Friday, 26 August 2011

Resources Review: Spanish for Preschoolers E-Guide, Ana Lomba

This e-guide aims to provide “everything you need to craft creative Spanish classes for toddlers, pre-schoolers, kindergarten and elementary school children”.

Ana Lomba is originally from Spain but she has been involved in languages education in the US since 1990 as a teacher, consultant, advocate, entrepreneur and mother. I was touched by the story of how she decided to take her business further to look after her youngest child-a little girl with complex special needs- at home. Ana’s approach to discussing her methods are always very personal and she clearly targets parents but there are many points made and examples in the e-guide that are of interest to ALL Spanish teachers.

Ana’s e-guide consists of 2 parts. Part one looks at ways to promote what you teach, considerations for different age groups, a range of language teaching approaches and Curriculum Planning. Part two presents more in detail Ana’s own immersion approach and how it helps structure her language curriculum, Ana’s favourite techniques with many examples and ideas to develop activities further as well as business opportunities using Ana’s immersion method. All language teachers will also find useful the two appendices, the 60 minute lesson plan and the Thematic Unit Template.

Although parents are clearly targeted, the e-guide introduction is actually addressed to teachers and encourage them to find their “own ways of doing things as well”

Ana’s belief is that “great teachers are first and foremost artists”, so there is a clear message for teachers to use the guide to find their own path to creativity in the classroom. The only point that would not find be totally transferable is the idea that you should not “waste your time thinking that you have to motivate your students to learn” but only concentrate on what the students are really interested in. I would say that developing activities that are intrinsically interesting for our students is essential but that sustaining their interest is certainly easier to do when your audience is willing to cooperate, which might not be the case of every student in a class of 30 in a school context… There are also many constraints imposed on the curriculum taught in schools, so I guess this is a call for teachers who are more independent to make the most of that independence.

Ana’s advice to teachers is to pay attention only to constructive criticism as “the pursuit of perfection leads to paralysis”. I would say this applies to any teachers-whoever criticises you, unless they can justify their criticisms against a set of criteria and suggest ways forwards that apply to your particular context, this is NOT constructive feedback. This is definitely worth reflecting upon…

Ana also encourages new teachers to join Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as they are a great way to get to know other teachers in similar situations and feel less isolated. I would however say that the use of these platforms for professional purposes for teachers needs to be linked with some specific training to ensure that all new teachers understand fully how they work and ensure that they are safe online. A teacher’s reputation takes time to build up and teachers new to using social media should understand fully what developing their online reputation entails.

I was very interested to read about how to develop partnerships with parents. Although some of the points did not apply to my secondary school context in the UK, they did make me think about different new ways to engage with parents.

I found the following points useful when I looked at reviewing communication with parents: (the headlines are Ana’s and the rest a mix of Ana’s and how I intend to implement these in my own context)

*Communicate: create an on-going dialogue, trying to make it as personal as possible and starting by introducing the course and what is expected in terms of personal studies at home.

*Educate: provide information about language learning and tips on how parents can help their children whatever their own command of the foreign language. As the parent of two bilingual little boys, I would say this is all the more important for younger learners, as some parents may expect “lessons” in a set format that is totally unsuitable for younger learners. There are also quite a few myths circulating about early language learning that need to be dispelled. Interestingly enough, these myths live on into secondary school and are often applied to EAL learners e.g. Children learning two languages are slower linguistically or academically.

*Provide a roadmap: Share your teaching philosophy and the goals for your students in your sessions and expectations for the parents. Ana also suggests mentioning your personal history-What made you want to teach young children a language, how you learnt the language yourself, what other languages you speak etc… Although I do think this is a good idea to mention these on a one-to-one basis, some teachers might find this could interfere with the professional distance they want to keep with their students and parents.

*Engage: document and share what you do in your classroom-this could be done electronically, for instance. Get parents involved in learning homework tasks. Ana suggests inviting parents to take part to classes-although this might be difficult in a formal school context, this could be considered for family learning and enrichment activities.

Ana gets us to look at the characteristics of different age groups within early learners and the type of activities that are more likely to be successful with each group.

I was pleased to read Ana’s words of warning about what she calls the “flashcard approach”. Learning a language and memorising words are two separate things. Although learning new words will help increasing the range of what can be expressed in the new language, it is how the new items of language are put together that will demonstrate linguistic skills and help getting messages across.

Like Ana, I feel that we underestimate what children can understand and if they are spoon-fed words only, they will not develop the skills to learn the language and get anxious when they do not know the meaning of every single word in a sentence. They will not be resilient learners, get impatient and ignore para-linguistic clues like gestures and other visual and contextual clues. They will behave this way, not because they cannot understand, but because of the messages we have given them by focusing on individual words only.

I found very interesting the references to theories and initiatives from the US and other countries, like the reference to the ACTFL Foreign Language Standards, the “Backward Design” theory by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe and James A. Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR).

It is always fascinating to see how these approaches overlap with our national context, what their limitations are and how they have been adapted. Ana warns against “laundry lists of language functions, vocabulary, cultural notions etc…” and encourages a more global view of planning with some of these resources being used as guidelines, insisting again on the teacher’s professional judgement being key in deciding the focus for developing their learners’ skills.

In addition to the many references provided throughout Ana’s e-book, many other links are given to online resources for parents to support their child’s learning.

Like me, Ana is a big fan of using music in the classroom and she introduces many ways music can support language learning. She also warns against translated songs that do not always “work” in the translated language or original songs that are too challenging linguistically for a young audience-although she also gives us tips on how to still make it work for our young learners.

Similar dilemma can happen with story-telling: young learners need stories they can identify with but we also need to teach them about the culture of the countries where the target language is spoken and avoid stereotyping by exposing them to a wide range of genres. I found the advice to NOT present stories in one tense at a time a very interesting one-it mirrors what happens in real life, where young children do not get “put off” by their parents mixing tenses when telling them stories and are able to decode and established what happened when without many problems.

The e-guide provides many examples of activities as well as more detailed lesson plans to show how particular activities could be developed.

Many approaches are considered and I liked the reassuring tone of the e-guide telling teachers that whatever method they use “the important thing is to keep learning, thinking and evolving in our profession”.

The “Curriculum Planning in a Nutshell” is a very useful chapter in the e-guide. It will support all teachers who need to plan in a more thematic way for younger learners and provide ideas of mini-projects to integrate all 4 skills (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing).

Ana’s no-nonsense rationale for the use of Target Language is also refreshing as it includes bilingual materials as a way to extend the interactions in the foreign language at home and it acknowledges that a grammar-led approach tends to hinder the use of the target language in the classroom.

Ana talks about Technology as “another fabulous platform for classroom and at-home learning” and recommend the Tech and Young Children ECETECH-L forum for informations on using iPods, iPads and other electronic gadgets. The forum is not specific to language learning but it provides great generic ideas that can be used in the languages classroom.

Ana discusses assessment of young learners and refer to examples of external assessments for young learners-SOPA and ELLOPA created by the Center for Applied Linguistics ( as well as the “Keys to Assessing Language Performance” book by Paul Sandrock-although the materials in this book are more suitable for older students.

I have found this e-guide a fantastic source of inspiration for all the language classes I teach for the younger and the older students. I will need a lot more time to explore all the pedagogic approaches and ideas discussed in the guide as well as the wealth of resources and other links mentioned.

Ana’s e-guide can be bought via her site by clicking here


Clare Seccombe said...

Thanks so much for bringing Ana's guide to my attention, Isabelle. I've been teaching Spanish from nursery to Y6 in my school for 2 years, and definitely find nursery and Reception the most challenging because of the different setup and the different way that they learn. Ana's guide will be very useful as I start the new school year.

Isabelle Jones said...

You are welcome! Although Ana is in some ways freer than we are teaching in schools, I found a lot of her ideas very interesting, practical and highly transferable. I hope you find the guide useful too.