Learning without a standardized test

Every year, I embark on a new trajectory with my magical class called Spanish 4 Honors.  This class has the potential to be a Spanish teacher’s dream – I have no set curriculum to cover; I can create high level creative and critical lessons based on literature, history, culture, linguistics, music, theatre, whatever I want.  Some of my students are Hispanic, some are not, some came out of bilingual immersion programs, some are classified as gifted, some are classified as needed special ed accomodations, some are both.  Most of the students are motivated academically, many are highly aware of their grades, some are really interested in learning Spanish.

However, within the freedom of my lovely fourth year Honors classes, I still find little time for actual authentic practice, thoughtful teacher feedback, and truly hands-on practical or creative experiences. (There are 35 students in each of my two classes this year – regular good feedback is not really possible).

The one part of the class structure that is more creative, authentic and student inspired is the project we call “Español en la Calle”, in which students choose four individual or partner projects throughout the year.  They choose the activity that they would like to do from a long list of ideas.  Students can volunteer in the community reading to young students learning English; they can read a book in Spanish; they can attend a cultural, musical or theatrical event pertaining to the Hispanic world; they can go to a church service in Spanish; they can eat dinner at the house of one of their Hispanic classmates (as long as they help clean up afterwards and write a thank you note to the family); they can interview an elder in their family or community that speaks Spanish and came as an immigrant to the US; they can compose a song; they can copy a work of art by a Hispanic artist; they can perform a musical piece; they can attend a dance class; they can research a topic that interests them; etc., etc., etc.

This year I decided that all of my students would do their first project as a classroom community building activity.  Each “familia” in the class (seating groups of 4 students that have to work with each other for six weeks in class) would have to do their first outside project together.  Many of them opted to have dinner at someone’s house and collectively talk to grandma in Spanish; many of them opted to go to a Catholic church service together and meet their classmates’ church community; and many of them opted to go to a local Guatemalan or Peruvian restaurant and talk to the waitstaff in Spanish (and ask them questions about their home countries).  I was pleased by how many of the groups managed to work well together, and to find the time to embark on an adventure together.

However, one group stands out in my mind  –  one group decided to create a puppet show based on the story of Rupunzel.  They made sock puppets, painted a tower, and wrote a script.  They then practiced their skit several times and performed it today in class.  I could not believe the dedication and the work that went into their project; and they all seemed to have a great deal of fun together.  The four students are each from a different background: Mexico, Peru, India and the Phillipines.  The Mexican boy and the Indian girl are the outstanding brainiacs of the class, who always make deeply analytical comments on every topic we discuss and write about in class; and yet, watching them make their puppet play took a different kind of work – a communal spirit, an openness to the creative process, intense collaboration and delegation of time and tasks.

I love my Spanish 4 Honors class because I can more easily let curricular time “slip away” and indulge students in projects like these without feeling the burden of an AP test at the end of the year, or a Standardized test coming our way.

I imagine that this is the way school should feel a little bit more of the time for all students in all subjects.

Maestra Malinche

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