I have taught high school Spanish for almost thirteen years, and the phrase I most frequently proclaim is “¡En español!” If I had a dollar for every time I uttered these words, my early retirement would most certainly be secured. In fact, here is an example from just last week of me encouraging my students to stay in the target language in a novice-level Spanish class. Listen carefully what happens after I say ¡en español!
One major goal for World Language classes at Essex Street Academy is that students become confident speakers of either Spanish or French. My Spanish classes are filled with lots of opportunities for questions and answers, an abundance of comprehensible input through text, visuals, and audio, and daily guided practice. I make it clear that fluency is valued over accuracy; that is, I much prefer that students take risks and make mistakes rather than staying quiet, debilitated by linguistic perfectionism. Getting one’s point across and being comprehended by a native speaker is what truly matters when speaking a foreign language.
My job as a language teacher then is to create a classroom where students’ filters are low and where they can feel safe, comfortable, and supported when speaking Spanish. Based on the little you’ve read about my beliefs around second language acquisition, you might assume that my classroom is a perfect incubator for learning Spanish….if that’s what you think, then take a look at the picture below. Ideal classroom, isn’t it? The answer would be yes if students were not speaking in English while completing the activity seen in picture. However, students used English as a vehicle of communication to complete a task where answers needed to be in Spanish. Although my hopes were for Spanish to be spoken, the task I created did not make speaking Spanish a necessity for task completion.
More than anything, I want students to engage in interpersonal speaking with each other. Interpersonal speaking is perhaps the most authentic way of communication among human beings. In World Language education, Interpersonal Communication involves conversation between two or more people that is spontaneous and unrehearsed. In terms of the Framework for Authentic Instruction, getting students to speak to one another in Spanish is most closely aligned with Authenticity to the Discipline. If our goal as language teachers is for students to communicate in the target language as native speakers do, a classroom where students are engaged in tasks that compels them to use Spanish to negotiate meaning with their peers seems as authentic as it gets! In short, my problem of practice can be stated as such: How might we create routines and tasks in the Spanish classroom so that students engage in authentic conversations with each other?
I am excited about this topic because I want to instill a sense of purpose in classroom tasks. I want students to be careful listeners as they converse with their peers, but I also want them to be able to formulate information, articulate opinions, and give suggestions, all in Spanish. Ideally, I want students to build empathy for one another as they hone their interpersonal speaking skills.
Moving forward, I do anticipate some real obstacles in creating authentic tasks in the Spanish classroom. The biggest challenge that I envision is the one I have always faced: students feel uncomfortable speaking to each other in Spanish when they can readily communicate in English. I will need to create a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. Furthermore, I will need to create a monitoring system to ensure that students speak to one another in Spanish and that they receive appropriate corrective feedback. Fostering a classroom culture of risk-taking, encouraging individual and collective responsibility, and supporting comprehensible language production are just a few of the outcomes I hope will result as I tackle my problem of practice.