I LOVE speaking in Spanish with my students! There is such a sweet smell that fills the class when we are operating completely in Spanish. I am always reluctant to break the spell. I thought I wasn’t using much English at all. But I was using more than I had imagined.
For me, making the 90% to 99% jump is like going from Shawn White in Turin four years ago to Shawn White in Vancouver this year. It was a quantum jump in the degree of difficulty.
Over three days I had a bright student in each class count the number of English words I used during the period each day. Here are the results:
Spanish I: 43, 24, 20 words
Spanish II: 66, 50, 64 words (What?! Behavior problem)
Spanish II: 21, 17, 12 words
Spanish I: 12, 26, 13 words
AP Spanish classes: Did not check
Are these results typical? Has anyone else tried this? I found it to be tougher than I had thought.
Using English to quickly make meaning clear makes sense to me. That is the beauty of Blaine Ray’s approach–we want to be comprehensible at all times, so we say a word in English quickly or write it on the board to help kids get it, and we move on. We occasionally check for meaning with English, but we do not want students to have to guess. But I found myself inserting little words and commands in English involuntarily in every class.
I am cautious about reverting to the complete use of Spanish like I did in the old days–operating in lock step, straight-jacket Spanish at all times, making kids guess. I do not want to have something like this redevelop. Blaine has mentioned this snippet from the teen novel Speak by Laurie Anderson in his workshops. It is a good example of the problem with playing the game of using ONLY Spanish and trying to get students to guess the meanings of words, like I used to do.
In one memorable passage of the book, the author describes a high school Spanish class. I love how the narrator says that it was “easier to ignore” the teacher because she never translated into English:
“My Spanish teacher is going to try to get through the entire year without speaking English to us. This is both amusing and useful–makes it easier to ignore her. She communicates through exaggerated gestures and play acting. It’s like taking a class in charades. She says a sentence in Spanish and puts the back of her hand to her forehead. “You have a fever!” someone from the class calls out. “You feel faint!” No. She goes out to the hall, then bursts through the door, looking busy and distracted. She turns to us, acts surprised to see us, and then does the bit with the back of the hand on the forehead. “You’re lost!” “You’re angry!” “You’re in the wrong school!” “You’re in the wrong country!” “You’re on the wrong planet!”
“She tries one more time and smacks herself so hard on the forehead she staggers a bit. Her forehead is as pink as her lipstick. The guesses continue. “You can’t believe how many kids are in this class!” “You forgot how to speak Spanish!” “You have a migraine!” “You’re going to have a migraine if we don’t figure it out!”
“In desperation, she writes a sentence in Spanish on the board: Me sorprende que estoy tan cansada hoy. No one knows what it says. We don’t understand Spanish–that’s why we’re here. Finally, some brain gets out the Spanish-English dictionary. We spend the rest of the period trying to translate the sentence. When the bell rings, we have gotten as far as ‘To exhaust the day to surprise.’ ”
I do not want to go back to that, but I am going to consciously cut back on the English and use it only to establish meaning. Thanks for the challenge, Diana.
Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could