Dual Language SchoolsInterview with La Maestra Loca

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I reached out to Louisiana-based Spanish world language edutainer La Maestra Loca for this interview after having met her at the ACTFL World Language conference that we both performed at in 2017. As an edutainer who focuses on dual language education, it was interesting to meet a counterpart on the World Language side, La Maestra Loca. Her methods focus on using music and movement to teach in Spanish using Comprehensible Input (CI) and Organic World Languages (OWL) methodologies, tools, and strategies. With a genuine passion for the Spanish language and for helping others, she was an easy choice for this interview.

How did you learn Spanish? How did that change your life?

I "learned" Spanish in school for 8 years before moving to Spain and realizing I couldn't speak a word. I knew all about the Spanish language and the mechanics of it, but I couldn't for the life of me "communicate". Then, after 5 months of living abroad in Spain, I truly "acquired" the language and that is why I teach now for proficiency and acquisition rather than learning and memorization. My life changed forever in those 5 months!

Which age groups do you teach?

Currently, I teach 3rd through 5th grade Spanish. I've taught from two-year olds through 88-year olds though!

Why is learning and teaching language important?

Acquiring a second language is a matter of HUGE importance in my opinion. There is nothing more important, in fact. Communication creates connections. Our world needs connections now more than ever. All over the world raising polyglots is common practice and yet here in the US over half of our population (75%) is monolingual. Not only do we condone this, but we perpetuate it! We desperately need to develop our students’ cultural and communicative competences in order to build connections and friendships with peoples and cultures across the world. Without these connections we are just creating more borders and conflict. We don't need a wall... We need community... Language can build that community and those connections. Teaching language is vitally important...

How do you use the arts to teach in your classroom?

There are so many opportunities to incorporate the "arts" into world language classrooms! Getting students up in front of the class to act out class created stories or to act out chapters of a book as we read it together are some of the ways we integrate theatre into the classroom. I love showcasing student's artistic talents. Sometimes I have all of my students draw for a card talk so I can learn more about each of them and have them communicate with their art which I then interpret in the Target Language (TL). Other times, we cocreate a class character and I have two or three class artists illustrate and color the character, hidden from the classroom view to do a grand reveal at the end of class. (This strategy comes from Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic's One Word Images).

What makes your methods successful?

I teach using comprehensible input. My goal every day is to create authentic conversation with my students. I do so by creating compelling comprehensible contexts in which students can interact with language as they acquire it. My students are compelled to communicate and use the language they're reading and hearing because it is all about topics that interest them. I teach about culture, the world's culture, pop culture, and THEIR culture in the TL so that students are invested, interested and eager to communicate. If parents have a 100% success rate in teaching language, perhaps they're onto something!? I can't teach using immersion because I only see my students for 40 minutes per day, but I can teach them sheltering my vocabulary (not my grammar) and staying in the TL for 90% of the class!

How do you see your role as a bridge builder?

I see myself as a bridge builder in many ways but most importantly in connecting my students with the world outside of the classroom. Now more than ever we need connections and community, and languages build those bridges to connect people and cultures across the world.

I think we can both recognize the importance of everyone learning a second or third language, what are your strategies for convincing parents and students of this as well?

Very similar to the bridge building question, I think it is easy, now more than ever to convince students and parents of the importance of learning a second language. Our country is more divided than it has been in centuries. We don't need a wall; we need to be breaking down walls and building connections with other countries. We need to be culturally and linguistically competent enough to compete in this ever-changing world.

Why do you believe there is such a separation between world language classes and dual language classes?

I honestly believe it is because teachers of both dual language programs and world language programs see each other as so "different" rather than similar. We need to recognize we are on the same team, fighting for the same things. We want our learners to be linguistically competent, we want to produce proficient communicators who are successful global citizens at the top of their game! If we start recognizing that we have more in common than not, we will be better able to work together.

What work needs to be done to bring educators and students from both sides together? Especially in a time where both sides seem to be neglected when it comes to funding and acceptance?

First, as I said before, recognizing what we have in common will be a great step in working together to see the changes we want in language education. The more voices we have that can band together to fight for what we want the more we will be heard. I think we also need to communicate more. Rather than having separate conferences, we should hold them together so we are aware of what we are doing in our classrooms and can better support each other's students when they transfer to and from schools. We can be stronger together.

In a state like Louisiana which has French as its second language, do you think there is an advantage to language acceptance because of that?

Dual language and Language Immersion schools are HUGE in this state. I do believe that its heritage plays a role in that. World Language education however, I find, lags in its approach to teaching and learning. We have improved in the last couple of years but there is still a long way to go.

What are the best things that have happened to your life so far because of learning other languages?

For me being able to travel and use the language I've acquired has been invaluable. Also, since I am fluent in Spanish and know how to acquire other languages, I am confident and bold when I travel to countries where I don't speak the language. The incredible cultural experiences I've had because of my passion for languages and culture are memories I'll be forever grateful for!

¿Y por qué el nombre la Maestra Loca?

My students in China named me crazy teacher because of my personality and crazy way of teaching... it stuck. I love it!

Why do you feel that using music, dance, and the arts in the classroom is important and beneficial for language learners?

It is so natural to incorporate music, movement, and art into our language classrooms. As we integrate traditions, celebrations, history, and practices of other cultures into our classes, it is only natural that these come up! My language class is continually enriched by art and music, and our students love drawing connections to the "arts" that they know and love.

I definitely agree, so what’s next for La Maestra Loca?

I have loads of conferences and workshops coming up! I love traveling to other states to present workshops! Next month I will be in Michigan and Georgia, and then this summer and fall I will be in New York, Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, and Idaho!

Maestra Loca, thank you for taking your time out to do this interview!

For more information on performances and training sessions by La Maestra Loca, please check out: https://lamaestralocablog.com/upcoming-conferencestrainings

I’ve often wondered why there seems to be silos between World Language education and Dual Language education. To me, it makes sense that the two should be taking strategic actions to collectively promote collaboration that will support the preparation of the next generation of global citizens. After also participating and performing in dual language conferences like La Cosecha, California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), and many others throughout the United States, I’m convinced that world language teachers and dual language teachers will greatly benefit from finding more ways to collaborate and share best practices. This collaboration will greatly impact the way we teach, learn, and view languages and cultures in this country.

In our present political climate that embraces walls being built to divide our current and future generations, finding ways to build bridges should be at the top of the list for all dual language and world language educators. Much love!! GL