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Teaching Spanish as a Constructivist

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I teach as YSC Academy. We are currently working on the paperwork (everything from A to Z) to become a private school. Accreditation takes three years. In the meantime, we using Connections Academy, a value-added school platform that proposes online education with real-life experiences. I would argue the effectiveness of Connections Academy rests on the shoulders of its Learning Coaches who must search and research opportunities to augment the seemingly monotonous and unilateral education of online learning. It is my prerogative to create playful, meaningful, and educational learning environments for the students.

The lesson in Spanish last Thursday, October 11th called for a quick lesson on cognates. Connections Academy uses slides in a chronological and linear format. The student may progress from one slide to the next until he/she arrives at the final slide where an assessments awaits. Learning Coach or not, this scenario does create opportunities for the student to backwards plan and study/learn only what will be on the assessment. As the Learning Coach for two 9th graders who approach Spanish differently and who have extremely different purposes and experiences with learning Spanish, I needed to come up with a way for them to still have the lesson on cognates, but I wanted them to experience cognates as a natural process rather than a quick lesson.

The material I used was Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Opposites. This version has Spanish on one side and English on the other side.  I had the students choose a poem based on something of interest to them. One student chose Oda a la olas (Ode to waves) and the other student chose Oda a las nubes (Ode to clouds). Since I wanted the students to be able to interact with the material, I made copies and had them bring their writing devices in order to circle words that seemed familiar to them. This way, the students would come to know cognates. I also used my iPhone’s Voice Memo program in order to record their reading.

I met with the students separately this time due to the schedule. One of the students was taking a test when the usual time for Spanish began. I was already “halfway” through my lesson with one student when he finished and asked what we were doing. I had him choose a poem he would like to explore. 

The sole purpose of the lesson was not just cognates. I also wanted to diagnose the students’ literacy; namely, their speaking, listening, and reading. Lastly, I wanted to observe the students’ comprehension of the “difficult” poem based on their ability to “read” and recognize its cognates.

I explained to the students that today they would reading a Spanish poem aloud by Pablo Neruda. There would be a Spanish version on one side and the English version on the other side. I then let them know they would be listening for their fluency as explained as their ability to read aloud the Spanish without phonetic and pronunciation errors. I then let them know we would be searching for words that seemed recognizable based on their similarities to English words with which they were familiar. We would circle those words. I did have to tell the students myself if the word was a cognate or not instead of them figuring it out on their own. For example, one of the students thought the word “arena” (sand) meant “arena,” as in a “rink” or “stadium,” and I felt I had to inform the student at this point that even though some words in Spanish may look like English words, not all of them are cognates.

Once the students read the poem aloud and we search for the cognates, I then had them approximate a meaning of the poem based on its cognates. I was careful not to say whether they were right or not since I wanted the material to be the focus of the lesson and not my approval. This choice put the emphasis on the Spanish fluency and recognition of cognates. I then had the students listen to the recording of their reading and follow along. They naturally pointed out mistakes in the prosody of their reading.

I then read the poem aloud myself and recorded it for them as well; they left with the poem, their own recording and my own recording. They may practice their pronunciation and come away with a fuller understanding of Spanish prosody.

I do not see myself as best or most effective teacher of Spanish pronunciation, but I do have an ear for it. I believe the students’ encounters with Spanish cognates through Pablo Neruda’s poetry was a success, but being that these students are soccer players, who plan on playing on the collegiate level and possibly the professional level, I might do better in exposing them to Spanish cognates that relate to the soccer realm.

What do you think of my Spanish lesson?


Author: carlabramowitz

English, Humanities, Foreign Language, & IT Coordinator, Extension Projects, 8th Grade Advisor, Study Support, Reflective-Practice Blogger, School Historian, School Librarian — All of these are labels. I am a teacher/learner at heart. My motto: Explore. Share. Now.

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