SPAN 101 class reads to children
Students who signed up for Spanish 101 with lecturer Luziris Turi this semester may have expected to just learn introductory Spanish, but they were also given the opportunity to take their Spanish skills out into the community. On Nov. 23, Turi and several of her students went to Dow Elementary to present six short stories they had written to elementary school children in Houston's Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts after-school program."I wanted [the students] to see what they learned in action and, at the same time, to reach out to the community in Houston," Turi said.
MECA is a community-based nonprofit organization that works with youths and adults. Turi said she chose MECA for this project because she had worked with the organization in the past and knew the organization's activities involved working with children.
Turi said she was impressed by the students' creativity in telling the stories. Most themes were centered on kindness to others. Martel College freshman Naomi Wong said some themes in the stories included the importance of sharing, listening to parents' advice and not judging others by their appearance.
After hearing the six short stories, the children voted for their favorite. They selected a story written by Brown College senior Merrick Sellers and McMurtry College junior Brie Hypolite about rabbits shopping for clothes for a party. Sellers said they wrote the story with the theme of sharing with friends. In the story, when the two friends both like the same shirt, one rabbit decides to let his friend have it, and later on, he finds an even better shirt. Sellers and Hypolite came up with the story by bouncing ideas off of each other. She said they wanted to use animals because kids like animals, and the class had just finished a unit on clothing.
"Our vocabulary was very limited, so we just took what we had," Sellers said.
Turi said she wanted to give her students a project that would encourage them to utilize their speaking skills, but she also wanted the students to become involved with the community. To encourage teamwork, she had the students work in pairs.
Turi said the students were given about a month to complete their projects. Requirements included a story with a moral, a script, images and music. The short stories were written by the students and produced using Photo Story, a computer program that lets students create a presentation of images with special effects and background music.
The Language Resource Center held a workshop teaching the students how to use Photo Story and how to find non-copyrighted photos. Since the projects would be posted on Turi's blog, the images and music had to be original or cited.
Duncan College freshman Philippe Dentino said the kids had short attention spans but had fun watching the presentations. He said he hopes there will be similar projects in the future because the event was not only a great opportunity for the children but also a way for students in the class to know how they can apply their Spanish language skills.
Wong said she would have liked to interact more with the children. She mentioned she would like to volunteer for the program again after learning more Spanish so that she can mingle more with the children.
This semester is Turi's first semester teaching at Rice. Next semester, she plans for her students to learn how to create websites to showcase their work in Spanish class.
"I love teaching languages, so it doesn't matter whether I'm teaching the first-year or third-year level, I think it's how you approach it," Turi said. "I think it's cool to see someone come in not knowing a single word of Spanish and, at the end of a semester, be able to write a story."
Wong said Turi provides a comfortable environment for the students to learn the material. She said her experience has inspired her to think about immersion programs in the future to help her reach past cultural barriers.
Sellers said, as an architecture major, she did not have space in her schedule to take a foreign language in previous years, but she plans to take Spanish next semester. She said she wants to learn Spanish because there are many Spanish speakers in the Houston community, and she would be able to utilize her knowledge of Spanish.
"It's less about trying to reach [a] bar of perfection we're never going to reach - it's more about being functional in the world," Wong said.
Turi encourages all students to take a foreign language class. She said in addition to the cultural benefits of being able to communicate in an international world, studies in humanities help students' development as intellectuals.
Dentino, who plans to major in Hispanic studies and go into medicine, agreed that languages are important in today's world.
"Learning another language turns you into a global citizen, and if you're a global citizen, you can interact with so many more people," Dentino said. "When you interact with more people, it opens up so many opportunities for jobs, service and personal fulfillment. Not only that, learning another language is an exercise in academic discipline that can be used for the rest of your life.
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