Jeison Gonzalez grew up in Medellín, Colombia. He has a Master’s Degree in Formation of Teachers of Spanish as a Foreign Language and is currently working on his PhD in Education. His approach to teaching Spanish at Barnesville is immersive and conversational. It’s also often fun. Just ask his students.
Jeison does not assign homework, but he has high expectations of students to participate in his classroom so they can eventually achieve fluency.
Knowing that a lack of confidence in pronunciation keeps students from fully engaging in an immersive setting, he spent time in the first few weeks of the school year reviewing the alphabet in Spanish. He explained that, in Spanish, the way you write a word is the way you say a word, and the way you say it is the way you write it. If a student understands the sound of each letter by itself, they can write a word, even if they don’t know what it means.
When asked about common stumbling blocks, he said, “American students have trouble with i, which is e in Spanish, so when they hear e, they need to think i. And when they see i, they need to think e. That can be confusing.”
Jeison believes mastering and practicing the alphabet is critical to building pronunciation and ultimately vocabulary, so he made it central to each class.
“The kids were really excited about it. I don’t assign homework, but they were practicing the alphabet in the hallways and at home,” he said. “They’d ask me to quiz them on letters, and they’d quiz each other, so I decided to have a Spelling Bee contest.”
Fifth through eighth grade students were given a list of words that would be part of a Middle School Spelling Bee, judged by a friend, Sebastian from Mexico, and Madison Fitzpatrick, Jeison’s wife, who learned Spanish in Colombia, Spain, and Ecuador. Jeison selected guest judges with different accents to try to make the judging more objective. Students were judged on their pronunciation of each letter as well as the correct spelling of the words.
Once the contest was narrowed down to the final five competitors, new words that had not been practiced were introduced. Challenge words included: hallar, soñar, rastrillar, estornudar, cavar, hornear, etc..
The winners were:
1st Place - Amanda (8th Grade)
2nd Place - Juliana (6th Grade)
3rd Place - Lucy (7th Grade)
The Barnesville School's Spanish program is taught by native Spanish speakers to children starting in Preschool. Introducing foreign language studies at an early age takes advantage of the developing brain's receptivity to acquiring new sounds and provides a jump-start to ongoing language capabilities.