May 30, 2008

Native Speakers

I'm brainstorming about native speakers in my classes here and would be happy for some input from anybody who has any experience or anything wise to say :))

I teach at a small, public charter school. Part of our charter states that every child will study a foreign language. I am the foreign language department. And while I have studied other languages, Spanish is the language I am fluent enough to be able to converse or teach in. So that's that.

Every year I get between one and three native speakers who must take my class, because it is required. Every year one of those students has been taught by his/her parents at home and is nearly on grade level in Spanish. Typically this student travels to his/her home country once or twice a year, reads often, and speaks to most of his/her extended family solely in Spanish. This student has little I can teach other than correct usage of accent marks or perhaps spelling. The other one or two students are usually what would be labelled as heritage speakers. They may or may not be conversationally fluent and are usually functionally literate, although their vocabulary is limited to high-frequency words. One student, for instance, had never heard the word pulgar - thumb, prior to my class. These students really need help with spelling and grammar, but again, they are fairly fluent. Their difficulties are not what the other 120 students of mine are having.

So... I am trying to think of what I can do better next year. I am wondering if I ought to urge the school to purchase foreign language software and let them self-study a different foreign language -perhaps French? (It's also offered at all our local high schools as opposed to any other language.) I have sampled Rosetta Stone and liked the feel of it.

In the past I have tried:
* to give them the same work as other students, with different grading expectations
* put all native speakers in one class and lecture them as a study group while other students were working on projects
* read only advanced through superior level books during FVR etc., etc., etc.
* be judges or helpers during games and activities

In the end, my class is always a waste of time for them. They learn little, they participate little and as much as I try, I just cannot seem to differentiate all levels - from complete novice to native speaker within one or two years of being on grade level.

The thing is, I really think it is important for these students to know their own language and culture. In my ideal world, I would have them in their own class really reading, writing and talking. We would work on critical thinking skills as well as higher-order reading comprehension.

I am thinking also about the possibility of getting a volunteer into my room to work one-on-one with these students once in a while...

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