Spanish Curriculum Philosophy

The Spanish program at The School at Columbia University follows a Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) model. FLES goals, as defined by educators Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg, are the following: “To become functionally proficient in the target language, to acquire an understanding and appreciation of the target culture and to demonstrate mastery of the subject content taught in the target language.” In a FLES model, students have Spanish for short times multiple periods a week, and the intensity increases in the Middle Division (Grades 6, 7 and 8).

The Spanish department at The School at Columbia seeks to foster a love of language learning and cultural understanding of the Spanish-speaking world. Faculty use a thematic approach to instruction, connecting language learning to cultural studies in meaningful ways. This integrated curriculum reinforces The School’s mission, and supports skills and concepts students are developing in other disciplines. Spanish begins in Kindergarten with a developmentally appropriate class length and frequency of instruction. This increases as students progress through the different grade levels at The School.

Spanish classes are filled with cooperative work such as performance projects, independent activities, and language games that all help foster children’s written, oral and listening skills on a regular basis. Faculty seek to create a safe and engaging learning environment where risk-taking is encouraged and participation is essential. Students begin to receive homework in Gr. 5 on a weekly basis and should expect homework regularly in the Middle Division. The Spanish department supports different levels of language proficiency through heritage language learning groups and challenges, extra vocabulary and partner practice, and support for new students.

The program’s goal is that by the end of Gr. 8, students are at the novice high level in all skill areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing, as outlined by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). 

Each year, our Grade 7 and Grade 8 students attain national recognition for excellent performance on the National Spanish Examinations, earning dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals, along with numerous honorable mentions. The exams, which are sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and administered annually to students in grades 6 through 12, are the largest of their kind in the United States, with more than 150,000 students participating each year. Taking the National Spanish Exam is part of core assessment for our Grade 7 and Grade 8 students, and it helps determine placement in rigorous language programs when our students begin high school. 

We have found that students who have this K-8 language exposure go on to continue Spanish and/or study other languages successfully, routinely placing into college-level language courses and earning scholarships to study abroad and in immersion camps across the country. We are proud that we have built a program to sustain that learning—a program that not only delivers National Spanish Examination performances of such high caliber, year after year, but also strengthens students’ appreciation for language and culture throughout their education.

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