Heritage Language Instruction

Date: Thu, 8 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: Spanish for Heritage Speakers

It is possible that one of the reasons for the behavioral problems is the content of the instruction. Syllabication, spelling, and other editing issues are not important to students until they have extensive practice in reading and writing. These are issues that should be tackled after the student has the confidence that he/she can communicate in written Spanish and has the intrinsic motivation to want to improve the quality of his/her writing. One way for students to develop that confidence and intrinsic motivation is to have lots of positive experience reading and writing.

Two good resources for people who are starting to teach heritage speakers are talented ESL and English Language Arts teachers. Find out how they teach and try to parallel the language arts curricular goals in your classroom i.e. narrative essay, persuasive essay, etc. This will make your principal very happy because it will improve your students' test scores in ELA also.

Another resource is the NY State Native Language Arts curriculum. It can be found at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/biling/resource/NLA.html.

Also, I would begin with the high intermediate ACTFL proficiency guidelines. These documents should be used to ground your instruction in a content-based language arts approach, which is the most appropriate for heritage students.

Date: Sat, 17 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: Heritage speakers writing sentences

An important aspect to working with heritage learners is to understand the psychic damage that prejudice against immigrants has on your students. Heritage learners' reluctance to speak the language is not simply a language acquisition issue. It is an affective issue. You cannot remediate an affective issue by focusing on what you perceive to be students' &lquot;weakness&rquot; i.e. lack of knowledge of the basics. This can only make the reluctance worse.

The following is a framework to approach heritage language instruction.

  1. Help your students identify what they already know and are able to do. Your first activities with the class should be an exploration of the students' knowledge and abilities, especially their vast cultural knowledge. On a language acquisition level, instead of pointing out what they cannot start by pointing out what each student can do. Use the FL Standards and Native Language Arts Standards to help students become aware of what skills they already possess. This step cannot be skipped!!!
  2. Celebrate and respect the linguistic diversity of the class. This is a classic case of Freirian pedagogy. You cannot be the dispenser of &lquot;correctness&rquot;. All varieties represented in the classroom need to be supported and shared. The teacher's variety of Spanish should not determine what is &lquot;correct&rquot;.
  3. After students have considerable positive experience as communicators of their heritage language, usually after one year of instruction, the heritage program can focus on editing issues such as spelling and the precision of grammar usage. It would be like asking your first-year FL students to be proficient in direct object pronouns the first week of level one Spanish to expect your heritage learners to be able to moderate their output those first weeks of their heritage class.

For resources: Teaching Heritage Language Learners: Voices from the Classroom, available on the ACTFL web site. New York State Learning Standards for Native Language Arts http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/biling/resource/NLA.html

Date: Sat, 17 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: Native speakers in Spanish 1

If you have heritage speakers in all levels, then it is a programming issue. There needs to be a class specifically for these students. Start by showing your administrators the Standards for Native Language Arts and get accurate numbers of the Hispanic population from your School Report Card. If you are in New York State, all the better but, if not, they can be used as an example of what regions with larger populations are doing. These numbers are only going to get larger, so why not start a program now before it becomes a crisis. Help the parents of your students get involved. Often, immigrant parents are not aware that they have any say in what happens to their children. Because of your unique position of teacher, you have more information about your students and are more aware of trends i.e. larger numbers of heritage speakers. Programs that meet these students needs will not happen unless classroom teachers get the ball rolling.

Date: Sun, 18 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: Teaching Heritage Speakers Group

I hope that the FL teachers who are currently teaching heritage learners remain part of FLTeach and bring their question here. It is important that we share our questions and expertise with the entire profession and not isolate ourselves from other teachers. The isolation from each other is what helps reproduce situations where teachers are frustrated because they have not had training to work with heritage learners. Only by staying part of the FLTeach can entire profession gain the awareness it needs to strengthen this growing part of our responsibilities as teachers.

Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2005
Subject: Re: AP Span Lang / Native speakers?

Native Speakers have the linguistic ability to study at the AP level and qualify at high levels. What would prevent a school from allowing them to take the class?

As far as special requirements, this cannot be answered in the abstract. What type of enrichment is offered to native speakers? New York State has Native Language Arts Standards for K-12. Is your district creating instruction for your native speakers based on these standards? Is standards-based instruction being extended to students who have already tested out of English Language Learner classes?

AP Language classes should be part of the instructional program for native speakers at your school. Students have been very successful at the sophomore level if they have had at least one year of Spanish language arts instruction as a pre-requisite.

Offering the class in the sophomore year allows ample time for students to study and qualify for the AP Literature curriculum that can be offered during their junior and senior years. Encouraging native speakers to take college level classes also addresses the issue of the "achievement gap" of Hispanic students. Native speakers who are encouraged to take an AP course early in their high school career will start to think of themselves as students who can achieve, especially if the program is taught in a way that emphasizes students' strengths. In addition, a program focused on language arts will improve reading and writing in English. It is a win-win situation. Learning Standards for Native Language Arts can be found at: http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/biling/resource/NLA.html

Date: Sun, 6 Nov 2005
Subject: Re: Help for a heritage speaker

When working with a heritage learner, it is important to get a well-rounded evaluation of the students’ abilities. What is he/she already able todo with the language? How proficient is he/she in EACH of the four skills? What type of reading skills does the student have? What type of texts has he/she read and/or reads on a regular basis? What new texts can you introduce? How can the teacher help improve the student’s reading comprehension? What is the student’s experience with writing? Can the student write a persuasive essay, a narrative, a poem in Spanish? Research regarding teaching writing puts spelling and error correction at the endof the process, not the beginning. This is true not only for individual writing assignments but it is also true when planning long-range instruction. Spelling errors, (for heritage learners, verb conjugation errors are often simply spelling errors, not concept errors) while important, should not be addressed in a major way until the student has a strong appreciation for the high level of skills that he/she already possesses. Foreign language teachers generally are not trained to teach language arts skills which are the skills that heritage learners need to acquire. You might want to consult with the freshman composition teachers at your university and find out what skills they are focusing on in English and parallel those skills in your work with your heritage learner. That might a good place to begin.

Date: Sat, 4 Feb 2006
Subject: Re: Spanish grammar for native students

A good place to start is the local Spanish language newspaper. Buy a copy each week and ask her to work on a different type of article each day. For example, Monday-local stories, Tuesday-international stories, Wednesday-sports, etc. She can read the article and summarize it and when she gets more comfortable with writing, she can work on writing her own newspaper articles that you can use with your Spanish I class. This would be a good way to incorporate &lquot;Communities&rquot; into your lessons by giving all your students access to the local Spanish press. I wouldn't worry too much about hitting specific grammar &lquot;needs&rquot; in the context of your class. What this student needs is consistent practice in reading and writing. If she has that, she will eventually start picking up the spelling and other more sophisticated elements of writing from her experience with a little guidance from you. This way you are only correcting the actual problems that appear rather than making guesses about what would help. Working this way also reduces the amount of preparation that you will have.