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¡Hola estudiantes! Mrs. Solano’s Spanish Classes Take on New Format

In 2021, Mrs. Kate Solano knew something wasn’t working right in her Spanish classes. Kids weren’t retaining the language, enrollment was dipping and interest levels were dropping. 

The way she had been teaching for nearly two decades was no longer working, and she knew she had to make considerable changes to turn things around. 

“I went to Dr. Avery, and I said, ‘I need to blow this up and completely start over,’” Mrs. Solano said. “And she said ‘OK.’”

And so she did — she scrapped the traditional model of teaching that she had spent nearly the last two decades teaching, and started over with a mix of methods. 

Primarily, the Comprehensible Input Model became her new mode of teaching. It gives students a more interactive, conversational approach to learning, understanding and communicating in a foreign language. 

“You do not isolate vocabulary and grammar — you integrate everything all the time,” Mrs. Solano said. “Although it seems like we’re just playing games, the academic rigor of what I’m asking them to do is actually higher than if they were sitting in a chair doing a worksheet.”

Mrs. Solano’s classes look much different now: Her room is wide open, with desks and tables pushed to the side and ample space in the middle for group conversations and activities. 

National standards focus on a “95% target language immersion,” meaning that the language is spoken 95% of the time in the class. Mrs. Solano aims for this percentage in her classes and encourages students by allowing them to discuss their interests, hobbies and lives in class. 

That said, traditional aspects of language instruction like vocabulary and grammar aren’t totally abandoned. Mrs. Solano just approaches them when they come up organically in class. 

“Grammar should be taught, but not until the students tell the teacher through authentic curiosity that they’re ready to learn the grammar,” she said. “You don't force the grammar, you wait for their interest to come out about it.”

Williamson High School Principal Dr. Kate Avery said she was impressed with Mrs. Solano’s request to start over. 

“I like that somebody’s willing to blow up what they’re doing, because it requires a lot of vulnerability,” Dr. Avery said. “It shows you where their priorities are professionally, and it’s a huge undertaking to have to adjust all of your instruction.”

The best part, Dr. Avery said, is that it’s working. 

“She adjusted everything about her instruction so that she could get kids on board, and it’s working,” Dr. Avery said. “Her class is so loud, kids are using the language. Everytime I walk by the classroom, I’m hearing language and I know she’s trying to help them embrace it — which is really what we want.”