Friday, December 03, 1999

Lessons focus on understanding

Kids act on teacher directions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WALTON — When Sofia Brophy speaks, students act. In the process, the Walton-Verona Elementary first-, third- and sixth-graders who follow Mrs. Brophy's commands are learning a new language.

        Mrs. Brophy says, “Doble el papel.

        Students fold a piece of paper in half.

        Mrs. Brophy says, “Tire el papel.

        Students drop the paper on the floor.

        “Muy bien!” Mrs. Brophy says to Elaine McCarty's third grade class after they follow all of her instructions.

        The unique thing about this language lesson is that the teacher does most of the speaking while the students carry out her commands.

        It's called total physical response — the theory that language comprehension is accelerated through the use of body movement. James J. Asher, a professor at California State University at San Jose, developed the approach in the 1960s.

        Students are encouraged to understand what's being said to them before there is a push to start speaking the language.

        Mrs. Brophy, who works for Cincinnati-based WorldSpeak Traveling Teachers, meets with 160 students twice a week. WorldSpeak and the school are testing a 10-week pilot program that Walton-Verona Principal Tom Williams hopes to continue next year.

        “Are the kids speaking Spanish? Un poco (A little),” Mr. Williams said. “But they are comprehending the language.”

        The understanding is evident as students respond to Mrs. Brophy. When she asks them to do something, such as touch their heads or point to the floor, most know immediately what to do. Some copy Mrs. Brophy's movements. When she tests the students using only her voice, some students look at their classmates to see what action coincides with the spoken words.

        “I like this because I never learned Spanish before,” said Ashley Evans, 8. “And I always wanted to learn it.”

        Students said they sometimes speak Spanish to their friends, or even at home with family members. Brent Troxel, 8, said he tries out his new language skills with an older cousin. Katherine Smith, 8, said she teaches her sister what she learns from Mrs. Brophy.

        Classroom teachers said they use the Spanish commands taught by Mrs. Brophy to reinforce the vocabulary students have learned.

        “The students have really picked it up,” said third grade teacher Beth Dingus. “They're better at it than I am.”

        There is a lot of fun and humor worked into Mrs. Brophy's lessons. Students play a version of Simon Says called Adelante Atras (forward and backward).

        On Thursday, Mrs. Brophy used the dance steps to the “macarena” to review the Spanish words for body parts and directions.

        Pamela Lippert, WorldSpeak director, said it's easier for students to learn a second language if they start studying that language before they hit puberty.

        “It used to be that languages weren't offered until high school,” Ms. Lippert said. “Now it's more important for students to start at a young age, so that they can be ready to compete in the world market.”


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