One of my 8th grade students, Surabhi, wrote this reflection as her final assignment for Spanish class. I’m posting it because it shares her self-assessment, reflects on her time in Costa Rica, and sheds some light on our program here at IACS.
What do you think is the difference between an owl, and an OWL? It’s okay if you can’t figure it out. At first, neither could I. Well, to begin with, one is an animal, and the other … isn’t. The other type of OWL is just an acronym. For Organic World Languages. You know, the very way I’ve been learning Spanish for the last three years.
Now just a warning, but, this method, is rather different from the traditional classroom learning that most language teachers use. For example, instead of desks, we have circles. And instead of quizzes, we have fun.
In every OWL classroom, there are five rules that must be followed. First off, circumlocution. This means working around any and all problems that arise in the classroom. Next, is 100% Spanish. Then, we must be willing to take risks (3), and participate (4). The last, and final rule, is not to be afraid of the Spanish classroom.
I’ve been learning Spanish for the past three years, and I have found that my biggest growth has been in terms of participation, and taking risks. And by slowing opening myself up to these things, I have been able to make humongous growth, and make some solid connections with my peers. I have also been able to make progress towards my goal this year. Now, that’s another aspect of Spanish class. Goals. These goals are based off of ACTFL, which is an acronym for something that is way too long to type out.
Every year we set these to track our progress, and at the end of every year, we have to create self-assessments to prove to our teacher that we met our goal. As you might have guessed, this is one of those assessments.
Now the criteria for my goal, Intermediate-Mid, has four parts. First off, language length, and text type. This requirement states that I must use strings of sentences, some connected and some complex. The requirement for function is to elaborate and expand, and ask a variety of questions. The criteria for topics states that the student must use a variety of topics with both quantity and quality. They can also speak about some things on the advanced level, but not with consistency. Now, the final criteria, for listener, is that the student can be understood by a sympathetic native speaker.
I believe that I am now a Intermediate-Mid, because I have met my level requirement for language length, function, topics and listener.
The first example of how my language length has improved is in my Edmodos. You see, every week, Profe uses Edmodo (a classroom communication website) in order to send students different homework assignments. Throughout the course of my career as a Spanish student here, I have found that at times, I would write a response to these Edmodo posts, and then accidently delete it. So, this year I typed all of my Edmodos in a separate document.
Some quick context on my Edmodos, is that the first entry is my comparison of our OWL classroom, to a more traditional Spanish class and the second excerpt is introduction for a movie which we watched in Spanish class.
“En mi grado dos, tres, y quatro, yo esta en un ezquela differente. EN este classe, yo apprenden Francais en un classe traditional. En mi primero semana de espanol, yo apprenden mas de yo apprenden en tres anos de francais. Es muy drastico, pero es verdad. Un ejamplo de la difference, es la attitude de la classe. Un classe traditional no tiene actividades, y es muy aborido. Un OWL classe es divertido, y no estress. Un mas ejamplo es la tarea. Mucho tarea es malo, porque con mucho tarea, yo tiene estresse, y yo no es feliz. Con no feliz, no me gusta la classe, y no trabajo bien. Esto es porque un OWL classe es bien.”
Here is an excerpt from one of my more recent Edmodos.
“En la classe de espanol, tenemos uno parte de la ano se llamo los intervestas. Aqui, los estudiantes esta en uno classe con su maestro, y necesito hablar un poco. La reson de este, es porque los professoras necesito miro a donde es la adioma de los estudiantes. Pero, cuando los estudiantes esta con la professora, todos los altro personas en la classe esta en uno sala. Aqui, necesitamos miraste uno pelicula. La pelicula es differente todos los tiempos, pero la mejor de la parte, miraste peliculas de Disney, en espanol. Pero, este tiempo, todos miraste uno pelicula, de Mexico, de se llamo ‘Bajo Mismo Luna’. “
As you can see, I have improved tremendously. While the first excerpt shows my first Edmodo in its entirety, the next is only the introductory paragraph. However, it is the same length as that first entry. This means that as time has gone by, I’ve been able to add more and more detail to my writing.
The next piece of evidence I will use to show my improved language length is from my writing prompt from quarter four this year. In this piece, I wrote close to six pages of pure Spanish. Okay, maybe not pure Spanish. But I’m getting there! In my prompts, I used full sentences, and sustained a good rhythm throughout, clearly showing my growth in language length. For example, in my first writing prompt of sixth grade, I wrote about two pages, in which I solely listed information and drew minimal pictures. I went from that, to six pages, of sentences. If that doesn’t show improvement in language length, I don’t know what does. Now, I can also use that improved language length to my advantage, by speaking in more complex sentences with fluency.
The function criteria for an Intermediate Mid, is very similar to that of an Intermediate Low, with the exception of a few things. For example. Rather than simply asking questions, Intermediate Mids are able to ask a variety of questions. They can also take the language, and make it very clear what they want to say. My language function is something that hugely connects with my language length, and I think that as I’ve been able to talk for increased periods of time, I have been able to do more within this time.
So this past April Break, I spent some time in Costa Rica with some fellow students. I was in a foreign country, speaking in my second language, with my only company to be found in a group of students that I barely knew. When we were there, we had this guide who pretty much showed us around Costa Rica, Eddie. Eddie was a pretty good guide, and he constantly talked in Spanish with us. I remember this one time, near the end of the trip, when we were all eating dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. And out of the blue, Eddie starts talking about my Spanish. That I had improved, and was talking faster. I personally had not noticed any change, but that fact that it was happening, right under my nose, and I didn’t see anything, is kind of amazing. This really goes to show just how much impact immersion into a language can have on one’s ability to speak that language.
At the end of every semester, my Spanish teacher sits down with each student, and assesses them by asking specific questions. I feel like my interviews very much show my improvement in terms of function. For example, in my first interview, I simply answered basic questions, like my name, age, etc. I also did a little bit of listing, with animals, colors, items in the classroom, and what not. Another thing to note, is that I talk very slow throughout the interview, and hesitate a lot before everything I say. That three minute chit-chat, compared to my newfound increased speed and fluency (as evident from Costa Rica), really shows improvement in function. Next, I am going to talk about how what I talk about has changed with what I talk with.
The Intermediate-Mid language criteria for topic range, is to not only be able to speak on a variety of topics, but to speak on these topics with quality. A key thing to note, is that while an Intermediate-Low is mostly striving to survive in the second language, Intermediate-Mids can begin speaking with a little bit more fluency, and without having to think as much.
I am going to go back to my Costa Rica Trip, and talk a little bit about, well, what I talked about. When I was there, I had to ask a lot of questions in order to get around, and essentially survive. However, I also had to know how to simply describe the things around me, and the different activities we were doing. Luckily, we did so many of these activities that I was able to expand my vocabulary enough to talk about all of them. An example of this is in my notebook, which I used to keep track of the progress I was making. I recorded over 100 vocabulary words, and in turn was able to talk with fluency. I actually like to think about it like a chain. By doing the activities, I learned vocabulary. And by learning the vocabulary, I was able to describe the activities.
Considering the fact that we consistently talked about odd topics that had barely anything to do with survival, it means a lot that I was able to use speed and fluency, and could convey my thoughts clearly. This very much meets the language topic requirement for an Intermediate-Mid, which is a variety of topics, with the ability to talk about some things at the Advanced level.
My videos also show a tremendous amount of improvement in terms of topics. In my first video of eighth grade, I talk about two topics. In my most recent video, I do the same, and talk about two topics. In addition, both videos go into the equivalent amount of detail, which is to say, a lot. The difference? The first video went on for a total six minutes, and the second, only two. This shows that even though I don’t talk about a lot of topics every single video, I am able to go into great depth for the topics that I do talk about. And this depth, is only getting easier to achieve. With it, I have noticed that more and more people are able to understand me.
Like I said, when I was in Costa Rica, I solely talked in Spanish. However, I was still able to make connections with the people there. This shows that I have reached the listener requirement for an Intermediate-Mid, which is to be understood by a sympathetic native speaker.
The guide, Eddie, for example, was someone with whom I never spoke English. At all. Despite this, he seemed to figure my personality by the end of those nine days. I don’t even think I can do that in English! In addition, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit crazy. Being able to convey this to someone else, is pretty huge for me. While Eddie has 15 years worth of experience talking to students and tourists, this only goes to show that I met the requirement for and Intermediate-Mid, which is to be understood by a sympathetic native listener.
Another person I got really close to on this trip, was my roommate, Shayla. Now, before the trip, we had only talked in awkward bits and pieces of conversation to plan the trip. Maybe it was the fact that I was there for nine days, but I learned a lot about her in that time. For one thing, her favorite color is blue. (I’m pretty proud of that tidbit of information). But in reality, I found that we have a lot in common. Not only do we both study super hard, but we’re also kind of shy. At first. By the end of the trip, we had had so many laughing fits over our late night dinners, that we could barely look at each other without bursting out into laughter. While Shayla isn’t exactly considered the native speaker, that this goal ‘requires’, I still feel that I learned the equivalent amount from a fellow student, that I would from someone who lives in Costa Rica. (ie, Eddie).
So, the language listener requirement for an Intermediate-Mid is to be understood by sympathetic native speakers. From talking to people like Eddie, who were able to understand my quirky personality, to friends like Shayla, with whom I’ve developed a life supply of inside jokes, I have grown tremendously, and met tons of people along the way (without any English, of course).
To conclude, I believe that I am at the Intermediate-Mid level because of my increased language length, language function, topic variation and listener comprehension. To be honest, I couldn’t have made any of this progress without OWL. I mean, I was literally dropped into a giant vat of Spanish, and pulled out to be a completely different person. Okay, maybe that’s not the best analogy, but my point remains the same. After developing some language fluency with OWL, the grammar taug
ht to me in high school should be no problem. And in addition, the confidence I obtained with this whole concept of emersion, has opened me up to all sorts of opportunities, making me not only a participant, but a classroom leader as well. So yeah, I have come a long way. And yeah, I have many more hurdles ahead of me in my language acquisition journey. But with all of the things that OWL has given me, I know that I can do it.