Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Day of Summer School

Summer school is always an adventure.... packing sixteen weeks of Spanish into an accelerated format means taking a deep breath and diving in. 

On the first day of class, it is important to set the tone for a comfortable learning environment.  How to do that is a challenge, when the teacher and students don't know each other.  Some students are shy to speak aloud in class--and especially in a second language.  Other students want to share what they know or to get back to speaking after time away from the language.  Striking a balance, including everyone, embarrassing as few as possible, and making learning enjoyable is a challenge.  This group is up to it!

This time, we started with a chapter on foods.  The class runs from 3-6 pm.  After making introductions and going over the syllabus, I wanted to play an icebreaker, so I asked students to pick a favorite color and handed out construction paper to each of them in their choice of color.  Then, I showed them mine, blue, and shared how blue makes me Spanish, of course.  Then, students shared how their favorite colors make them feel...but only those students who felt like sharing had to talk.

By 5 pm we were well into the food vocabulary.  I could almost hear the stomachs rumbling.  Late afternoon is a challenging time to teach words relating to grocery shopping, working in the kitchen, sharing recipes, and dining out.  After repeating the new vocabulary (on foods) aloud, we talked about the grammar for the chapter (gustar and similar verbs) by talking about colors, and foods we like and dislike.  I asked for volunteers, and we read _Vamos a comer_ (a children's book) aloud, acting out parts.  A few good actors were discovered in the class.  This will be a fun semester.  :) 

Thursday was the second day of class.  We had our first quiz.  Summer school flies by--but three hours a day allows ample time for immersion.  I am making every effort to work cultural information into every few minutes of class.  Students love culture.  They crave it.  I am seeking to feed that hunger with information and a taste of Hispanic living.  For homework, in preparation for writing a review of a favorite restaurant, I invited students to visit an area restaurant as an optional homework assignment.  The in-class essay Monday can be about any restaurant, any visit, ever.  But in case students want a recent experience to write about, together we produced a list of Northwest Indiana authentic Hispanic restaurants that we like. 

Sometimes a class really meshes.  The group gets along and bonds right away.  With other groups it takes time, and that is okay, too.  There are days, too, when the intersection of vocabulary, grammar, communication, culture, and energy come together to crystalize in an ideal class.  Other times, the grammar is a chore, the vocabulary list feels stilted, the drawings in the book are hard to figure out, the words are impossible for students to pronounce, and people forget to turn off their cell phones.  Learning language is worthwhile even then.  But this week's two first classes at the start of Summer Session II were some of those good days, when the students raise their hands and ask challenging questions, make mistakes and don't feel ashamed, see connections and try new things, and the technology in the classroom works with every click.  I missed being in the classroom since classes let out in May, and am delighted to be back in class with a group of eager students.  Welcome to summer school!