by Jo Kadlecek
In some subject areas, it's crucial for students to have lots time to think about complicated questions. But Moises Park (Spanish) hopes his students in Spanish class won’t think too much, and instead react “in the moment.” Part performer, part literary guide, Park often uses acting methods, shouting out questions in Spanish and urging students to respond quickly, even if that means their answer in Spanish will be incorrect. His pedagogical strategy helps his students relax and have fun, while recognizing that there is more to language acquisition than memorizing words.
“In some ways learning a language requires the discipline of avoiding technology (like getting a tutorial app), and letting go of some of the resources available, so you can study it yourself,” Park said. “There are some things only a human can help you with, like writing a poem. So I try to do things in class that are creative, and beyond automated feedback—helping students have the flexibility that children have, so that they’ll have the confidence to answer with whatever is in their mental word bank.”
While he hopes his students will be able to interact in an increasingly Spanish-speaking world, Park’s ultimate goal is for students to learn Spanish well enough to write a poem or a short dialogue in the language, so they can experience the creative process. That’s why he has students write a composition in Spanish and then takes phrases from each to compose a song he’ll play in class with his guitar. So far he’s composed six songs for six classes, using lines directly from each student’s essay that he sings first, and then has the class sing together.
“Because of the limited amount of things (new) Spanish learners can say, it becomes very poetic,” he said. For instance, one student wanted to write that on Tuesday mornings she studies in a class called the Sociology of Death, and on Thursdays she learns in the Examined Life course. But because she didn’t yet know many of those words, what she wrote in Spanish translates like this: “Tuesdays I study death and then I study life.”
“That became a great verse, and the title of a song,” he said. “Students get very excited to see their own writing in a Spanish song. And the activity is a favorite of mine, because it forces me to think better about meter and synonyms, while teaching the students that even a limited amount of language can help them create something meaningful.”
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