February 1, 2007 at 7:24 a.m.
The class followed with aplauso (applause) for the extra credit recipients and went on with their day.
Words like aplauso weren't commonly heard in Chisago Lakes Middle School until this year, when Paulson came on board to teach the first Introduction to Spanish classes ever offered at CLMS.
Paulson, who has traveled the world, lived in more than one Spanish-speaking country and whose career has spanned the gamut from Realtor to teacher to FBI agent, wrote the curriculum for the class.
The curriculum is based on a philosophy broader than simply learning a language.
The five "Cs" of language study Paulson focuses on are: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons and communities.
Students are not only exposed to the language, but they learn about cultures in Spanish-speaking countries and how to successfully communicate in Spanish, beyond simple grammar. Student work is not based on reading and writing the language, but learning it through communication.
"It is such a phonetic language, so it can be overwhelming to see it written," Paulson said. "I also think it's important if you learn the language of these 21 countries, you should know about them."
Paulson strives to make learning a different language fun for the seventh and eighth graders enrolled in her classes. Most of the instruction is not immersion-based - she doesn't speak Spanish exclusively when instructing the students.
"The rule of thumb for Spanish is 50 percent immersion during the first year of instruction and increasing to 100 percent by year four," Paulson said.
They take time during class for recitation, repeating words and phrases said by Paulson. There is a "phrase of the day" which students also recite and see written on the board. There is also a "password of the day" to enter the room, which Paulson refers to as "crossing the border."
She identifies students by their Spanish names only and on this day, focused heavily on counting in Spanish.
After the class had repeated several numbers in Spanish, they were split into two groups to take part in a number game. The "flash game" had students racing to write down the correct number after Paulson said it out loud and then holding it up for her to see, before the other team.
The game made memorizing the numbers fun, which Paulson said is important to help students gain confidence when learning a new language.
She said the students at CLMS have been so excited to take the Spanish elective. Paulson has taught about half of the CLMS students so far, but enjoys speaking Spanish to other students as well, in the hallways or lunchroom.
While it is only offered to seventh and eighth graders, a Spanish mini-course was very popular last fall with sixth grade students.
She will offer a Spanish B course this spring. Currently, Spanish is the only language offering at the middle school and it is also offered at Chisago Lakes High School. Paulson said getting a taste of the language at the middle school will be a great introduction for students as they move on and take Spanish at CLHS.
Throughout the process of adding the course at CLMS, Paulson has felt fortunate to receive so much support from administration, staff and parents.
"The program has been very well received and hopefully we can expand it," she said. "John Menard and Mike McLoughlin have been really supportive."
Extra credit like pointing out what country their clothes were made in or acting out a scene in Spanish using the phrases and words of the day helps students earn something probably more valuable to them than points - pesos.
Paulson hands out fake pesos to recognize extra credit achievements. Students can earn pesos through doing classroom chores or simply helping out.
At the end of the trimester, she takes on the auctioneer role and holds a Spanish auction. Students can use their pesos to bid on Spanish toys, trinkets and snacks and the ultimate prize - pinatas.
Of course, all of the bidding must be done in Spanish. At the end of the most recent auction, several happy students walked away with goodies including two of the much sought-after pinatas hanging from the ceiling.