Spanish Teaching and Assessment through Spanish Children’s Literature

The ACTFL integrated performance assessment guidelines require that assessments be authentic, meaning that students could encounter them in the world outside of the classroom. The examples they give are a brochure for a sports camp, a thematically-relevent, youth-oriented TV or radio show, TV comercials, public service announcements, songs by artists in the target culture, talk show or radio interviews, magazine articles, interviews, and advertisements, and personal letters or emails from people in the target culture.

I understand the importance of these authentic sources in assessing language skills, but I find the examples don’t apply well to early elementary Spanish students. They learn best in the imaginative realm, and the most authentic way to teach and assess Spanish in the early grades is through quality children’s literature, games, music, art, and drama.

Children’s literature in particular works very well as a teaching and assessment tool. A well-written, well-illustrated children’s book speaks a universal language that transcends culture. Although I love it when I find a great book written and illustrated by an author from the target culture, I don’t limit myself to these books only. I wouldn’t expect a literature teacher to limit her students to English-writing authors if Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende fit appropriately into the class genre, but the only option for the students was to read a translation. When it comes to great literature, be it for children or adults, great books transcend culture.

Children’s natural love of books and pictures make them a perfect tool for creating an authentic language experience, no matter in what language the book was originally written. As long as the book has been translated well, it can serve the teacher effectively. An example of this is a wonderfully-illustrated, well-loved book called Pinta Ratones by Ellen Stoll Walsh. The pictures are so engaging that my students don’t even seem to notice that I’m reading in Spanish, not English.

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