Most exams in school are meant to be just that—an assessment or evaluation of learning—but Madison Public Schools’ new world language curriculum has taken assessments a step further. This year, rather than just a pencil and paper test, all 5th grade Spanish students wrote kindergarten books—books that just found a new home in Costa Rica.
The Madison Public Schools are currently on a two-year cycle to renew and re-imagine the curriculum for different departments. The new K-12 world languages curriculum was approved last spring for the start of school this year. K-12 Curriculum Lead for World Languages Kristin Mancini said building a new curriculum allows for more creative learning.
“I am working with the K-12 world language teachers to re-imagine our whole curriculum and revise it to be engaging for our students,” she said. “This has really let us be able to design innovative tasks and innovative assessments.”
The new curriculum opened the door for the book assessment for fifth grade Spanish students. Madison students in grades K-4 take Spanish once a week, but starting in the fifth grade, students study Spanish every day.
Mancini said she sat down with all of the fifth grade Spanish teachers who had an idea to build an assessment around Biblioburro, a man and his donkey who travel to rural villages in Columbia with books for school children. From there, the idea to create books took off, according to Mancini.
“The unit title is called ‘Not All Classrooms Are Created Equal,’ so basically we had the idea about the library and it stretched into ‘Lets look at classrooms around the world and compare and contrast these schools,’” she said.
At the end of the unit, students were tasked with making concept books—books about numbers, colors, etc. that could be read by a kindergarten student.
“We said we wanted to make something authentic. We didn’t just want it to be a pencil and paper task, so we said, ‘Let’s make a book that teaches something,’” she said.
While Mancini said making the books was a good idea on its own, the teachers wanted to take it one step further. In stepped Madison fifth grade teacher Minette Junkins, who served in the Peace Corps from 1994 to 1996 in Costa Rica. With the Peace Corps, she established a kindergarten called Kinder Cabo Blanco in Cabo Blanco de Lepanto on the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. Junkins said the kindergarten, which is still in existence, seemed like the perfect place to send the concept books.
“As we created the curriculum we were talking to students about other countries and how privileged we are to have so many resources,” she said. “It just immediately connected with me that we could send these to Costa Rica.”
Once the Madison students completed the books and the staff reviewed them, they were packaged up and sent to Costa Rica in early November. Just a few days ago, Junkins received photos from a kindergarten teacher at the school in Costa Rica of her students using the books.
“She sent those pictures of the kids with the books and she said thank you so much our kids are so happy,” she said.
Junkins shared the photos with the Madison students, who she said were thrilled.
“The kids that recognized their books—they were over the moon yelling ‘That’s my book!’” she said.
Based on the success of the project, Junkins said this is something she hopes the district can continue to do going forward.
“I think it really opened the kids’ eyes,” she said. “I think to actually see the kids with their books really hit home for them.”