Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching a Second Language if You Don't Already Have One Yourself

I have not blogged our work in Spanish lately, and this week's Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival topic is a great time to do so!

Before I share what I believe was Mason's thinking near the end of her life, I would like to share what you should try first: get a head start in learning a second language before beginning lessons with your children. Knowing a year's worth of language develops confidence, prevents mistakes, and helps you become a better guide. Spend six months developing your ear for that language. What helped me was (1) listening to children's audio books in Spanish that I have featured in earlier posts, (2) the Learnables Level 1, (3) Spanish nursery songs and rhymes, and (4) stories written and recorded by my husband who is bilingual (you could hire a tutor to do this for you).

After six months, find more complicated audio books and songs and try the dull, but useful Basic Structures Level 1. Another very frustrating, but helpful, approach you can try AFTER you have worked on your ear for six months is duolingo. This free, online-course will show you why the ear-first approach is superior for you will quickly see how taxing a non-developmental system can be: learning to hear, speak, read, and type in Spanish is exhausting, and I do not recommend it for your students! I repeat duolingo could easily kill any spark of interest in learning a second language! While I do not care for the software's style of teaching, the price is right (free) and you can grind away at grammar, albeit unpleasantly.

People new to Mason tend to latch onto Gouin's work because she raved about his method in her first volume. While I am thankful Cherrydale Press has published audio and written files that apply his approach in our modern world, I do not believe their offering stands alone. Why? First, Mason did not mention Gouin in her last volume (pages 211-212):
Children in Form IIB have easy French Lessons with pictures which they describe, but in IIA while still engaged on the Primary French Course children begin to use the method which is as full of promise in the teaching of languages as in English, that is, they are expected to narrate the sentence or paragraph which has been read to them. Young children find little difficulty in using French vocables, but at this stage the teacher should with the children's help translate the little passage which is to be narrated, them re-read it in French and require the children to narrate it. This they do after a time surprisingly well, and the act of narrating gives them some command of French phrases as far as they go, much more so than if they learnt the little passage off by heart. They learn French songs in both divisions and act French Fables (by Violet Partington) in Form IIA. This method of closely attentive reading of the text followed by narration is continued in each of the Forms.
Mason does not even mention what she is doing for the early forms! Moreover, the Primary French Course by Otto Siepmann and French Fables in Action by Violet Partington are not based on Gouin's work. All is not lost! While the six volumes present Mason's theories, Parents' Review articles and programmes reveal what she did in practice. To find out what she did in Forms IB and IA (first through third grades), check out the programme for that form in 1922. To glean insight on what might have informed her change in direction, read Violet Partington's article on teaching French.

Did Mason recommend Gouin for the earliest grade (Form IB)? She used Hachette's Illustrated French Primer, which does not contain any series. Mason recommended to teach words orally based upon pictures from the book. In Form IA, students were ready to see words in print. Teachers read aloud and students narrated passages from Le Livre Rouge by Effie Magee and French Fables in Action.

So, what about Gouin? I believe that Mason gleaned two important ideas from him: (1) build the ear first and then apply Mason's developmental method for language arts to learning a second language and (2) find a context where the words live to foster meaning: songs, rhymes, stories, plays, games, and even series.

I have turned to Partington's article for ideas in teaching Spanish at Harvest Community School. Every morning, I spend ten to fifteen minutes on an interactive, conversational lesson with teachers and students. I have not found the need to spark interest because after the first few lessons everyone warmed up to Spanish. They enjoy learning new words. One of their favorite lessons was when Señor Glaser came to school, and they got to ask him to say whatever word they suggested in Spanish! I decided not to drill phonetics because Spanish is not as difficult as French or German. Two children can roll their r's, and I will encourage them to show their friends how!

Partington wrote,
What better way could there be of teaching a child a living language than by letting it live that language for the time being? Therefore, find out what are the children's favorite games and favorite amusements, and as far as possible, turn these into French, and above all let the children themselves help you do it.
The students have learned how to play "Duck, Duck, Goose" ("Pato, pato, ganso") and "Red Light, Green Light" (Luz roja, luz verde") at recess. I plan to teach them all the words in Word Bingo in Spanish to build vocabulary for common objects.

Partington wrote,
Memorizing of little pieces of poetry, nursery rhymes, riddles, etc., all these are helpful, too, in swelling the stock of everyday phrases and expressions which will come in so useful in the little "play building" lessons. And if the teacher is at all musical, what a delightful resource there is in the teaching of French songs and singing games.
Everyone loves "El chocolate" by José-Luis Orozco, and they are now learning his "Diez deditos." Both songs foster counting to ten. I plan to continue teaching songs and rhymes from his albums "Diez deditos" and "De colores" this year.

Partington wrote,
At Queens' College School, Harley Street, London, we started last year a French games and conversation class, which is held twice a week, and which is conducted entirely on the lines suggested above. The results have been most gratifying and encouraging.
Right now, our class has a conversational tone. We are working on greetings, simple conversations, counting, colors, etc. I am building their vocabulary with an eye toward being able to understand "Oso pardo, oso pardo, qué ves ahí?" by Bill Martin, Jr., available as a board book and audio CD. We might even learn lines to act out the story, "La gallinita roja" ("The Little Red Hen").

At the end of the article, Partington discusses spelling. If a teacher or child wants to know how to spell a word, I will show them. So far, none have asked. Once they can follow and understand the audio version of the two stories above, I will make the texts available for anyone to read.

I think the first thirteen lessons have gone well, but the real assessment of what they are learning will come during the term finale when we will find out what individual children can understand and say.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Experiencing the Fuller Life

Pamela and I have just finished our third week at Harvest Community School. We found this week quite hectic because the elementary class teacher enjoyed a week of vacation. That meant the headmaster and I took turns teaching. While I did not engage much with Pamela one-on-one, she still experienced a fuller life. She fascinates children because of her savant skill in calendars, her artistic abilities, her princess lunchbox, and her boldness in telling a teacher—me—, "Director! Director! Cut!" and "You're fired." When I am not working with her, she keeps herself busy, building puzzles and triazzles, swinging on the porch swing, playing with her calculator, and using a laptop. She has far more opportunities to interact with people in an environment similar to the kind of learning environment she has enjoyed for over a decade. Thursday, she helped the elementary class build a water filter for the school pond!

I have thoroughly enjoyed applying Relationship Development Intervention ideas as we help our auties (two full-time students in the spectrum and another part-time in addition to Pamela) adapt to this new way of learning. I glean so much from them in one-on-one moments when they take a break from the classroom. Thursday, I taught one boy who has a mechanical mind and nibble fingers to sew a needle case. On Friday, he hardly needed help in sewing a running stitch in the first line on his tic-tac-toe game. The other boy and I have been sharing many perspective-taking conversations to help him see that what he thinks is not always what another person thinks. Their parents are delighted to have a school where students are doing more than the three R's—where they are engaged with the kind of hands-on, meaningful tasks that Temple Grandin recommends for students in the spectrum: drawing, handwork (right now, sewing), cleaning the pond and surrounding area, building a water filter, etc.

Friday the 13th was delightful! While chatting with a parent dropping off her child, we spotted two hummingbirds seeking nectar from a can of bug spray with a bright orange cap. (Note to self, we need a hummingbird feeder!)

Friday is The Feast, a day in which homeschoolers join us for the whole day if they choose to do so. Pamela joins the elementary class in reading two science books that they only read once a week. She is familiar with one book (Project UltraSwan) but has never read the other book (The Wright Brothers). In this photo taken last week, you can see by the expression on Pamela's face how much she enjoys the class.

Yesterday, after the morning meeting (prayer, pledge, hymn, and Spanish), the elementary students headed to the reading room. Angie walked in and saw Pamela—all smiles—sitting in the teacher's chair. Having observed Pamela and I co-read books, Angie suspected that Pamela wanted to see the text. So, she sat in the chair next to Pamela. Angie was thrilled to see how Pamela felt like she belonged. First, every time, Pamela was asked if she wanted to narrate, Pamela said, "Yes," and then narrated. Sometimes, when other students were narrating, Pamela shifted her attention to the speaker! She smiled and stayed engaged the whole time (about a half hour). Finally, when Angie started reading the unfamiliar book, Pamela leaned in to see the book. Angie and I were so excited for Pamela to take so much delight in learning, side by side, with her academic peers!

Then, the whole school headed out for our weekly nature walk at Santee National Wildlife Refuge. After a little chaos the first week, we learned to assign a group of children to one or two adults and teens. We space out the departure of the groups, some walking the loop trail in one direction and some in the other direction. Last week, one of the school co-founders, who wrote a lovely blog post about nature walks the other day, showed her group how to "fish" for "chicken chokers" (tiger beetle larvae). This week, the children from her group, all assigned to different groups, showed their friends how to lure them out of their holes! None of the adults made this happen: the students figured it out all on their own!

We returned to the school for lunch, and the afternoon was so hectic that I neglected Pamela. The homeschoolers joined us at this point for readings about Egypt (Seeker of Knowledge, Voices of Egypt, and Tutankhamun), a van Gogh picture study, wool felt sewing, living science (projects about flight), and Shakespeare. In time, I hope to fold Pamela in once we figure out our rhythm and everything flows well.

A couple of lovely moments happened yesterday afternoon.

I watched one of our auties marvel over van Gogh's Village Street and Steps in Auvers. He kept staring at it, running his fingers over the brushstrokes, narrating the vivid colors and objects in the painting. The eyes of this boy, who has the same kind of word retrieval issues as Pamela, sparkled with delight as he gazed at the masterpiece.

Before I began reading aloud to the elementary class, one of the students recalled a discussion we had had about how to remember what they read more clearly. He said, "Remember we need to narrate from the beginning of the passage to the end, and not just jump around." In the past three weeks, we have seen greater mindfulness and improved attention.

Shakespeare's Henry V was a blast. Since Act I, Scene I, has only two actors, I broke up the reading into five pages, two students per page. I gave more experienced readers the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. To help the viewers tell them apart, I made a tall archbishop hat with double horizontal bars on the cross while the bishop wore a shorter hat and a single bar on the cross.

I gave the younger students important actions to perform: posting signs to set up the scene and representing "the church" (by holding a picture of a church), "the angel" (whipping the Adam out of Henry V), "the king" (Henry V) and "the dauphin" (future king of France). Their "acting" was perfect, even though they had not rehearsed. I gave a purse of pennies to "the church" and, when I asked "the king" to try to take it, "the church" tried to take it back from "the king" and said, "It's mine!" That is exactly what the archbishop and bishop were discussing. I gave the "Gordian knot" to the autie with nibble fingers and, while the clergy discussed the studious nature of Henry V, "the king" worked hard to undo the knot. "The angel" giggled at whipping "the king." Our youngest student wore the crown of the dauphin and his lip quivered when "the king" snatched his crown (and I had warned him that is what "the king" was supposed to do).

The past three weeks brings to mind this quote from Charlotte Mason. You can read some thoughtful ideas about one mom's take on this passage here.
Every new power, whether mechanical or spiritual, requires adjustment before it can be used to the full... to perceive that there is much which we ought to do and not to know exactly what it is, nor how to do it, does not add to the pleasure of life or to ease in living. We become worried, restless, anxious; and in the transition stage between the development of this new power and the adjustment which comes with time and experience, the fuller life, which is certainly ours, fails to make us either happier or more useful.