“I like that we don’t learn anything in Spanish class”

I gave one of my classes a reading assignment today. Generally, they like the stories that we act out in class, but they aren’t too fond of the reading. Today, though, I gave them a reading and the assessment was to draw a original comic based on the reading. The structure of the story is one that we have covered many times before-someone wants something, doesn’t have it, and goes several places to find it. This is the basic structure of the stories I have done so far using Blaine Ray’s book, “Look, I Can Talk.”

In the beginning of the year, I had students write stories or summaries using the vocabulary, but this group today was a particularly artistic group, so I thought that I would set them up for success by giving them something that they would be more interested in doing.

On the back of the story handout, the students had six empty squares in which to draw their comics. Their only instructions were to draw an original comic based on the story structure. I told them beforehand that I wouldn’t be their dictionary and that I wouldn’t answer their questions for the first five minutes-they just needed to get started on drawing and writing something interesting and based on the structure of the stories.

One student said to me, “This is fun, I like when we have days in class when we don’t learn anything.”

At first, I was taken aback. I told her, “Well, yeah, today you’re showing me what you already learned.” And I continued walking around the classroom.

I came back a few minutes later and said, “So, how much have you learned in class this year?”
She said, “Nothing, really. You tell stories about people wanting stuff and having to travel around to get it. It’s more fun than before.”

I laughed and looked at her paper. This is what I saw:

photo 3

She was definitely having fun with the material, but also using Spanish pretty well. I went around the room and I saw these, too:

photo 1 photo 2 photo 4

I thought about it more and more as the day went on. “We don’t learn anything in here.” It sounds bad, almost insulting. But I’m not choosing to look at it that way. She was telling me that she likes having fun.

That is exactly how I described the TPRS method to the administrators at my school when I talked with them about changing the curriculum. I said that my goal was to tell and read stories and make it interesting enough that the kids wouldn’t even know they are learning anything. They just come in, comprehend the stories, and show me what they know in writing, story re-tells in class, or writing summaries of the stories. I posted about that earlier.

Of course, I realize that there is English in some of these comics and the grammar and spelling aren’t great, but they show that the students are responding to the material and are branching out and trying to expand their abilities in the target language.

The students are not learning rules or grammar or spelling in the traditional way. There are no worksheets here, no blanks to fill in, only stories that the kids had fun creating. They will get better as they build their proficiency. If I were using the traditional paradigm of grading, I would have to give many of these assessments Cs, Ds, and Fs-the kids use too much English, they misspell things, and they use the wrong verb conjugations. It would be disheartening for them and for me. Instead, with a new way of thinking about how to assess the students – a more holistic and proficiency-based grading model – I am able to praise the things that they are able to do and help to shape where they can go next. It goes from a “sage on the stage” model of teaching and assessment to a mentor model. Rather than me telling them what they did wrong and making corrections, I can praise what they have done and use the data to evaluate what they have and have not yet acquired in the language. I can then target those things in my stories.

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