Last week I visited a fifth grade Spanish class taught by new Hewitt teacher Maria Paz Dominguez. When I arrived, Ms. Dominguez greeted me warmly in Spanish, and I cozied up in a corner of the classroom to watch the girls get to work stretching their language skills and testing out the kind of brave exploration that is the hallmark of a Hewitt education.
What struck me first was how much Spanish was being spoken in the room and how confident the girls were using it. During the course of the lesson, our fifth graders used Spanish to ask to go get a piece of fruit or to use the bathroom or to ask for help with a tricky translation. Some had fully mastered key lines like “Puedo usar el baño?” and others referred to their notes. Each girl was confident in raising a hand to ask for what she needed.
Ms. Dominguez had written “A trabajar” on the board, and students got right to it. The lesson had to do with spelling the Spanish words for numbers. After a very few questions in English about how to complete the task, the girls got right to work. “Como se escribe quince?” Ms. Dominguez asked, and students took turns spelling the words for numbers using the correct pronunciation of letters of the alphabet. “Que numero es?” she asked, and students would raise a hand and offer, “Dieciséis.” Once they had correctly spelled the numbers between eleven and twenty four, talk turned to addition and subtraction. The girls learned the words for más and menos and soon were doing addition and subtraction problems entirely in Spanish.
During the half hour I spent in the class, every single girl had raised her hand to speak, most more than once. They were just as confident asking for help and clarification as they were to reveal proudly what they had learned. Girls could take breaks to move when they needed to, then settled back to work. As the current research on language acquisition recommends, the class was taught almost entirely in Spanish, with the girls taking risks to speak and share throughout the class. It was a great example of our school’s mission in action, to provide an exceptional education and a foundation for global citizenship.