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This codeswitching in the classroom discussion might have served as an indicator of how during the next phase of the idea generating activity the kids would use primarily English among themselves. However, Ms. Gomez assigned the pairs/threes to “caminar por la escuela por ocho minutos” (walk around campus for eight minutes) to reflect on various activities on campus, think about “pro y con” and “tomar notas” (take notes) so they would be able to begin to write their argument when they returned. As the kids returned after their eight minutes, wiping their feet on the rug, all of them were speaking English to each other. Many of them were on task, still talking about activities on campus, but in English. Ms. Gomez quickly got them to work on writing about their observations, assigning them 10 minutes to begin. As the students began to settle down, one girl asked “¿inglés o español?,” giving another indication of the extent to which their walk around campus immersed them into the use of English. As expected, Ms. Gomez responded “Español” with a tone of “cómo no” (of course) in her voice.
As the kids settled down to write, Ms. Gomez reminded them of several ways of opening a discussion of their evidence: un ejemplo es (an example is); por ejemplo (for example); además (besides or in addition); esto es porque (this is because); yo creo que (I believe that); a lo contrario (on the contrary or on the other hand). From this point on, the kids worked quietly, writing in Spanish for most of the assigned 10 minutes, a few finishing early to reread their work. Once the 10 minutes were up, Ms. Gomez had the students stop and read their writing to each other.
This activity demonstrated both the potential for teaching students to think critically in Spanish about something that mattered to them, their school community, and for testing and stretching the extent of their abilities to do so in Spanish. While Ms.
Gomez provided them with the tools to use to build an argument, even the Spanish stock phrases we might use when we do, she also allowed them the freedom to walk around the school on their own for a few minutes, something that clearly tested their ability to continue using Spanish as the language of argument. As Ms. Gomez had indicated in her interview, one of the challenges to Spanish language development at a school like Midville was the fact that English was the language spoken on the playgrounds, everywhere but in the Spanish Immersion classrooms. By allowing the students to survey the campus for a Spanish language activity, she gave them the chance to see what they knew how to say and what they did not. Some of the kids, upon returning, had to ask for help with Spanish words for some of the play equipment on campus, things they had not regularly talked about in Spanish. She never expressed doubts about their ability to write about these themes in Spanish, and she provided them with what they would need to do so. This practice could potentially bring them to greater awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses in spoken and written Spanish, but Ms. Gomez’s classroom practices also included direct instruction and practice in developing awareness of Spanish grammar and certain language features.
Language Awareness Practices: “Stop! It’s Grammar-time!”
During a meeting Ms. Gomez attended with middle school Spanish Immersion and World Language teachers in spring 2009, she described a practice she engaged in regularly in her classroom, one that I saw evidence of in my classroom observations. She often referred to it playfully as “Stop! It’s Grammar-time!,” an allusion to MC Hammer’s 1990’s hip-hop hit. In the meeting she described it as short, focused grammar practice, aimed at drawing students’ attention to grammar rules they had already been exposed to, reminding them again of language features they had practiced previously.
During my first classroom visit, before the students began work on generating ideas for an argumentative essay, Ms. Gomez spent about ½ hour reviewing homework the students had completed on the use of accents, specifically focusing on accentuation of homynyms (such as se/sé or tu/tú) and words used in asking questions (cómo, cuándo, qué). As she moved around the room checking student work on this aspect of spelling, she told them that they needed to be aware of their use of accents since at the middle school, teachers don’t want them to make errors in accents. Later in the semester, she brought back out the specific rules for using accents, the types of accentuation based on Spanish phonology. On a day when the students worked on their fiction writing in
Spanish, she displayed a large sheet on the board with categories of uses of accent marks:
aguda -- buzón, café, comer, mitad, papá llanas -- hermano, azúcar, árbol, comida esdrujulas -- película, último, exámenes, relámpago sobresdrujulas -- préstamelo, rápidamente On another day, I observed that she had scheduled another ½ hour block for this practice.
Evidence of previous grammar and spelling reviews were all around the room in the form of written usage and grammar rules, such as rules for forming and using the preterite and imperfect tenses, and verbs that change endings in the preterite (buscar, pagar, tocar, llegar, empezar, tropezar). Ms. Gomez extended this language awareness practice into their writing by commenting on and drawing their attention to misuse of accents and infelicities of grammar in their libretas de lectura and multi-draft essays.
Language awareness practices: Learning primary speech genres and language of specific domains.
Ms. Gomez’s concern for her students’ developing language awareness went beyond spelling and grammar conventions, however. During their week in El Molino, Ms. Gomez began to think about specific domains in which her students had not learned to use Spanish and relied on their English language knowledge instead, ways in which they engaged in codeswitching to resolve communication or composition problems (See discussion later in this chapter). I had already observed some of the limits of their Spanish language knowledge as I have discussed above. Ms. Gomez began to apply her awareness of how their language limitations might be connected to specific domains of language use in the spring after their return. In one particular day in class, she revealed both her own growing awareness of what language domains her students might be familiar with or not, and how her pedagogy might address some of their missing knowledge and experience.
In April of that year, she developed a lesson on the use of interjections in dialogue for the fictional pieces her students were writing in the spring, and was very excited about the possible outcomes and the way it addressed a problem she had seen in her students’ writing. As I observed on April 28, I saw that she had in an earlier class session used an episode from the cartoon series El Chavo, based on a Mexican sitcom famous for its use of modismos (idioms), to provide students’ input on the variety of interjections used in dialog in everyday conversation and fictional writing, and generated a list of common interjections with the students. On the day I observed, she and the students made a more extensive list of words, including ones that she associated with religious expression (hóstia, diablos, demonios, ójala) and emotional states (caramba [anger], ay [fear], huy [surprise], bravo [excitement]). She combined this instruction with a lesson on the conventions of writing dialog in Spanish, the use of guiones, dashes, rather than quotation marks to highlight changes in speakers in dialog in Spanish language fiction. Her aim was to wean students off their use of English conventions and idioms in this writing project.
On the day I observed, she planned to give the students a chance to do some of their writing, and then to share what they had done with peers in their seating pairs. In preparation, she called them over to the rug in the corner to remind them of their use of interjections, beginning their conversation in Spanish. But first, she asked them about another writing project they were working on, one based on research, what they were calling their “I-Search.” She asked about how much time they had spent on it, hearing that some had done nothing, and some had spent as much as four hours researching and typing. Jacob commented on how long it took him to type his material, and another asked how their middle school teachers could expect them to type all their work if it was going to take so long. Ms. Gomez told them that teachers at the middle school understand that the students have learned to type, and so will expect them to do so.
Several students then began to discuss programs they have used to learn to keyboard.
While the conversation continued mostly in Spanish, the kids began to codeswitch as they named the programs they had used. As they continued, more and more codeswitching took place, including references to parts of computers like screens and keyboard, until Ms. Gomez finally said aloud “¡Ustedes no saben las palabras para las partes de la computadora en español!” (You don’t know the Spanish words for the parts of computers!) As Jacob continued referring to elements of video games (treasure chest, zombies) in English, switching back and forth from Spanish, Ms. Gomez seemed to have the realization that one of the areas Spanish Immersion teachers would have to work on in the future had to do with language associated with the technology the kids used everyday at home. Both teacher and students were learning about Spanish language use and the domains they were or were not familiar with.
Despite the impression that some of the middle school and high school Spanish Immersion and World Language teachers might have had that Spanish Immersion students did not receive direct language instruction in elementary school, Ms. Gomez’s practices revealed a consistent approach to developing language awareness in her students, one with a rationale based in both ways she felt students were using language, and the demands middle school teachers would make on them for precision in grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Language Competency in the Fifth Grade Classroom: Situated Mastery and WideRange of Language Use Domains In Midville’s elementary Spanish Immersion program, the meaning of language competency was complex and reflected both the students’ growing mastery of curricular content and their development of knowledge and uses of both of their target languages.
As Ms. Gomez pointed out in our interview, she measured language competency in terms of mastery of content in specific curricular areas, and, vice versa, mastery of curricular content by language competency. Satisfactory language competency included the ability to use the appropriate language for specific curricular areas, but also to consistently use Spanish in the classroom situations in which it was required, whether with the teacher or with other students for a variety of purposes. In fact, I discovered from Ms. Gomez that permission to participate in the fifth grade trip to El Molino depended upon each students’ consistent use of Spanish in the classroom, and students were assigned to the various talleres based on their use of Spanish in the classroom, as I will discuss later in the chapter. Most of the assessment of language competency took place in each classroom, conducted by each teacher as part of her regular assessment of curricular competency. As I will discuss in Chapter 5, I found through participating in the fall 2008 middle school program review, neither the district, nor Midville Elementary, had ever instituted regular, standardized assessment of language competency or proficiency. The only standardized assessment related to the use of Spanish that took place at Midville Elementary was the Spanish-language version of the STAR test, APRENDA, which had been applied to all 2nd-5th graders beginning in 1998. All Spanish Immersion 2nd-5th graders took both tests every year, but the product of those tests was not knowledge about the specific language competency of individual students.
However, the language and literacy practices Ms. Gomez and her students engaged in, as described above, indicate very high expectations for language competency.
Students were expected to use Spanish on a regular basis in class, to maneuver smoothly between times when English use was allowed, and when it was not. They engaged in high levels of literacy, both reading and writing, on a regular basis, taking responsibility for their own learning, but also engaging in written conversations with Ms. Gomez about the reading they were doing. They were expected to grow in language knowledge associated with different domains of language use. And grammaticality, while never the only measure of competency in Ms. Gomez’s class, was certainly another expectation conveyed to the students through both their dedication of class time to short grammar and orthography reviews, and Ms. Gomez’s attention to errors in their writing over the course of drafts of essays and stories.
Beyond Diglossia: Domains of Language Learning and Use in Midville’s 5th Grade Spanish Immersion Class When examined through the lens of the “spheres of human activity” (Bakhtin,
1986) or domains associated with specific ways of using language, the language use of Midville 5th grade Spanish Immersion students appeared much more complex than Potowski’s (2002) model presents the language use of the 5th graders in her study. While her study addressed an important aspect of language use, whether and how students use one or the other of the two languages of a TWI program, in order to more thoroughly interrogate the learning taking place and the competency being gained in the two languages, I argue that we must go beyond a diglossic view to consider the “spheres of human activity” or domains associated with students’ knowledge of specific language forms and of “what language is good for” (Garrett, 2005). The following incident at the 5th grade science and culture camp, El Molino, will serve as an illustration of my argument.
“Playing soccer in Spanish”: A social activity language use domain.