Sunday, September 19, 2010

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #2

Gerngross, G., Santamaria, S.P., & Puchta, H. (2005). Vale: 1. Saint Paul, MN: EMC Publishing.

Target Audience and Theoretical Framework
The Vale textbook series aims at teaching Spanish as a second or foreign language to elementary-aged school children who have not been previously exposed to the language. The series is divided into three levels and is based on theories of cognitive psychology and multiple intelligences. As a result, the series utilizes hands-on and natural approaches to learning Spanish. This review will specifically look at the Level One textbooks.

Organization of Topics
The text is organized into thematic units. While the beginning units start with general topics, such as colors and numbers, they later progress to more specific topics, such as school and clothing vocabulary. Also, the exercises in the beginning units are simplified since students are beginning to learn the language. Later units incorporate skills and vocabulary learned in previous units. For example, in the fifth unit, students are asked to decipher the name of the days of the week according to a code of colors and letters. This exercise uses higher order thinking skills along with reviewing the colors to identify the days of the week.

Use of Visuals
The main focus of the Level One text is vocabulary recognition. This textbook seems suitable for young children due to its use of visuals. Colorful pictures, animations, and even real-life representations of Spanish-speaking children found throughout the text are stimulating and effective in maintaining students’ attention and interests.

Activities and Exercises
Activities and exercises in this text use a communicative approach to teaching language. Many of the exercises revolve around recognition of vocabulary words presented in each unit. Vocabulary exercises at the introductory level include matching, fill in the blank, true and false statements, and simple reading comprehension questions. However, the activities used to practice that vocabulary involve collaboration and communication. For example, when learning the numbers, students are first asked to write and recite their phone numbers. As an activity, the students are required to ask at least five classmates their phone numbers. In the activity section, pictures of students performing the task along with dialogues for that task are presented. This gives students a visual representation of the task they are to accomplish.

Introduction of Grammar
Since the level of this textbook is geared towards beginning learners of Spanish, the grammar presented throughout the text is limited. Much of the grammar is infused through simple phrases used in the target language. Also, since this textbook reflects a naturalistic approach, it does not present grammar in a structured format. Instead, grammar is presented through various mediums such as stories, rhymes, and chants. However, the text does not bring attention to these grammar features explicitly but rather holistically. This approach seems age appropriate, particularly since this level does not focus on grammar.

Final Thoughts
Overall, this textbook seems age appropriate for young students. Its visual appeal and simplified approach make it easy to follow. Also, the activities are collaborative which makes learning less intimidating for children. Finally, the organization allows for students to build on previously learned words and skills.

After reviewing the text, I think it can also be a useful supplemental resource. Each level comes with audio samples of the chants and other listening exercises that accompany several tasks within the text. I find this component of the series suitable for learning center time, where students can perform listening tasks (singing chants, pointing to pictures as prompted) from the textbook.

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