Haddonfield World Language Program Shines

In every profession, there are those who go above and beyond to achieve their goals. In teaching, those who go the extra mile not only help themselves, but better society by influencing future generations. Mary Devine, Luis Bayona and Dana Pilla are prime examples of what can be accomplished when teachers do just that.

Pilla has been teaching Spanish at Haddonfield Middle School for five years; Bayona has been teaching Spanish in grades three to five in Haddonfield for eight years; and Devine has been teaching Spanish in grades kindergarten through two in Haddonfield for five years. Collectively, they have transformed the Spanish program, adopting modern teaching practices to immerse their students in the Spanish culture.

“Before Luis came to the district, there was no steady elementary program,” Devine said. “He noticed the need to establish and create a standards-based curriculum for grades three to five based on a communicative approach. Luis realized that if we were going to build a great program, it was time to ‘treat language as communication tools’ by giving our 21st century learners the necessary tools they need to be able to produce language that is meaningful and natural while learning a second language.”

The teachers adopted a communicative approach to teaching, presenting the lessons in the target language, which allows the students to gain an ear for the language. They also updated the curriculum to reflect the current world language standards: interpretive reading/listening, interpersonal speaking and presentation speaking/writing.

These initiatives seek to move away from the standard grammatical-based model that is common in many world language programs. Instead, the focus is on communication.

“You do not teach fluency; fluency in a second language can only be achieved with time and intensity,” Bayona said. “More exposure to language instruction and culture will help our students reach higher levels of language proficiency.”

All three teachers use Total Physical Response to engage their students. TPR is a technique in which a teacher will give commands in the target language and the students will respond with whole-body actions. This technique has proven to be very effective in the retention of a second language, and with all three teachers using TPR, the students continue to feel more comfortable speaking the language.

“We love this teaching method because it allows an instant understanding of the target language,” Devine said. “Students can retain the content in their high-speed/long-term memory. It provides a stress-free environment because students can look around and see what their peers are doing.”

The results of the dedication and innovation of the teachers speak for themselves. Bayona, Devine and Pilla encourage their students to participate in world language competitions, including the World Language Podcast competition organized by Foreign language Educators of New Jersey and the National Spanish Exam.

During this year’s podcast competition, Haddonfield had three teams place:

• First place in the Elementary Category: Annie Veasey and Danny Cavanna, fifth grade Central Elementary School. vimeo.com/haddonfieldmiddle/bayonaflenj2014

• Second place in the Elementary Category: Charlie Webb and Samantha Gallo, third grade J.F. Tatem Elementary School. vimeo.com/user11004333/devineflenj2014

• First place in the Middle School Category: Lucy Herdelin and Devi Bass, seventh grade Haddonfield Middle School. vimeo.com/haddonfieldmiddle/flenjpodcast2014

Five Haddonfield Middle School students received awards for their performance on the National Spanish Exam as well:

• Herdelin Lucy: Bronze award, 80th percentile, Outside Experience category

• Bu Sonia: Bronze award, 81st percentile, Regular category

• Jacobowitz Isaac: Silver award, 92nd percentile, Outside Experience category

• Williamson Avery: Silver award, 91st percentile, Outside Experience category

• Ruiz Xochitl: Gold award, 97th percentile, Bilingual category

Devine, Pilla and Bayona have also been recognized by the FLENJ as New Jersey All-Star World Language Teachers for best teaching practices in the state. They presented an All-Star Workshop to illustrate and highlight their teaching practices.

The teachers are not yet satisfied, though. They would like to see the programs expanded at every level to become an everyday class and continue to revise the curriculum to push the students. Satisfaction is never an option for those looking to better the world.