Finding the Balance

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Here we are entering the 4th week of 100% TL.  My how time flies when you’re teaching all in Spanish!  The test scores came out better than I had expected.  I also shifted my focus from perfect grammar to communication for the section in which the students had to write me instructions.  I graded them based on 1) Did I find the correct location?  2) Was I confused by any part of their instructions?  3) Did they include enough vocab (had to have 5 target words) to provide a clear picture of where I was going.  For example, Turn left, your destination is on the north west corner next to the cafe.  A description like that leaves no question of where I should be.  This change in grading focus brings me to my next topic: Finding the Balance.

I am a stickler for proper grammar, always have been, always will be.  I want my students to understand the grammar of a language.  I hold this belief because I firmly believe that if you understand the grammar (conjugation charts, etc) you can apply that to any word thereby opening up your ability to use any vocabulary.  I realize there are differing schools of thought on this and the fact that this was how I learned (and it worked/works for me) doesn’t mean it is how everyone should and/or does learn.  This point is emphasized by the fact that I have some students excelling in this new 100% TL format that didn’t do as well in the mostly English format I was using.

My new quest: to find the balance between grammar focus and communication focus.

I know that some students will not study Spanish past high school.  Their time in my classroom will be their only study of a language other than English.  For those students I want them to walk out of here with a working knowledge of basic Spanish that they will be able to use after high school.  I have other students that I know will go on and continue to study Spanish or another language and I want them to have a strong academic grammatical background.  I can argue that they will get the grammar in college but would like for them to be well prepared for it.  So there is my challenge, satisfy both sides of me (communication and the grammar stickler) and equip my students with a good balance as well.  Here’s how I’m attempting to do this.

Last week we started a new chapter around food and formal commands.  Vocab was easy enough to handle.  Friday we started usted/ustedes commands.  I introduced this by giving students a recipe in Spanish (see materials page for the recipe) with certain words bolded/italicized/underlined and told them to find the meaning.  They worked alone first, then with a partner, then with another group and finally we reviewed as a class.  I then wrote the inifinitive of the verb and the command form and asked them what looked odd (e.g. batir > bata) and they noticed that even though it was an -ir verb it had -ar endings.  We did a few more examples and I then gave them the steps for making a formal command for them to write on notes 1. Go to “yo” 2. Drop the “o” 3. Add the opposite ending.  They had already figured out the opposite ending part of course and I used some yo-go verbs like Poner and Tener to drive home the importance and provide examples of step 1, “Go to yo”.

Today I did a mix of structured CLOZE activities which we reviewed and I worked one-on-one with students who still had some questions.  Next, I had them write a simple recipe in Spanish for mashed potatoes.  This was modeled from one of the structured activities we did.  I could tell that at first the students liked the structure in order to make sure they were doing it right but once they had it figured out, they needed a more fun challenge and in came the mashed potatoes.  They had fun putting their own twists on the recipe (garlic, lots of pepper, no milk, etc) and were super engaged and turned out some great simple recipes.  This is a nice segway into tomorrows activity in which we will watch a stop action video of salsa being made, brainstorm vocab they see, create a list, then build the recipe in Spanish.  I will have them work on their own then with a partner, then check for grammar correctness as a large class by writing some of their steps on the board.  I may have them create the salsa recipes on large sheets of paper around the room in groups of 3-4 as they work.

All in all, I feel like I’m starting to accept that communication is great even when the grammar isn’t perfect and I can still pick one or two things from each chapter to really focus on for grammar.  Like I said, it’s a learning experience for me.  This is all new and I’ll continue to work on finding a balance.  How do you balance these two concepts?  Are there other areas in your teaching you struggle to balance?

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH.

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