Feliz diciembre! Happy December! I can’t believe how fast this semester has flown by! Very soon it will be time for me to say “adios” to my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students and say “hola” to the kindergarteners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders.
What can you expect this month? Well, 3rd grade is finishing up their restaurant unit and is working hard to beat 4th grade’s average score of 27.7 points out of 30! They can do it, I know they can! They will just need to put a lot of effort into making sure they have mastered their food words, the phrase “Me gustaria…” (I would like…), making combinations using the words “de,” “con,” and “sin” (of, with, without), and can label the items in a table setting. In the meanwhile, 4th graders are learning how to say the day in Spanish, which will come in handy next year when they have the opportunity to say the announcements in the morning as 5th graders. Finally, the 5th graders are wrapping up their unit on rainforest animals and describing the unique body parts of those animals. By far, this is the best group I’ve ever had for writing. They do not write perfectly (how can I expect that when they can’t speak the language fluently yet?), but what I love seeing is that they are working to IMPROVE their writing each time. They read my comments left on their writings and try to incorporate the new knowledge into subsequent writing tasks. That’s all I can ask for, and it thrills me that this group, on average, is doing that.
That brings me to this month’s theme — celebrating small gains. As part of my graduate coursework in Early Childhood Literacy, I have been doing mini-studies observing the growth of students in various tasks such as reading fluency, letter recognition, and vocabulary knowledge over a period of 3 weeks. Sometimes students only grow by reading 2 more words per minute or recognizing one letter more — really tiny growth. My professor in this most recent class explained we need to celebrate small improvements and not get discouraged, because over the course of the year, those small improvements will add up. I think as fast-paced adults we sometimes can forget to recognize the benefit of the small gains even when we feel our children have much yet to learn. This applies to Spanish too. Some children have a particularly tough time learning and practicing words independently at home, transferring oral language knowledge into writing tasks, recalling sound-letter patterns for Spanish and more. Though they struggle (or have a full-out meltdown sometimes), we should never let a child believe that they cannot do something or that it is too hard for them. Telling them they aren’t good at something sets them up for failure in life. Personally, I can still remember my mom telling me I wasn’t as good at art as my brother when I was in elementary school. For years I felt I was bad at it because of that one, somewhat innocent, statement. It was only my love of crafts and artsy things that kept me engaged in artistic activities. Eventually I realized on my own that I wasn’t bad at it at all! As an adult, I draw posters for my students to use to practice speaking, construct vocabulary-based bulletin boards out of colored paper by free-hand, create pinatas for various purposes, dance, and more — all with an adequate level of skill. Mom was wrong, and her statement almost caused me to miss out on something that provides me a lot of joy. (When I bring this up now she retorts “But you were messy then!” — Yeah, Mom, I was 7. What did you expect?)
So even if your child is struggling right now with something, keep him/her motivated and let them know that he/she can do anything she puts his/her mind to! Teach your children to break a big task into several smaller tasks. Once they see small tasks, they will probably feel enabled to tackle one task at a time until they get to the overall goal. If they have 15 vocabulary words to learn, break them into groups of 3 words. If they learn those 3 in a week after spending all semester not learning because they felt helpless, that’s something, and they should feel proud! Eventually they will get to the 15 as long as they don’t quit. Should it be a writing task with 5 sentences, have them take it one good sentence at a time. I’d much rather get back fewer sentences that are quality than 5 sentences that were punched into a translator or written very sloppily in a mix of English and Spanish. Regardless of the task, they CAN do it. They just need to believe in themselves.
As always, if you have any questions or need some pointers of how to help at home, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Holidays (a little early)! Felices fiestas!
(Señorita) Jessica Taylor