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Students Are Ready to Learn with Level III

Our last two posts discussed how our Acquire, Develop, Learn® methodology gives elementary students the opportunity to naturally acquire Spanish and develop it in Sonrisas Levels I and II. Students gain lots of inherent understanding of grammatical concepts, but there is no formal grammar instruction in these levels. In Sonrisas Level III students receive explicit grammar instruction where they begin to learn the how and why of Spanish. Developmentally, upper elementary and middle school students are ready for this, and formal grammar instruction can help learners with different strengths to increase their proficiency.

As described by Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children in the upper elementary grades are moving into the concrete and formal operational stages when they begin to think more logically and more independently. Grammar instruction fits right into this developmental continuum. It’s worth noting that second language acquisition expert, Dr. Stephen Krashen, believes that grammar instruction falls more under the umbrella of linguistics and does not necessarily lead to communicative proficiency. Our experience teaching Spanish to children for 25 years has led us to believe that grammar instruction, at the appropriate developmental stage, can be one means to communicative proficiency. The grammar instruction that occurs in Sonrisas Level III is just one part of lessons that are still focused on engaging students in lots of meaningful interactions in Spanish through TPR, TPR Storytelling®, reading, writing, and partner activities.

If we look at this from the perspective of meeting the needs of the multiple intelligences, there are definite advantages to formal grammar instruction in elementary Spanish curriculum. Learners with strong linguistic, intrapersonal, and mathematical intelligences may benefit from the structure, understanding, and logical patterns that grammar instruction provides. These students may utilize the logical structure of grammar rules to aid them in their communicative proficiency. Furthermore, by introducing more formal instruction while students are in elementary and middles school, we set them up for success when they progress to more traditional language classes in high school and beyond.

Level III also introduces more formal instruction in cultural perspectives and communication strategies. Culture instruction includes thematic units organized around a cultural theme, whole-group discussions on culture topics, and weaving cultural themes into instruction. Communication strategies such as using cognates, circumlocution, and getting meaning from context help learners bridge communication gaps that result from differences of language and culture. All of this adds up to students being able to communicate effectively and with cultural competence. It is after students have acquired and developed Spanish in the early grades with Sonrisas Levels I and II that they are ready to take the next step toward Spanish language proficiency. Level III allows them to take that step, setting them on the path to becoming effective Spanish communicators, globally literate citizens, and lifelong language learners.

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