Marshfield Spanish Students Benefit from Fellowship

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Not all students learning how to conjugate their Spanish verbs will have the opportunity to travel to another country and put their skills to the test, but thanks to a fellowship through UW – Stevens Point and modern technology, they don’t have to.

Lynda Fernholz, Dacia Giordana

School District of Marshfield Spanish teacher Dacia Giordana, awarded the Oscar Neale Fellowship through UWSP, was able to bring an immersive language experience right into the classroom this year. Working closely with Lynda Fernholz, UWSP Education Department Chair and fellow Spanish teacher Leslie Reigel, Giordana developed a diverse program for her high school students.

Thanks to the fellowship, nearly 60 upper level students had the opportunity to hold 10-minute Skype conversations each quarter with native Spanish speakers around the world.

“In the beginning the students were a little reluctant to have them. They were speaking with someone who didn’t know any English, and having to do it with a stranger,” said Giordana.

Students prepared extensively for these chats by holding practice conversations in class before scheduling a chat outside the classroom with their chosen speaker. “After the first one, we reflected on what went well. By the third conversation, they were feeling so much more confident,” she said.

From these native speakers, students learned more about art in these countries and gained first-hand knowledge better than any textbook. The company, Talk Abroad, will potentially be used in a college setting at UWSP.

Making tortillas.

Through Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas, Giordana was also able to introduce a native speaker from Stevens Point’s partner city of Esteli.

For four days classes at both the middle and high school practiced their language skills with Maria, a theater teacher who could only speak Spanish, and performed balance and breathing activities. Maria also led a session in the kitchen to demonstrate how to make homemade tortillas.

“I was worried my students might not love doing these theater activities, but they really embraced it and had so much fun,” said Giordana. “My students just responded so well to her and really stepped up to the plate.”

Students with Maria, center.

With the idea that culture is just as important as grammar when learning a language, students in Spanish IV, IVH, and AP classes put their findings together to host a culture fair on March 6 with food, games, and research projects.

“I wanted to think of a way to share with the community what was happening in the classroom,” Giordana said.

To prepare their research projects, students chose topics such as sports, music, or fashion of Spanish-speaking countries to discuss with their Talk Abroad partners. They made up creative poster boards, cooked food, and put together hands-on activities such as a pinata or a cactus toss to complement their projects. Local Mexican restaurant Taqueria el Sol catered and lent decorations for the event.

Culture Fair

“It turned out to be amazing,” said Giordana. “More people came than I expected.”

Due to the success of the open house, it’s possible the event will return next year. At the very least, Giordana plans to continue the Talk Abroad program with funds remaining from the fellowship.

“I really feel they have grown so much from using that program,” she said. “They have knowledge only a native speaker can give them.”

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Kaylin S
Author: Kaylin S

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