Saturday, September 18, 2010

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #1

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to my review of textbooks designed for the elementary Spanish classroom. Although we have not adopted a textbook for our particular program, I feel that textbooks can be a useful resource for the elementary Spanish classroom. For this reason, I have selected a few of my favorites and present their organization, description of the activities and exercises, and explanation of how grammar is incorporated at the elementary levels. I hope that you find these reviews useful and welcome your remarks, especially if you are using these texts in your own classroom or program.

Belisle-Chatterjee, A., Tibensky, L. W., & Martínez-Cruz, A. (2005).
¡Hola!: Viva el Español! Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Target Audience
The ¡Viva el Español! Series is geared towards students in the intermediate to upper elementary grades (4th-6th). The series includes several levels which include, Hola for introductory levels and ¿Qué tal? for intermediate levels. The Hola textbook serves as introduction or basic review of vocabulary and grammar forms in the Spanish language.

Organization of Text
This text is organized by thematic units. Each unit introduces vocabulary, grammatical structures, and cultural information that are pertinent to that particular unit. For example, in the animal unit, vocabulary for specific animals is introduced. Also, this unit reviews colors and introduces how to describe the color, size, and shape of an animal. In addition, a cultural section on South American animals in included in the unit. This same structure is seen throughout each unit. As the units progress, so do the skills and vocabulary. In other words, each unit usually incorporates general vocabulary or grammar, such as colors, numbers, and gender of nouns, from previous units. This structure and format is age appropriate for elementary students because of its repetition of grammar concepts and general vocabulary. Also, the text is able to scaffold and build on previously learned skills and vocabulary.

Activities and Exercises
Each unit begins with exercises where students practice identifying vocabulary and the grammar skill or form. Exercises at the beginning of each unit involve tasks where students practice asking and answering questions in the target language. For example, in identifying vocabulary for school supplies, student pairs must ask each other what each object is and respond with the correct term. These activities are collaborative and communicative in nature. This format is appropriate for intermediate elementary students because they get to practice focus on form through communicative and meaningful activities.

After each vocabulary or grammar section, the text includes an activity called “Entre Amigos.” This section involves collaborative work where students must complete a communicative task. The activity also requires students to include phrases that utilize the vocabulary presented in an authentic manner. For example, in the classroom unit, the students must complete a mini-scavenger hunt in their classroom. The task requires them to write down several colors and write the name of the classroom object that corresponds to each color. However, the students must do this in pairs, walk around the room, and ask their partner what color each object is before they can write it down. The textbook presents a clear example of a sample dialogue that can take place between students.

At the end of each unit, there is a section called ¡A Divertirnos! In this section students participate in visual arts or musical activities. Sometimes the unit will present a song about colors, such as Jose Luis Orozco’s De Colores. Other activities prompt students to create a product. For example, one unit has students create a birthday card using phrases in Spanish.

Grammar Instruction
Grammar is explicitly taught in each unit. However, the text integrates grammar into the theme in an interactive way. When introducing each grammar form, the text presents the grammar rule along with illustrations of examples relating to the unit topic. For example, in the school unit, the rule for making plurals is introduced along with pictures of several examples of how to make plurals using school objects (un globo, dos globos). Next, the exercises have students practice using the grammar form in structured dialogues. Again, the text presents models of how these dialogues should look.

The format in which grammar is introduced is age appropriate. While the activities and the exercises at the beginning of the unit are more structured, these become less structured as the unit progresses. Towards the end of the unit, the text integrates the grammar form presented with vocabulary that was learned in previous units. For example, in the school supply unit, students are asked to say the number of each object or supply they see in the classroom in complete sentences.

Final Thoughts
This text offers an interactionist approach that focuses on form. Even though grammar is explicitly introduced through concrete examples and rules, the exercises and activities in the text create opportunities for students to practice these forms in a collaborative and communicative way. More importantly, the communication exercises also allow students to see how each form functions across different contexts. Also, the text reiterates concepts and general vocabulary, which allows students to build on previous knowledge and skills.

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