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Grammar awareness also formed part of Ms. Gomez’s conception of bilingualism in her classroom and the Spanish Immersion program. She pointed to the direct instruction in both Spanish and English grammar that took place in her classroom, pointing out the benefits of learning grammar in one language for developing knowledge of grammar in another.
It's really neat when they-we have two grammar programs, we have the Spanish, we have the English. And when I say you guys have already studied that in Spanish, so we don't have to do that in English, they're like, “Yay!” And I say, “I mean look at it. Does that sound familiar?” “Oh, you know what, that's just like in Spanish, when you have to do this and this and this.” “Great! We're done.” Skip that lesson, move on to the next, so they have this understanding that, “OK, language does function in similar ways” and so that helps them when they get to a situation where they don't know how to say something or they don't know how something would be expressed but, like, “I'm gonna try it anyway.” So they get to be very good problem solvers.
This ability to solve communicative problems was connected in Ms. Gomez’s thinking to their ability to learn a third language, something she emphatically affirmed as well, as someone who had taken on her third language in college. She expressed the hope that they would even take a break [from learning Spanish] and start over again, with the basics of another language, and see that “Oh my gosh! The grammar kind of works the same. You have to keep this in mind when you're expressing yourself in another language. Or this is how another language sounds and that's different from this other one because I've already got this other one.” Categories like this, and by doing that making each language that they know even stronger, making their expression even stronger, so I would hope they would get that kind of thing.
Ms. Gomez also pointed to the way language awareness could contribute to a changing sense of identity in her students. Walking a line between critiquing students for developing an arrogance about their language learning and affirming them for having done something that relatively few other Americans do, she argued for the need to present students with a picture of themselves as doing something different when they exercise their bilingual abilities.
I've said it before that I think it's super cool. I think it's amazing that one week I tell them “Write this and I expect this in very good 5th grade Spanish,” and the next week I'll expect this very good 5th grade English. And I'm teaching them these very advanced concepts for essay writing, whatever, and they don't realize when they hand me these things. I'm so impressed, ‘cuz no matter what it is, it's still so impressive. I tell them “Good job, great effort,” and “Wow! You're doing what you're supposed to be doing.” But at the same time I'm like, “Other people can't do this. Do you understand that? Other people cannot do this, and I don't want to swell their heads and everything, but every now and then, you go, “Whoa! This is-other people cannot do this.” Ms. Gomez mentioned twice that these students were “our little ambassadors” of the ability to learn more than one language, “cuz they freak people out. ‘Oh, Americans aren't all those stereotypes that isn't interested in anybody ever learning another language.’” Once again, Ms. Gomez connected bilingualism with its social implications, revealing her vision for language education and social change.
Finally, Ms. Gomez frequently referred to the need for authentic motives behind bilingualism and language learning and use. In thinking about how she might wish her students to use either of their languages inside or outside the classroom, Ms. Gomez responded first with her wish for “an authentic reason to use their Spanish,” a need to communicate that went beyond their knowing she was insisting on their using Spanish “just to get them to practice, not because I need them to.” She pointed to the problem of authentic language use at Midville, a school where the majority of teachers and students spoke English, which meant that the kids knew that all the teachers, including Spanish Immersion teachers, could speak English. At a former Spanish Immersion program which occupied a whole school, she did not see this problem, since teachers, administrators, everyone, could maintain the conceit of needing to speak Spanish much longer, or could present the use of Spanish as something normative on campus. She saw the experience that her students had in the camp at El Molino as fulfilling that need for authentic motives for communication in Spanish.
And in El Molino, they were so excited because they had this authentic reason to speak Spanish to the kids and to the counselors and to the teachers in their class because they didn't know who in that group are the authentic Spanish speakers who don't speak any English, and who are the ones who you can get away with some bilingualism. They really had to step up to that and I thought it was just a great experience for them. I wish they had more of that.
But authentic motivation for language learning went beyond setting up situations that required the use of Spanish for Ms. Gomez. She also envisioned authentic motivation residing in relationships with a wide-range of people, where the students were engaged in embracing other people not like them. She told a story of an English-dominant secondgrader at her previous school who befriended a new student from Mexico, someone yet unable to speak any English. Because they shared enough Spanish in common, they could become fast friends, providing the newcomer a sense of belonging and access to English. She imagined having an elderly person, a Spanish speaker, who served on campus as an “authority figure” to check up on kids, make sure they were taking responsibility for themselves and others. Having a figure like this, she believed, would be so sweet -- not just sweet, but again you cover so many things that-you cover respect for elders, and responsibility with each other and keeping each other out of trouble and having some--having a check in the system where you--there's an expectation that you're gonna be responsible about what you need to do and to have that going on in the [target] language, in this language where it's being used in a natural way. That'd be so great.
Finally, Ms. Gomez envisioned a future for her students in which authentic motives for language learning became more apparent, the way adults appreciate having taken piano lessons more than they did when they were kids. Her vision included serving those with language needs in various situations.
I would hope they would use [their bilingualism] for good, help somebody out who didn't--help the señora out who was on the plane that couldn't read in Spanish to fill out her formulario and so--being able to help somebody like that out because they can. “Oh, wow! I can do this.” Or help out a group, lead a group because the group doesn't--is traveling and doesn't know Spanish, or to be the go-to person in a company. “Can you work on this with me because I can't. I don't have that type of language facility?” “Yeah, sure, I learned that when I was in 5th grade. Hooray!
Good thing I did!” In the meantime, Ms. Gomez hoped that as her students moved on to middle school, the Spanish Immersion program there would involve a sense of “something they can do with the language,” and for her that meant practicing literacy for social justice purposes, to grapple with social issues both inside and outside the school. She argued for connecting their language use to their social action in middle school, for “us[ing] your language to make change, trying to make it a little--I can use my language for something besides just turning it into the teacher. ‘Cuz they have something to say--middle schoolers have a lot to say.” She referenced two books she would assign as part of that effort, Blubber (Ballena in Spanish) and Seeds (Semillas in Spanish), both books about difference and social tolerance. Her own use of The Great Gilly Hopkins (La gran Gilly Hopkins in Spanish) that spring in her class served as evidence of her commitment to using Spanish language literacy to address social issues, such a bullying, important to the students in her class and to the school community.
Cultural component: “Open your horizons.”
While Ms. Gomez did not reference the cultural or linguistic diversity of the Spanish Immersion program or her current class as Mr. Foster did, she focused her comments on the cultural goals of the program in the same practical ways she did in discussing bilingualism. In fact, Ms. Gomez tied bilingualism and cultural knowledge very closely together. For her, it began with “that bit of multicultural understanding” that to function within the global climate you're probably going to have to speak more than one language. You're very fortunate if you speak English, because right now it is a dominant language, so it would be worth it to get that. But to have more than one language, to be able to open your horizons by being able to understand and express yourself in a language is one of the goals, having that multicultural appreciation.
She thought in much the same way about the cultural component of the Spanish Immersion program as she did about the language component, that learning about one culture opens up possibilities for learning about another. In describing a common curricular focus on Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), she outlined the progression of comparative cultural knowledge students would build up over the course of their elementary years.
[T]here are just certain traditions that we have at the school, that the students are exposed to, like, first of all, we do candy skull day every year and the kids understand Día de los Muertos, and they do a comparison between Día de los Muertos and Halloween, and that leads to maybe in the first--in the primary grades, they build this understanding, “Oh, there are two different holidays that happen around the same time. They both have to do with death but they have totally different views on it.” And they develop that within third grade and fourth grade, and they get to fifth grade and we start looking at, ok, where does Halloween come from, and, let's go back to that Día de los Muertos and what does that say about the Aztecs that had these images of monarch butterflies, and what they meant, and spirits coming home, and such? And how does that compare with Halloween which has these Irish immigrant roots, and such? And so we can each year keep building onto these routines, these rituals, not rituals, these traditions that they get throughout the program, and it goes beyond just, “Well, this is Latin America, and these are these Latin American customs.” It helps them understand, “Well, if I understand these customs that I'm not used to, it helps me look at my own customs and then it looks--and then it helps me make connections to other customs that I might learn.” So that's just a great benefit to the program I feel, you're used to other people being different than you are. “Ah, interesting!” Once again, Ms. Gomez’s view of the project of Spanish Immersion circled back around to the social uses of knowledge, whether linguistic or cultural, placing the potential for social change at the heart of her understanding of teaching and learning in her classroom and the program.
Differences between Two-Way Immersion and World Language models.
While Mr. Foster focused his comments about the differences between the TWI and World Language models of language learning and us on teacher attitudes toward former Spanish Immersion students, Ms. Gomez focused on differences in goals, methods of instruction, and student attitudes toward language learning. While she saw the goal of World Language instruction as “getting that language into people” through the use of classroom content, she explained the approach of TWI as providing a “natural context” as it uses the target language to convey curricular content the children would be learning in fifth grade. She used as an example the way language came into play in a lesson she had just taught about cellular biology.
I'm holding up something I've taught this year, something from science--holding up the model of a human cell or something like that vs. a plant cell, and we're talking about the cell--and how it's different and the plant cell has no walls. But we're using all this vocabulary--and the kids are using the language skills that they know to be able to talk about the difference between the cells, animal and plant cell. In the end I understand that they understand by the way they're showing me with their language skills and with activities that they do that they understand the difference between animal cells and plant cells and they've been doing it in Spanish. Great! Could they do it in English? Yeah, sure, if I wrote up the same vocab in English too. “Oh, by the way, “vacuole” is called “vacula” in Spanish -- or “organelles,” “organelos.” Oh, look at that! They're very similar.” They understand that the focus is on “Did you understand that there's differences between animal and plant cells? And by the way, these are the vocabulary words that go with it and you caught on to that. Good. When you imagine the different organelles of these things, you're thinking of this vocabulary.” In this “natural context,” students use the language they already have acquired to demonstrate their understanding of the content of a lesson on cells, emphasizing the need for language production and language use in activity to measure learning the content of science.
In contrast, Ms. Gomez framed the goals of World Language education using a Container Metaphor in which teachers are aiming at “getting that language into people,” which meant for Ms. Gomez, “a situation where it's like, ‘Well, I have to get these kids to understand basic intercommunication skills.’” She envisioned World Language teachers having to begin with the basic intercommunication skills appropriate to a high school Spanish Level One class.