Empower and embolden your students to be their whole selves and flourish.
Spanish teachers, think of your students who are hispanohablantes. How confident are they as learners and individuals? How confident do you know they could be?
When teaching heritage or native Spanish speakers, it’s important to provide students with safe spaces to be their whole selves, emphasize the many benefits of being bilingual, and make it clear that their success in Spanish class is linked to their success in other academic subjects.
Read on for some strategies you can use to help your native or heritage Spanish-speaking students thrive.
1. Give Students a Safe Place to Be Themselves
Whether you’re specifically teaching heritage or native speaker courses, or have Spanish-speaking students embedded in your L2 classes, it’s critical to understand each student’s individual needs and to celebrate what they bring to the class. Embracing each student's heritage and community, as well as recognizing the uniqueness of their linguistic ability and background, makes your classroom a safer, richer, and more productive space. When students feel safe, they will share more with each other and take more risks, and both of these practices improve learning.
As a teacher myself of a course for Spanish heritage and native speakers, advocating for my students and empowering them to take advantage of their diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds is always my top priority. One of the most significant ways I advocated for my students was establishing a chapter of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica on my campus to spotlight the accomplishments of students enrolled in Spanish courses.
I took it a step further when I realized that the membership criteria included a certain number of years of Spanish classes, which would have prevented many of my native and heritage speaker students from being admitted. I worked with the team at my school to amend the criteria so that all students could be properly recognized.
Being a member allowed students not only an opportunity to be recognized for their academic achievements, but more importantly, it connected them to the local Spanish-speaking community and their school peers. Students volunteered to read to students at a bilingual elementary school, organized school events around their cultures, and, through their membership in SHH, qualified for college scholarships they otherwise would not have been.
Creating a space that embraced these students as they were was a small action on my part that made a huge impact.
2. Emphasize the Benefits of Being Bilingual or Multilingual
The range of literacy abilities of your students will always vary. Some students who have been formally educated in Spanish in their home country will be comfortable with using the language in a variety of situations. Others with less formal education in Spanish may speak better than they write. Some students are shy about speaking out of fear that it isn’t "proper" Spanish. Every student’s relationship with Spanish is different and even personal.
Wherever your native or heritage speakers are on their linguistic journeys, it’s important to constantly emphasize the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual generally and of knowing both Spanish and English specifically. This is an idea that can be incorporated into your curriculum.
Design a unit that...
Whatever direction you take it in, you want your students to know that speaking Spanish is an asset, not something to be overcome.
3. Use Spanish as an Academic Springboard
In my experience, many students in Spanish-speaker courses are also learning English as a second language while trying to keep up with all of their other academic responsibilities. Understandably, these students often face many challenges while trying to boost their English skills and complete all their assignments.
What I often find is that I need to encourage my students to view themselves as academically capable people. After all, students need to feel capable before they can succeed. Success in your class can build students’ confidence, and this will likely trickle down into their other classes.
As one example, many of my students initially had no idea that they were eligible to take the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. This wasn’t surprising, seeing as many of these students had never been encouraged to take even an honors or Pre-AP class in any subject area. But to me, Spanish has always been a springboard for learning more about history, literature, and writing, and even for excelling in science and math.
All of my students took the AP exam that year, and almost all passed. This achievement pushed some of those students to take more advanced courses and to think more seriously about continuing their education than they did before. To this day, I have text messages and emails saved from students thanking me for supporting them in attaining AP exam credit, which they accomplished by virtue of their linguistic strength that is too often thought of as a detriment.
En voz alta: Español para hispanohablantes
When teaching native and heritage Spanish speakers, student-centered safe spaces where bilingualism is celebrated make all the difference. It also helps to have materials designed specifically with native or heritage speakers in mind.
En voz alta: Español para hispanohablantes is a blended solution of print or digital textbooks and workbooks, as well as digital cultural resources for Spanish speakers. It was created to not only develop and foster students’ Spanish language abilities, but also to help students with their daily navigation between their multiple cultures as they make real-world connections, develop intercultural competence, and practical communication skills.
If you teach heritage or native Spanish speakers, you probably find the work as rewarding as I do. After all, we get to do the vital labor of teaching students to take pride in where they’ve come from, celebrate all that comes from straddling multiple cultures, and keep understanding who they are and who they want to be. Keep doing what you’re doing!
Janet's teaching experience is in Spanish, having taught all levels, both AP Language and AP Literature, dual credit courses, and native Spanish speaker courses. After seven years of teaching high school Spanish, she joined the Carnegie Learning team, but she still serves as an adjunct Spanish professor at Lone Star College in Houston, as well as an AP Reader for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam. Her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish is from Geneva College, and she learned my Master’s degree in Spanish focusing on Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh. She enjoys traveling and experiencing new places (when there isn’t a pandemic). She also loves presenting at local, regional, and national world language conferences on a variety of topics from differentiated instruction to cultural biases and how they impact the classroom.Explore more related to this author