I teach 7th and 8th grade Spanish in an inter-district communications and technology magnet school in New Haven. The World Language program in the middle schools is a two-year course, which is the equivalent of the Spanish I course in the high schools. I see my students five days per week, in 47-minute periods.
Traditionally in my school, language has only been offered to those students that achieved high scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). Unfortunately, the numbers of students enrolled in World Languages in my school are quite small as a result. My students tend to be very bright and eager learners, which allows me to incorporate a lot into their language learning.
The majority of students in my school are from the city of New Haven. At least thirty percent of my school's students come from such diverse districts as East Haven, West Haven, North Haven, Hamden, Derby, Naugatuck, Ansonia, Milford, and Wolcott. Most of these are suburban areas, but they vary greatly in populations and incomes.
Most of the students in my school are identified as Black, or African-American. The next largest ethnic group in the school is Hispanic, or Latino/a. Whites, or European-Americans, comprise the third largest ethnic group, while there are very few Asians in the school.
Most students are native English speakers, but a significant portion of the Hispanic students in my school speaks Spanish at home, or has parents that do. Very few of the Hispanic students are fully literate in oral and written Spanish. The majority of Spanish-speaking students in my school can understand and speak, but cannot read or write in the language.
Teaching Spanish in an urban environment offers me the unique opportunity to work with a widely diverse student population, in a culturally rich community. Students will be able to take the knowledge they gain from this unit and use it to identify and create Spanish-speaking communities in their own local areas. In this respect, students are especially fortunate and advantaged to attend school in New Haven.
Having a sense of one's own identity is integral to fulfilling one's potential. Adolescence tends to be a particularly difficult time for most people. Middle school aged children are no longer little kids, but are not yet regarded as young adults. They find themselves moving through transitions of social location, as well as of hormones. Children at the middle school age struggle with identity, and want desperately to fit in. As psychologist Beverly Tatum, PH.D notes, "The adolescent capacity for self reflection [results] in self-consciousness" (20). It is my personal belief that without a clear notion about who and what they are, children will never feel comfortable with themselves, and will have difficulty achieving success.
I have designed a unit that will explore identity and culture through the context of National Hispanic Heritage Month. I am designing this unit as a means to not only investigate Hispanic Heritage Month, but as a means to introduce students to the vast world of Spanish while developing a sense of what "identity" is. It is important that all students' cultures and heritages be recognized, appreciated, and celebrated.
I will teach this unit to both my 7th and 8th grade Spanish classes, during the months of September and October, to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). This 30-day unit can be modified to suit the needs of Spanish students from grades 6 through 12, and can easily be integrated with other content areas to create interdisciplinary learning units. Readings and activities can be added, modified, or omitted to adjust the curriculum unit to the needs of a particular group of students.