Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Friendly Disagreement

A very talented colleague and I have an ongoing friendly disagreement about the purpose of upper level Spanish classes. (I can say it's a friendly argument because I understand her goals, and don't disagree with her approach based on those. I'll explain how that's possible below).

School Background:
I teach in a school that is in a relatively Blue-collar area.  As a result, college is not a priority for all of the students, nor should many go to college due to the shifts in our workforce. There are many great vocational jobs and technical jobs that don't require a college degree and lots of debt!  And we are doing our kids a disservice by pushing college onto them when they don't necessarily need it to be a productive member of society.

My colleague's thought is that we can de-emphasize grammar in the lower levels (since it's a requirement for most kids).  But for those that really want to excel in the language, they will learn Spanish grammar in levels 3 and 4.

The belief is that if our kids from Spanish 3 go to college Spanish, they won't have an understanding of the grammar to be able to succeed in the college Spanish classes. So we need to teach them explicit grammar.

I respectfully disagree with this viewpoint for a few reasons:

  1. Explicit grammar teaching does not native-like speakers make (listen to Bill VanPatten's podcast if you don't believe me)
  2. If our current student population isn't all college bound, why would we only teach to the select few who might (and only under the assumption that they need to know how college Spanish will be?)
  3. if most of our students will enter a workforce without ever taking college Spanish, shouldn't we prepare them to interact with Spanish speakers that they could come into contact with?
  4. Since when is college Spanish the end-all-be-all of Spanish education?
In a nutshell what we have is two completely different goals.

My colleague (and many) is under the impression that we must prepare our kids for college Spanish because that is what will make them better speakers. And it is a logical step from level to level.

My goal, on the other hand, is to prepare kids for using Spanish in their lives!  How many students go on to Spanish 4 but are never challenged to use the language so that using it outside of school (other than worksheets/project) is a realistic thing?

I don't see this changing in the upper levels. I believe that while in Spanish 1 the focus might be more on the goofy (due to age group), the upper levels can deal more with problems in the world, politics, history, etc.  We can help educate our students about more complex issues with more complex language.

But in my opinion, the focus still doesn't have to be on grammar.

Or let's compromise. While I don't believe giving the kids a lot of explicit grammar instruction in Spanish 3/4 will be great for their acquisition, maybe we could have two tracks.

One track could be for kids interested in Spanish (i.e. learning about one another, life, stories, music, themes, etc via Spanish and Comprehensible Input). The focus could be on communication because their end-goal wouldn't be "college Spanish".

This would help the program continue well beyond Spanish 1 and 2 because kids would be able to take the class for the simple value of learning Spanish and not having to worry about all of that conjugation stuff and "correctness".

What do you think!?

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