By Melanie Callahan
Laurel County’s elementary school students are getting creative this school year with a new curriculum designed to bring out the inner artist in every world language learner.
The district’s 11 elementary schools have adopted the Creative Spanish learning series, which is being utilized in tandem with KET’s Arte y Mas language program. Creative Spanish focuses on connecting language instruction to artistic expression and social/cultural interactions that most individuals experience regardless of heritage or native tongue.
As the author and illustrator of Creative Spanish, a supplemental program to extend the Spanish lessons from Arte y Mas, my objective is to thread universal feelings, emotions and ideas into a world language class for K-5 kids. I began this process from scratch in 2015 when my school began offering weekly world language classes for our students. Previously the visual and performing arts teacher, I became the world language teacher too.
Because our district had decided to focus solely on Spanish during elementary school, Cold Hill Elementary School started down the path to becoming a bilingual elementary school. We posted signs in both English and Spanish. Teachers and students greeted one another with “hola” and said “adios” upon parting. Despite this enthusiasm and execution, I felt that this Spanish teacher needed something more. Necessity is the mother of invention, I have often heard.
Because I consider myself an artist by training, I decided to get back to basics. I knew that I needed formative and summative assessments and I wanted those tools to unite cultures through the arts. I began to doodle, draw and write some pretty catchy songs.
From those early sketches and lyrics scrawled on the back of church bulletins, dance recital programs and restaurant napkins, Creative Spanish interactive booklets were born. The short pages contain 10-15 minute lessons that encompass learning objectives, vocabulary, whole group and independent instruction, formative assessments and a reflection page where students can get creative in their own right.
The Creative Spanish curriculum is a grass-roots initiative to enable young kids to explore language through a simple, effective system that promotes a growth mindset and individual inventiveness.
Feedback from several world language colleagues has been positive and encouraging. Describing the content as “rich” and “clever,” my fellow teachers seem to have embraced the idea of getting creative when it comes to teaching Spanish in an elementary setting with a quick and innovative method of instruction.
What do the students actually learn from the curriculum? The answer varies from lesson to lesson. Content includes everything from color words and counting to everyday expressions and cultural traditions. The booklets are produced in a dual language format, where students are exposed to basic terms and instructions while completing each section of the interactive activities.
Each child is assessed with Creative Spanish screeners three times per year with a pre-test, a mid-year benchmark and a post-assessment during the last term. Screeners are not merely a written exam, but also focus on verbal and comprehensive skills that each student has acquired. In other words, students are provided with multiple ways to show what they know.
The response from Cold Hill students has been rewarding for this teacher and author/illustrator. When I run into kids from other schools, they recognize my name from their booklets and say, “Oh, I love Creative Spanish. It’s so fun!” As for future endeavors, I am currently developing curriculum for Creative French and Creative German so that my students can figuratively travel the world as artists and explorers.
I am pleased and proud that Laurel County Schools seized upon this opportunity to build a bridge between global learning and artistic and creative expression. As for my students, they wouldn’t have it any other way! “Español creativa!”
Melanie Callahan is a creative and performing arts specialist at Cold Hill Elementary School (Laurel County). She is also the global competencies/world language director and theater coach. She holds a bachelor’s in fine arts from The University of Kentucky, a master’s in teaching from Bellarmine University, and a Rank I certification in elementary education from The University of the Cumberlands. She is currently a candidate for National Board certification, is a Kentucky Teacher Scholar and was a 2016 recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates fund for education. She is currently pursuing certification in humanities from Harvard University’s Edx program.