Question: What if my child doesn’t know Spanish?

What if mychild doesn’t know Spanish? And how will he/she learn in the classroom if they don’t understand the language?

Great questions!

Our one-way immersion model means that the majority of our students are not Spanish speakers at home.  (Note: two-way Spanish immersion programs target a 50/50 ratio of Spanish speakers to non-Spanish speakers.) Our model means that most of our students do not speak Spanish when they start school with us, though we do have a few that speak Spanish at home and a few more than have attended immersion pre-school and kindergarten. Check out the CARLA website (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition) for more info on immersion models.

How do they learn in the classroom if they don’t know the language? The short answer is – they just do! They might not know Spanish at first, but it only takes a day or two to get some basics – the words for hello, bathroom, math, pencil, and phrases for ‘what is your name?’ ‘time to line up’ and ‘don’t forget your backback!’  They quickly pick up words and phrases as the days progress.  How do we pull this off? Some of it is creativity on our part, the rest comes to a child’s natural affinity for learning! We use music and singing. There are physical cues, such as the teacher pointing to her eyes when saying ‘mira’ (look). We integrate movement, visual and physical cues, and verbal discussions for everything from presenting lessons to transitions for lunch and recess. When students have a question or don’t understand, they are encouraged to ask their teacher or ask a classmate.

There is a lot of learning going on. They are learning a new language while studying other subjects. This is “learning through language”- as Spanish is used as the vehicle for learning, it is not just the end goal. We have created an environment that promotes reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It doesn’t take long and our students don’t realize they are being spoken to in Spanish. For a while they may respond in English when asked a question (this is completely normal), but they can show that they are following along and understanding what is asked of them.

Here are a few examples of projects this year: A first grade science lesson on living and non living things included an art project of making a tree from different colors of paper and magazine cutouts and labeling the tree parts in Spanish. Second graders in Spanish class created a poster board on an animal and gave a short presentation to their class. Our third and fourth graders studying human body systems wrote in their journals about the nervous system and drew a diagram. Students are taught that many Spanish words are very similar to their English equivalents, and they can use a variety of skills (looking at pictures and reading the words familiar to them) to quickly grasp information.  This builds their confidence and their successes are celebrated!

For Spanish language arts instruction, our first and second graders are grouped by proficiency. Check out our previous blog post on Spanish groups for our first and second graders. These groups will continue next year as well. Leveled Spanish language instruction also occurs for third and fourth graders in their classroom.

We have created a curriculum map to illustrate how all this fits together. Click here to download it: Arco Iris Curriculum Map

Hope this helps answer some questions!

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