Comparing writing samples of level 1 and level 3 students taught entirely through TPRS and TCI
Last Friday, after watching a portion of episode 2 of the Spanish telenovela El Internado, my Spanish 1 students wrote a 10 minute speed write describing what they understood. My level 3 students, on the other hand, passed in their reading journals which they complete after reading in class (they return the reading journals to me every day so that I know they are only writing spontaneously in class and not looking words up after class). Spanish 3 journal entries are also speed writes, roughly fives minutes each time without using resources. Here are some writing samples by non-native, non-heritage speakers only.
I am going to start with the high fliers. The first writing sample is by a level 1 kid, Zach, who would be spectacular regardless of who taught him. Note how complex his sentence structure is… all he has to do is listen to me and he soaks it right up. Interestingly, Zack is a student in my “difficult class”. Difficult keeping them all interested in the story, difficult in the sense that I have to go a lot slower than other classes, difficult asking a story while requiring appropriate responses. That we go slower and do not do as many stories or movie talks as the other sections seems to have no impact on Zack´s development.
By the time Zach gets to Spanish 3 he will probably be like Alex, who is currently reading the Spanish translation of The Host. My Spanish 3 kids choose their reading freely; there is no reward for choosing a difficult novel and no shame imposed on those that are reading Pobre Ana. It is interesting to see what Alex is acquiring… for instance, I have never focused on the phrase así que (I cannot even remembering consciously using it in class).
The next pair are by “silent” students. Nobody in class knows that Kinidee is a superstar because she is so shy, but look at her writing:
The Spanish 3 student who wrote the following is not as expressive as Kinidee, but just as quiet in class. I used to worry that I was not giving enough individual feedback to the quiet students (I rarely correct grammar on written work, mostly only if requested by a student). Yet this quiet student has developed quite fine simply by listening to a lot of CI:
The Spanish 1 students who are less-expressive and have more errors in their writing are still comprehensible. What I see in many of the average writing samples are problems with gender and number, confusion over ser and estar, and a heavy reliance on third person verb forms. Here are two examples from the lower end of the spectrum:
Don´t you love the way she included the reaction of the class in her description? Nobody else thought to include that, but it is true… we all smiled during that scene!
The interesting thing is that I am fairly certain that these two students would have failed my class prior to TPRS. Or more exactly, I would have failed them. With TPRS both are writing pertinent comments after watching and discussing a clip of an authentic Spanish-speaking telenovela. How crazy is that!!
Here are examples of average work in my Spanish 3 class. Student errors are not as clearly patterned as the Spanish 1 students. On one hand, after three years of hearing a lot of comprehensible input, everyone can rely on their feeling for the language. Trouble happens when they use the conditional or the subjunctive. All of my colleagues still shelter grammar so, with the exception of the few students that had me as a Spanish 1 teacher, they are hearing the subjunctive for the first time when they meet me:
My take home point is to not worry too much about the mistakes that exist in the Spanish 1 writing samples. Seriously, it works itself out.