Monday, 14 June 2010

Looking Back..

This trip went beyond what I could have imagined three weeks ago. We truly were immersed in the experience with language and culture.

In this learning experience immersion was the key to my progression in Spanish. Probably the most frustrating but motivating aspect of my trip was my home-stays. There, especially during my second home-stay, I was completely immersed in Spanish. Karla and Erick spoke no English and when we watched television together it was all in Spanish. No English subtitles. I was motivated by this. I did not want to sit in silence or avoid watching the news on TV because I didn't understand it. These would have been the easy things to do. It was certainly easier to avoid conversations in Spanish. But I realized how much I would be missing and, on this trip, I had adopted a “Why Not?” attitude. Why not try new things or push myself to know more? Immersion created motivation for me.
For ELL children Immersion can be a scary thing. I think the key to success for all language learners is for the level of Immersion to be what is right for them. We had English speaking guides and chaperones so our level of immersion, outside our home-stays, was not high. It is important not to allow the level to be too easy, but to not discourage with a level of immersion which is too high.

Costa Rica offered many opportunities of engagement. The peoples, culture, land and government created interest for me. I could learn only so much from the few English speakers I knew. It was a benefit for me to be able to talk in Spanish to others in order to learn more. These topics, and the places we visited, really drew me in and kept me engaged and motivated.
Engagement is sometimes overlooked in the grand scheme of things. But it is important to get kids hooked on what is to come. If they are disinterested, they won't bother to learn. To draw students in, to make the lesson mean something to them, is a battle in itself and then the information comes. Without the engagement the information is null and time has been wasted. Engagement is necessary for rich learning to occur.

In our trip I had many opportunities to observe Spanish models. My teachers were the most obvious, and would repeat demonstrations as necessary. I was also provided great models in my host families. But I most appreciated the model I was provided in Sonia, our chaperone from CPI. She was recently a student at CPI a total of three months. Because of this, she was able to help us navigate Costa Rica and spoke for us anytime it was needed. Watching her successes (and occasional struggles) was important in my own Spanish production.
Reflecting to ELLs, they too benefit from guides or models. These models need not be only teachers and family members. Peer support and demonstration can be an ELLs best tool. As I've mentioned before, group work can be irreplaceable for a struggling language learner.

As I speak with others about my trip, they always ask if I stayed with other students in the Costa Rican homes and also how our group improved in our Spanish speaking. Our home-stays were all separate and I think this created a need for personal responsibility on diverse levels for all of us. We were each responsible for our family experiences. We determined our own home-stay environment. There was not a friend to look to. Our drive for a relationship with our families determined how this situation benefited us. We could use the opportunity to learn more, or keep to ourselves and miss out. Spanish improvement differed between us but it was directly related to our own work, our own goals. Our teachers were not going to force us to learn. It was our responsibility to fulfill our learning as we saw to. No one was holding our hand to complete homework or learn vocabulary. In this way, we were given complete responsibility over our own learning.
Students of a new language are given the same kind of responsibilities. They will choose how much they will learn and often they choose the minimum. They take responsibility for obtaining enough to “get by” and disregard the rest. For this reason it is important for students to have Engaging, motivating, meaningful situations to encourage them and take on more.

Use in Authentic Situations
For three weeks I was in an authentic situation. I was given new situations in which to use what I learned every day. I felt compelled to use my Spanish to do more, learn more, and see more. Another question I am asked is: Was there a bad part of the trip? Yes, I tell them, the bad part was that I didn't know more Spanish so I could learn more about the Costa Rican culture from the people. I was being handed these amazing opportunities in environments I was interested in and I needed to use my Spanish. Where before I would try not to use this language, in these situations, where use was almost required, I wished for more. Something which motivated me to keep studying and learning.
That is the type of situations our ELL students need to be in. The ones where they wish for more language, therefore creating motivation. These situations should also allow for use of what they do know, providing a place to build confidence

As I was learning Spanish, approximations were absolutely necessary. In our classes, I made several attempts which I knew may not have been totally correct. Had I simply sat there and not risked the mistakes, I never would have learned from my teachers' corrections. I was often excited by the approximations I'd make which turned out to be correct when I had assumed them to be wrong.
Students should be encouraged to take risks and make approximations. These attempts can allow them to display all they know, even if not completely correct. This is important for all students, ELL or not. But a key to this is safe environments and Trust.

An addition to the eight of Cambourne's Conditions of Learning, Trust is important for the other conditions to be successful. If students do not feel a personal connection to their teachers or within the classroom, they will not take risks, or become engaged. In my own learning I found it easies to take risks with my teachers because I felt they fully supported me and wanted me to succeed. I had this support at “home” as well, in the form of my Mama Ticas. I was more nervous to make approximations with them but they were happy to support and help me grow.

I had expectations coming from all around me. My home-stay family expected me to be learning more at school. They challenged me each day to understand more and speak more. My fellow students expected me to grow and display students with them. I was one of the students who became a reference tool for some students. My Spanish teachers expected a motivation in me since I had traveled so far to study there. I had expectations from back home from my family and husband, who were sure I'd be able to come back and teach them Spanish. These expectations can be a lot to juggle, in addition, of course, to the expectations I had for myself. One of which was that I would meet everyone else's expectations. These drove me to improved and I wanted to know more, do more and take advantage of a situation where I had so many who cared enough to challenge me with their expectations.
Students will also be challenged this way, and may have just as many people with expectations for them. Having a safe school environment will help them strive for these goals while avoiding a stressful learning situation.

When learning a new language, Feedback in authentic situations will usually be instantaneous. When I used my Spanish, I received instant feedback about my performance. Usually this was in the form of a reply, telling me I'd successfully conveyed my point, or in a curious look of confusion, telling me I'd made some sort of mistake. I was lucky to receive supportive and critical assessments of my Spanish from my teachers.
Feedback is important for all students, and, especially in the case of ELLs, feedback should be supportive. This type of feedback may not only come from their teachers. Other students can play an important part in an ELL's progression and they can provide constructive feedback as well.

I had many wonderful experiences in Costa Rica. The one that has remained in my thoughts most is our visit to La Carpio. I have gained from this experience a richer perspective on poverty and the resilience of children. I have a greater understanding of the lengths parents will go to in order to provide, for their children, a better chance. I also saw there the amazing affect one woman can have in a community. Gail has made such a difference for the people of La Carpio. I think about teachers who say they cannot make a difference on their own, but this woman has persevered and does not let anything hold her and her projects back. I will never forget that place or her work.

As for myself, I see a change in my confidence and understanding of learning. Although I've been in college for the past 3 years, I've never had such an intense learning situation as this one was, where I was able to really evaluate myself and the way I learned. I see much clearer now what my methods classes have been trying to portray because I was able to be on the learner side for a moment. As I said before, I adopted a “Why not?” attitude on this trip. I think this attitude, in some sense, will remain with me. I have gained confidence because of this attitude and have begun to trust myself and my decisions. As the Costa Ricans say: ¡Pura Vida!

This trip was a success. I learned more than I ever imagined I could in just 3 weeks. I found myself immersed in a place I didn't know, with people I'd never met who spoke a language I'd barely studied.. and I succeeded. I gained more than I could ever describe in words, Spanish or not.

Monday, 7 June 2010

June 3rd

Thursday June 3rd, 2010
Our group began today flying over the Monteverde canopy.  The Zipline adventure was exhilirating and I believe we all learned a little more about ourselves.  Despite the nervousness, we all took that leap.  We had very supporting guides. Their personalized attention remidned me of something else I have valued in my Spanish class and believe is necessary in every class, especially those with ESL students.  Personalization and Differentiation.
Our guides were about to "read" us and gave us specialized attention.  They made sure to learn all our names and even though they were only with us for a short time, got to know each of us and discovered our needs.  One in our group was nervous about the correct body position on the zipline and, at the start of each of the nine cables, our guide reexplained the position to her.  Another needed extra help descending the platform at the end of the cable and each time it was her turn the guides reminded each other via walkie-talkie of this.  For others in the group the guides would joke or ask questions to keep us excited or calm, which ever seemed most necessary.  These were only small things, but they helped us feel more comfortable in a risk taking experience.
Similarly, in the classroom, risk taking only takes place when students are at ease.  It is important to create a bond with students and provide an environment in which they feel comfortable to take risks and voice their ideas.
I am excited this week to have a "profesora" at CPI who has created a personal environment.  When it is time to ask questions she uses them to inquire about our families, significant others, likes and dislikes.  She also talks about her own likes, dislikes, etc.  This has created an environment where we are open and take risks with our Spanish.  What has helped in this is the admission by our "Profesora" that she struggles in English as we are in Spanish.  She awknowleges the difficulty of learning a language.
In this way our "Profesora" has also displayed differentiation.  There are only two in my class but I feel as though she has gauged our abilities and (this week especially), our engagement.  I can see a difference in the question format and expectations based upon this.  She has also adjusted her teaching to suit the class.  When we were first practicing conjugation we were frantically writing what she was saying orally and for this reason we had to stop her to ask many questions.  The next class she had notes for the board prepared and used different drawing and labeling techniques which we then copied in our book.  Also, she differentiated to our class when she saw a technique which we enjoyed. At first we were simply repeating vocabulary after she read it.  Tuesday she tried to have us act out the vocabulary and asked how we liked it.  Each day since then we have had some sort of charades activity. 
This translates to my future classes.  Each student will benefit froma different kind of instruction and will need differentiated assistance.  Getting to know my students and then correctly adjusting for these differences will help them succeed.  A Language Learner is constantly in a position of stress as they gather words for use.  It is easier for this learner to remain silent than to risk embarassment.  I experienced this first hand and it was difficult for me to push through and take risks.  But in the right environment, the risks are not so foreboding.  when the leaner feels safe and can sense the personal interest from their teacher they will be more willing to try out what they've learned and risk mistakes.  I can vouch for this personally as my most confident uses of Spanish have come in my Spanish classes and while speaking with my Mama Tica.  In other situations I found myself saying nothing so that I didn't risk humiliation.  I have seen first hand on this trip just how important personal connections can be.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Good Techniques

Today was a good day in our Spanish Classes.  After spending the morning digging holes and planting Coffee (No joke! We worked hard!), we were worn out and I was afraid I'd be worthless in class.  But our Profesora was just what we needed.  We were faced with an entire page of vocabulary about parts of the body.  To tackle this she came up with 4 different drawings which we used to label with our new vocabulary.  We drew these ourselves and she'd ask us to try and identify each part in spanish before giving us the vocabulary.  It was such a great idea.  It makes me think about something we mentioned in our group discussion earlier today with Dr. Powell.  We came up with a few other good technique which  I can take with me.

What this Spanish class reminded me of was a tactic we saw while at the Cloud Forest School yesterday.  One of the other students in our group noticed the students had written their own definitions for vocabulary words which were then posted on a wall.  This active participation in formulating a representation for a word was, i'm sure, beneficial to these students.  Just as in our Spanish class, we were drawing these pictures and labeling them as we knew, with help from our Profesora.  I see many classes which have bilingual labels for items around the room but it would be even more helpful if students took part in the labeling.  If labels were made by students.  I know that these pictures, drawn in my own style, will help me more than a "fill-in-the-blank" page from a workbook.

Another idea which leads from this is that of Artifacts.  For all learners it is more meaningful to see an object which is being discussed.  I established in earlier blogs how important authentic or meaningful experiences are to learning.  But for our ELL students, these artifacts are even more important.  They provide a context for discussion and help with the placement, categorizing and general schematic development.  Artifacts are popular in Social Studies but could be used for all areas of study.  These artifacts can become similar to Props in other areas such as Language Arts and may assist in better understanding of a book or passage.  

One more technique I really see being used in CPI is the idea of Word Walls. Now, their word walls are more generic. On the walls of most classroom are helpful vocabulary words.  Word Walls can be a great addition to every classroom. In a class with ESL students, It would help helpful if this wall was created by the class.  I think for a new language learner, and also for other students, a version of the word wall idea which would assist best is a concept web.  This could be based around the current theme of study in any subject and students would work together to add new vocabulary.  Also important to this type of word wall is the connectors.  Because one those are clearly on the concept web, students can review how they and their classmates understand this topic.   

I believe this week is my best week for reflection.  After two and a half weeks of Spanish language instruction I am able to really look back and see what worked for me, what didn't and how I could translate those ideas into an elementary classroom.  As I see the way it could work, I get more and more excited about what I can do when I get back to 'the States.' 

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

So what?

Monday, May 31st 2010

Today we had our first class with a new Spanish "Profesora." After four hours together I decided I could begin to compare this new teacher to those of my past weeks.  I've noticed that the classes at CPI are organized by a detailed curriculum plan.  By following this closely, however, our classes became what I would call "Fill-in-the-Blank" lessons.  A question would be asked and a response expected which followed a simple format. It was simply necessary to conjugate the correct verb, insert it, and respond.  This was very similar to our tarea, or homework, which also asked us to fill in the blank.  Very simple.  Quick to complete and quick to check over the following class.  Unfortunately, it was lacking any real need for comprehension.  So, in the grand picture, did it really benefit me?  Not so much.  I found these cookie cutter phrases didn't really benefit me in "real life", for example, with my Tico family, or for my project.  What did help me during these past weeks were the conversations.  Usually we began with a question presented by a student and what followed was a struggle which ultimately was of benefit to me.  In these situations I had to use what I'd learned in a REAL way, so that i could contribute to a discussion.  Throughout these discussions, our "Profesora" would connect or revise a sentence but kept the discussion going.  In addition to setence structure, I was able to pick up new and meaningful vocabulary. What this did for me was make my learning authentic, real, and, as I said before, meaningful. The question I need to ask myself now is: So what? I have new perspectives on attempting to learn a  language, immersion style, but how can I use this?  

What I see most clearly at the moment is that learning has to be authentic.  It makes no sense for me to learn the Spanish vocabulary, for instance, about parts of a car because I know little about cars in English.  But for a mechanic (or son/daughter of a mechanic) this information would be beneficial because it is meaningful.  As I've learned through review of constructivism, knowledge cannot simply be poured into a child's mind.  There must be a connect made by doing or observing.  This strategy remains true for language learners.  It is imperative to provide context and allow connections if vocabulary or a language concept is truly to be understood.  

Another important idea is that a partner student, or students, could be the key to progression for a second language learner.  Peer discussion and exchange of ideas can encourage use of language in students.  I mentioned in a prior blog the idea of Jigsaw, where students acquire and then share information. In addition to Jigsaw, I think class conversations would be a useful strategy.  For an ESL student, it would probably be best if these were medium to small sized groups so that each students need (or expectation) to input is greater. After a science experiment or social studies lesson, students should discuss the results or ideas in a group. This is mediated by a teacher who, similar to our Spanish "Profesora" would add or remind students of vocabulary to be used during their talk.  Organized examples of such discussions would be the Cat & Fish discussion or Inner Circle/ Outer Circle discussion.  Both of these formats allow for thinking time and even written organization of ideas before students are expected to discuss.  For an ESL student this time to sort through ideas can help build the confidence to talk during the discussion.  I have seen this organization of ideas work in my own learning.  When I'm allowed time to think through and sketch out a sentence before responding I am much more confident in what I have to say.  
In both Cat & Fish and Inner/Outer Circle discussions one group of students sits facing each other and takes turns asking each other questions, submitting answers, and providing ideas.  In Inner/Outer Circle the other group would sit with their backs to the first group in an outer circle, staying silent but recording their ideas on a clipboard for use when it is their turn to discuss.  Similarly, in Cat and Fish the students in the second group (or Cats) stand behind the first group (or fish) listening as the Fish discuss.  In this case the Fish are given a number of some sort of token to be turned in when they contribute to the conversation.  This requires a certain number of comments by all students.  In both conversation formats, groups 1 and 2 are given chances to be on the outside, taking notes for further discussion.  The exercises end with a large group discussion where any additional ideas or questions can be proposed.  These formats provide a secure, organized place for discussion, similar to what we have been experiencing in (some) of our Spanish classes.
Most importantly in the discussions described above, and in all discussions, the teacher should be constantly monitoring and assisting with appropriate vocabulary.  This will show real use for the new words and for all students, including the ESL, and is a real improvement on "Fill-in-the-Blank" type lessons.  Best of all, this vocabulary and conversational lesson is integrated into another subject, not a worksheet or afterthought.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

A teaching opportunity

Hola! These past few days have been full of great educational observations. This week our group is in Monteverde. Monteverde is in the mountains and the weather here is very different from Heredia. We are literally in the clouds so a normal day would be full of various moments of misty air from clouds passing by. But the past 3 days have been not so normal, so in addition to the misty cloud cover, we have been rained on quite a bit. This would probably have an effect on our mood, but we are having so many valuable experiences, we’re all staying upbeat. Yesterday we had a tour at the Trapiche farm and it POURED the entire time, but we all agreed that, despite this rain, it was an amazing experience. This week we have had the opportunity to interact many times with students at a local elementary, or primary, school. On Tuesday we read with the students in small groups using our English/Spanish children’s books. We also did a science lesson in our small groups. While in these small groups I was able to utilize the strategies I’ve seen in my own Spanish classes. I tried to use as much Spanish as possible but made sure that some key words were in English. I felt it was important that these students receive some English, but not be overwhelmed by it. This strategy was difficult to initiate because I would lose my words in Spanish. In these moments I found that knowing the keywords in Spanish benefited me. It was almost a reverse realization. The strategy I was sure would benefit them, was a benefit to me. Today I had a different and even more rewarding experience in the school. We were able to teach today to the whole group. I was able to stand before a 1st grade class on my own to instruct on a lesson about colors in English and Spanish. It was interesting because I did my instruction in Spanish. I relied on a script I created last night but was able to inject the vocabulary from my classes whenever necessary. It was exciting to be in front of the class, and nerve-wrecking that I was unable to use my first language to assist them. I wanted to bad to be able to explain better or phrase differently for them, but I lacked the words. The experience made me see how frustrating it could be for a student to have the knowledge, the ideas, or the solutions to a problem, but no way to display this. How many students are assumed to be “behind” or “slow-learners” because they cannot verbalize their true knowledge? I feel as though this morning I was able to briefly experience this frustration. But I had 6 others in the room to assist me when I needed it. I was able to look to Sonia and ask her how to say something or to help me by saying it herself. In a classroom environment that student may be alone, with no other Spanish speakers. Or a teacher may not want them to help each other by conferencing in Spanish. I see now how helpful it can be to have another student there who understands so that children can help each other. Instead of being completely lost with no reference, students could help each other. I’m reminded of how affective small groups can be, for example in the case of “Jigsaw”, students accumulate information and then pass this on to other students. This assists students in their own comprehension because they find the most effective way to pass the information on to others. When ELL students can assist each other, they are creating more concrete knowledge in themselves as well as teaching their companion.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Week One Finished!

What an amazing experience I have had. I am excited to think that I have 2 more weeks of experiences to come. My spanish classes have been very difficult. Profesora Martinez made each class uncomfortable.  Which I have to say was a good think for me.  She pushed me each classs to move forward.  At the start of the week we were learning phrases.  By the end of the week we had aquired enough vocabulary, including nouns and verbs, analyzed enough verb conjugation, including ir, er, and ar verbs, and examined enough sentence structure to create our own sentences of varying lengths.  Profesora Martinez always smiled at our groans when she would ask a question, receive a brief answer, and then add to the question to force us to create a longer answer.  By the end of the end of the week we were expecting this push, but still groaned and smiled.  Even though it was strenuous to remember the correct vocabulary and structure to use, it was rewarding.  At the end of each class I left with sentences I felt I could use with my family.  She was not asking us to pretend or make up sentences.  Our profesora asked us about our day, or the night before, etc.  I found that after leaving class and sitting with my mama tica, I could use those example sentences to tell her about my day.  After realizing this, I was more motivated the next day to create my sentences.  This technique created a purpose for my classwork.  I was being pushed to improve, but also to make my work useful.  I could apply this knowledge, and this application occured just hours after learning it.  So Rewarding!  I noticed mid-week that Profesora Martinez was altering her style to match the class personality.  We liked to make jokes and laugh. She began to joke back and allowed us time to play games.  These games were (for the most part) a chance for us to use our new knowledge and to joke with each other.  She even let us make a suggestion for a game to play which used our spanish vocabulary.  I think this flexibility helped us all feel more comfortable, even if we were sitting for a long time.  I find that I am now much more comfortable talking with spanish speakers.  I realize each time I attempt this, however, that I am in need of more vocabulary.  I am ready to interact with our teachers in Monte Verde, to become more confident in my spanish speaking, and to learn more about Costa Rica.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

My first 48 hours in my homestay

Tuesday, May 18, 2010. 8 pm in San Joaquin, Heredia, Costa Rica.

Wow. What an amazing experience the last 48 hours has been. I met my host family on Sunday evening. Cecilia and Jaqui were very inviting. Jaqui (who is 20) knew some English; she had studied English high school and learned from the television. Cecelia, however, knew none. I am shy sometimes around people I have just met. I realized quickly that even if I stayed quiet, Cecelia had many questions for me. I understood very few questions. I found myself staring hard at her as I talked as if I would see in her eyes some key to unlocking the meaning of these words. I was lucky to have Jaqui to attempt a translation if I got very lost in the conversation, which I did often. Cecelia went to bed soon after dinner (cena) so I felt like I’d failed to create a bond with her. It is awkward to be a guest in someone’s home. And when that someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to convey, it makes it even more awkward. I worried that I would do something wrong because I couldn’t understand Cecelia’s instructions. Jaqui stayed with me and talked in mostly English about her life in Costa Rica. She just returned recently from a trip abroad in Europe. So she had many insights about how things are different in Costa Rica than in other places of the world.

After dinner, Jaqui walked with me to the church (iglesia) where I was going to be walking in the morning to meet our group. It is just a few blocks from my mama tica’s home. In front of the church is a soccer field and then a school. I have been told this layout is typical of Costa Rican towns. When we got to the plaza (what they call the area around the soccer field) we met some of Jaqui’s friends. They did not know English but tried to talk to me as well as they could. We all walked together back to my mama tica’s home and they sat up talking long after I excused myself for bed. It was interesting to hear the casual Spanish being used and try to decipher their jokes. Jaqui was very helpful in translating but I tried hard to see what I could pick up myself.

The next morning Jaqui was not awake for breakfast. I said Buenos Dias to Cecelia but was extra nervous. This was my first attempt at a conversation with a Spanish speaker without anyone to interpret. She made me a thin omelet which had peppers in it. We also had papaya and plums with our meal. And of course, we had coffee. Cecelia brought hot milk to the table and sugar. It was very good. She asked me questions which I had trouble with but we had a break through when she noticed my wedding ring. Suddenly there was a context for our discussion and understanding the words she spoke was much easier. We talked about how long I’d been married, and what job my husband did. She was interested to know where he was stationed and commented that her niece’s son was in the military in the United States as well. She said she would pray for my husband. This was a perfect transition to the photo book I brought. In it I had put pictures of my house, my family, a visit to the lighthouse at Ocracoke Island, my dog, and my Mother’s wedding. She helped me when I lost the words for who the people were. She was very interested in knowing which of my siblings were step-sisters/ brothers and which belonged to my mom or to my step dad. When she saw my nieces and nephews she cooed and wanted to know their names and who their parents were. It was wonderful to find a common ground. After we finished with my pictures she took me around the house to look at her pictures. She explained who each person was and their ages. It was so nice. Then I gave her the gift I brought. It was an ornamental plate with a picture of North Carolina and the lighthouses. She was so excited and gave me a hug and a kiss. (Typical of Tico appreciation) She went around the house finding the right location to place it. Cecelia has many ornaments and trinkets in her house, some from other CPI students. After placing my gift on the coffee table (it is the first thing you see when you walk in the house) she showed me the other gifts she has received (from students in Texas, Philadelphia and West Virginia). It was an exciting morning.

I met our group at the Church that morning and we went by a shop with office supplies. I was able to get a Spanish-English dictionary and had my first attempt at purchasing an item without the help of Sonia. It went well! I was excited and proud of myself. The excitement I get about things which seemed so simple back home often makes me laugh. Each day so far has been full of little victories. We next went to CPI (Centro Panamericano de Idiomas). We had a meeting and then I went with Emily, Rich, and Teresa to the “Soda” down the street from CPI. All four of us ordered a “hamburguesa” with a Coke. Very American. It was a nice break from the beans and rice, but was not the same as a hamburger back home.

Monday afternoon we had our first Spanish classes. I have had some Spanish courses in high school and one in college, but the trouble I have is with vocabulary. I understand rules and pronunciation but forget the meanings of words. That is something I will need to focus on. We have 4 hours of Spanish classes each week day. We have a coffee break half way through, which is very nice. I was sent home with mucho tarea y vocabulario. (homework and vocabulary) When I returned to my mama tica’s home she had a friend visiting who had a young boy, Daniel. Daniel followed me into my room and asked me lots of questions. He told me he was 4 years old and he could count in English. He began counting everything in the room. I showed him my photo album and he counted the people in each picture in English. He then borrowed my notebook to write his name, and several other scribbles until his mom called him to leave. It was interesting to talk with a young Spanish speaker. It also prepared me somewhat for Tuesday.

Tuesday morning we went to the Calle Viquez Primary School. It is a low income school. We were able to meet and interact with some of the students there. The English teacher showed us around and let us take part in his lessons. In the 6th grade we worked with students to write to a pen pal in North Carolina. The students had an English phrase book and were able to create a letter with a lot of information. It took some work to process what they were saying to us in Spanish in order to help when the students asked for it. But luckily they were patient with us. I’ve noticed that, while I may be hard on myself for struggling, others are understanding and try to help me improve.

Again on Tuesday we had Spanish classes, but also a cooking class at CPI. We made Picadillo con pasa. As a group we chopped and mixed our vegetables and pressed our own tortillas. It was a quite an experience. And in the end we ate what we made for our lunch. It was fun. Spanish classes were difficult but we learned so much and used so much. It was good to have an idea of how to organize my sentences for use in my home-stay. I ate dinner Tuesday night with just Jaqui so a lot of the conversation was in English. She helped me learn the Spanish words for all the items of the table setting and reminded me of some important Costa Rican phrases to know.

Little by little (Poco a poco, as my Spanish Profesora says) I am gaining the confidence to talk in my home-stay. My Spanish classes are assisting in this, although a big support is the patience and understanding of my host family.