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Why Acquire, Develop, Learn Is Effective

In the last several posts we have been looking at what characterizes the three phases of our Acquire, Develop, Learn® methodology. To summarize: In Sonrisas Level I students naturally acquire Spanish much as they would their first language. In Sonrisas Level II, students develop their acquired Spanish with the addition of more complex language structures and Partner Time. In Sonrisas Level III, students learn the how and why of Spanish with explicit grammar instruction as they continue to build comprehension and speaking skills.

The Acquire, Develop, Learn methodology guides how the three levels of the Sonrisas Curriculum work together. The consistent lesson structure of Circle Time, Story Time, and Art Time in Sonrisas Level I and II, with the addition of Partner Time in Level II enable students to acquire and develop Spanish. In Sonrisas Level III, the lesson structure of formal grammar instruction followed by using grammar concepts in conversational activities, enables students to learn the rules of the Spanish they have developed. This is how Acquire, Develop, Learn works, and it is effective because it is developmentally appropriate.

In Sonrisas Level I, early elementary and preschool students are taught through singing, playing games, listening to stories, and doing art projects. These modalities capitalize on young children’s propensity to learn through play, physical activity, imagination, and creative expression. Students connect to the sounds and forms of Spanish through their physical bodies. Fun and engaging activities provide lots of meaningful communication and repetition with age appropriate themes. Acquisition occurs naturally, and there is no need for grammar instruction.

Mid-elementary students bridge the developmental transition from this young, experiential mode of learning to a more concrete mode. Their social awareness increases, and their ability to collaborate grows. So, in Sonrisas Level II, students continue singing, playing games, listening to stories, and doing art projects while more complex language structures are incorporated into lesson themes, a Partner Time segment is added to lessons, and there is an increase in reading and writing practice. With these additions, students begin to think more concretely about concepts. In Partner Time, they collaborate by interpreting information in Spanish, using it in an interpersonal interaction to complete a task, and then presenting the information to their classmates. Acquisition develops as students grow and move towards a more formal stage of learning.

It is important to note that while there is no formal grammar instruction throughout Levels I and II, students still gain an inherent understanding of many grammatical concepts. This occurs through repetition and interpersonal communication which utilizes comprehensible input (CI). CI is provided through the physical context of movement and gesture in songs and games, through storybook illustrations and shared reading, and through the physical product of art projects. The teacher uses Spanish at least 90% of the time during lessons. This provides an immersion environment with lots of CI, which promotes acquisition.

Upper elementary and middle school students enter a more formal developmental stage in which they begin to think more abstractly about concepts. They are more adept at applying rules and testing them. They are now ready to begin to learn grammar. In Sonrisas Level III, students receive formal grammar instruction as one part of thematic units which also include formal discussion on cultural themes and explicit instruction in communication strategies. Grammar is not taught in isolation, but rather it is used in conversational practice using the TPRS Storytelling® method. Students are able to apply the rules of grammar as they continue to develop their speaking and comprehension skills. In this way, older learners continue their path of acquisition and development, albeit now they are developmentally ready to use a more formal approach.

When elementary Spanish curriculum is not developmentally appropriate, learners do not connect with the language. They get caught up with content that doesn’t work—grammar introduced too early, vocabulary taught in isolation, activities without CI, little repetition, and few opportunities for meaningful communication. Acquire, Develop, Learn works because it is developmentally appropriate. Using this method as a guide, the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum connects students to Spanish. They establish a positive connotation with learning a second language, they become effective Spanish communicators and lifelong language learners, and they develop a strong foundation in Spanish which prepares them for higher level courses in middle and high school.

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