Friday, September 24, 2010

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #3

Hazan, M., & Travis, J. (1998). Pablo y sus amigos. St. Louis, MO: Symtalk Inc.

Target Audience and Theoretical Framework
The Symtalk textbook series teaches foreign languages through the use of visuals and games. The philosophy behind the program is based on cognitive psychology, where long term memory and retrieval are encouraged through hands-on lessons and visual aids. In addition, the program utilizes immersion approaches and exploratory learning. The Junior series is specifically geared towards grades kindergarten to eighth grade.

Organization of Topics
The text is divided into fifteen lessons, where each lesson reflects a thematic unit. The first page of each lesson includes an illustration of the vocabulary terms for the lesson. The second page introduces the verb for that lesson, which also reflects a graphic illustration. For example, for the verb “tener” there is a picture of a closed fist to show ownership of something.

It is important to note that the chosen verb for each lesson relates to the vocabulary. For example, in the food lesson, the verb “quiero” is used to express want of a certain food item. The remaining pages in each lesson show a series of pictures that are intended to illustrate sentences using the vocabulary and verb introduced. The majority of these sentences present a subject, verb, object order. Finally, these sentences are meant to be read aloud by students.

As the units progress so do the vocabulary and skills. While each unit may have its specific set of terms general terms associated with previous units, such as colors and numbers, are introduced periodically. These old terms are then used to apply to the new vocabulary learned. For example, in the school supply lesson, numbers are reinforced by counting school objects.

Use of Visuals and Grammar Instruction
The program relies on visuals to create associations with vocabulary and grammar. Pictures are used to represent nouns and verbs throughout the introductory lessons. After these are reinforced, the lessons start to introduce ways to blend these visual representations. The goal is for students to identify vocabulary and ultimately construct sentences in the target language. The use of magnetic strips and pictures are needed in order to teach the vocabulary and grammar concepts presented in the textbook. While grammar is not explicitly taught, examples of form are present in the activities and games included with the textbook series.

Activities and Exercises
Each lesson encourages recitation of the vocabulary presented. Also, the sentences at the end of each lesson can be seen as a grammar lesson in disguise. Although grammar isn’t explicitly taught, its structure is evident in last pages of each lesson, where students construct sentences with the pictorial representations. Furthermore, the textbook series includes manipulatives, such as board games, to reinforce vocabulary acquisition. These games are hands-on and require students to apply the concepts learned. One popular game in this series is bingo. With the basic level board, students are able to identify colors, numbers, and names of objects. On each board, one would see several school or home objects, in different numbers, and in different colors. For example, one square might contain five red pencils, and another may have two black chairs. In playing bingo, the teacher has the option to focus on the vocabulary separately, by doing colors or numbers only, or combining forms, by calling out a specific number or color of a certain object.

Final Thoughts
Overall, the text is visually stimulating, which is beneficial for younger learners. Also, the supplementary materials, such as its board games, encourage hands on practice. This series takes a constructivist, top down approach where grammar is learned through chunks and phrases. While grammar is not explicitly introduced, students are able to see grammar in context when they construct sentences at the end of each lesson or chapter.

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