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Allison Zacarias Post 3

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Allison Zacarias

Education 200

Alice Lesnick

March 25, 2013


I am at an after school program in a city on the outskirts of Philadelphia which is not a conventional praxis because I do not observe a classroom/teacher. Instead I work as a tutor with first and second graders. Our schedule and routine is very consistent every week. First there is circle time, then the students do their homework, they work on a vocabulary/reading on-line program (Lexia), read for about 20 minutes, and then they can do whatever activity they would like.


Recently I have been working with a new student. Her name is Silvia and she is a 6-year-old Mexican-American first grader. Immediately I felt gravitated towards her because I saw a little bit of myself in her. I saw a very young Latina student that has mastered (as much as a 6-year-old can) the Spanish language and is now mastering the English language. When I introduced myself to her the coordinator (Mirtle) of the after school program (GEER) told Silvia, “Silvia, did you know that Allison speaks Spanish.” Silvia turned to me with a big smile and said, “Say something in Spanish.” When I did she looked over to Mirtle with a surprised/excited look. I have been trying to build a relationship with Silvia in which she feels comfortable telling me and showing me what she knows, does not know, and what she may need help with.


Last week during our time together Silvia finished her homework quickly. We moved on to reading. I sat with her in a corner so that we can have some privacy. Silvia picked a book and we made a deal that she would read one page and I would read another. Whenever Silvia would read she was the teacher and I was the student. She would sit on a chair while I sat on the floor. When I would read I was the teacher and she was the student. When Silvia reads I make sure she is pronouncing every word correctly. When she does not, I try to refrain from immediately telling her how to pronounce a word and ask her to sound it out.


While I was doing this I reminded myself that the vocabulary used in the book we were reading seemed pretty advanced. I did not want to assume that Silvia understood or did not understand the vocabulary so I started asking her if she knew what certain words meant. She didn’t know what any of the words I pointed out meant. Once I noticed this I started asking her to read her designated pages while stopping at some words and asking her if she knew what they meant. When she said no I would try to explain them to her in English. I could sense some hesitation when she would say she understood what I was trying to explain to her. My immediate reaction was to say what they meant in Spanish. Then she would say, “oh okay.” After doing this for a couple of pages I questioned whether I was doing the right thing by speaking and explaining things to her in 2 languages.


I remembered what my native Spanish speaking high school Spanish teacher told my class one day. She said that a person is a native speaker of a certain language if they are able to think and then speak in that language. She was referring to the bilingual students in the class (me). What she meant was that the students whom considered themselves bilingual (Spanish and English) were native Spanish speakers only if they were able to think and speak in Spanish without having to think in English, translate English into Spanish in their heads, and then speak Spanish.


I thought if my method of explaining the vocabulary words to Silvia in Spanish and then English was wrong. I thought back to what my Spanish teacher told me in high school and asked myself, “Am I teaching her how to think and know what a word means in Spanish, translate into English, and then speak and know it in English?” Although I was debating whether or not I was doing the right thing I kept doing it. I thought that it is best for Silvia to truly understand what she is reading by knowing what the vocabulary meant, even if I had to explain it in Spanish first. Anyone who is able to read can read something but it does not mean that they understand it.


When reflecting on this situation I understood my high school teacher’s statement as meaning that one has mastered a language once they can speak it fluently without having to think about each word they are saying and whether or not it is what they mean to say. However, I disagree with part of her statement because she implied that a person should only think and speak in which ever language they are speaking (which would make them fluent). Being a person who considers herself a native Spanish/English speaker I am able to speak both languages with having to stop and translate in my head (from English to Spanish and vice versa). However, I do have days when I can only think of certain words in one language and not the other. I have also found myself in situations where I’m thinking of a word/s in one language and cannot think of a way I would say it in the other.


I feel like including both Spanish and English when trying to teach Silvia different vocabulary words is a way of taking into consideration her background, her culture, and her way of learning. I can easily explain to her what a word means in English but I cannot be sure if she will fully understand what it means. She may say yes because she does understand or she may say yes just so that we can move on. In explaining in English first and then saying the word for the vocabulary in Spanish (a word whose meaning she already knows in Spanish) she is hearing it in both languages and in my opinion is able to learn better. However, I do question whether or not hearing both languages can be confusing to her. I also wonder how she is taught in her classroom/s all day. I assume she is taught in English. Does she encounter difficulty understanding something based off of the languages she speaks? How can she be helped? How is and how can bilingual teaching be implemented in schools?