(Originally posted 1/15/11)
So glad that this topic of discussion came up on the moretprs list !!!! First…I think what we are talking about (organizing by “Themes” such as Family, Work, Childhood etc.) is really TOPICAL teaching, rather than thematic.and I agree with several things already posted:
1. It provides a logical organizational sequence for whoever needs it (teacher, parent, student, district, state, etc.)
2. It provides a memory “link” for individual vocab…for people who are good learners (ie memorizers, “students”, left-brainers etc.)
3. It requires diligent recycling of vocabulary and…
4. Creativity and opportunity to do so.
For the last 5 years my freshmen classes drifted farther and farther away from the “traditional” NYS syllabus-directed topics (Personal ID, Family, Weather, Shopping, Sports, etc.) This year, for the first time in my 28 years of teaching, I am not teaching the freshmen…and I have been trying to explain to my wonderful new colleague, exactly how the curriculum we ended up with is organized!
What I have found out is this: We are organized by FUNCTION. We can use topics to provide a situation in which to use that function. Our Intro course is arranged in this way. The functions are:
descriptions of or details about the above
This boils down to a fairly discrete number of phrases that students must be able to utilize. Our Intro teacher incorporates a limited number of typical “topics” in order to provide her students with opportunities to develop their abilities to function in Spanish in these ways. (Holidays, Family, Sports, Beach) Then…she utilizes fictional, actual, and personal stories (via story”asking” and reading) to put it all together. Pobre Ana is a pivotal part of the curriculum.
In our high school Level 1 (freshmen, second year of study) we have organized the entire year around a theme: POWER. Everything in that year comes back, in some way, to that idea.
The functions above still apply. To that we add:
Comparing and Contrasting
Starting and building relationships
Observing and responding to needs
Collecting and interpreting background information
Recognizing strengths and weaknesses
Choosing and implementing a course of action
Again…these functions lend themselves to a repeated “list” of functional structures. The curriculum itself revolves around several short readings, Casi Se Muere, several identified songs and movies that allow us to work with these functional skills and still incorporate the topical vocab required by NYS ( Food, Shopping, School, Daily activites etc.)
This year I am working on the Spanish 2/3 curriculum. I am creating a two-year cycle so that, ideally, students can be in a Spanish 2 or 3 class (this really helps with scheduling in a small school) and still get the instruction/practice needed to continue to acquire language and be successful on the NYS Regent exam. It is very much a work in progress…but so far so good. Our “theme” or organizational structure is the UN Declaration of Human Rights…and this actually also includes my Sp. 4 class.
Functions for 2/3:
Investigating a community
Investing (time, money, energy, emotion)
Exploring locations and opportunities
Getting others to adopt a course of action
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle/environment
Getting others to adopt a course of action
Planning for the future
Reflecting on the past
So far we have read El Trabajo de Roberto and I’ll be picking a second book for this semester. The Amazing Race on Discovery Channel has provided an incredible number of amazing opportunities as well. I frequently peruse the Regents exams on line to make sure that I am including vocabulary that is Regents “high frequency”..which luckily ..is pretty real-life high-frequency as well.
What has happened is that I have seen vocabulary recycle itself. For example lets take a simple word: tree. Without even trying we end up talking/reading about trees in so many situations: discussing people’s homes, favorite vacation spots, making plans for trips/picnics, discussing the weather, describing people (tall as, strong as), reading poetry,in songs, getting directions, discussing art/photos,talking about yard work and part-time jobs, reading about endangered species, sharing opinions about global warming.
And it works like that for more items than you can imagine!!
If you have gotten this far, I’ll share this with you….
When we ONLY organize by lists of items we deprive our students of the opportunity to develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. That is why using TPRS is so powerful. It is as if barriers begin to melt away. Things happen in the brains of our students that allow them to make almost unpredictable LEAPS in language acquisition. Their abilities do not follow a (test-friendly) linear progression….and this makes their language-growth and language-use incredibly gratifying to see.
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