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New Mexico State University

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NMSU Spanish heritage class writes bilingual books to reach local elementary students

In an age of smart phones, video games and social media, New Mexico State University is using the good old-fashioned book to help local 7-year-olds learn through stories that portray their cultural heritage.

From left to right: New Mexico State University students Allison N. Duarte, Krystalee J.Vigil, Ivana D. Rodriguez, Felipe Robles Jr. and Ayssa A. Vargas read books to dual-language students at César Chávez Elementary. The students wrote and illustrated the bilingual children's books as a class project for a Spanish as a heritage language class. (Courtesy photo)

Spanish as a heritage language students in the College of Arts and Sciences wrote and illustrated bilingual children's books and recently read them to second grade dual-language students at César Chávez Elementary.

"It's bilingual, but it's also cultural," said Spencer Herrera, an assistant professor in the Department of Language and Linguistics at NMSU. "It brings together the cultures of the United States and New Mexico."

The books were created with Christmas, birthday and family themes. Herrera said students from the heritage class read them aloud as was a way to encourage the Spanish immersion students to continue learning.

"These books represent things they are familiar with," said Herrera. "A textbook or any book of literature may talk about subjects that are foreign to them. When our students read the books they wrote aloud, the 7-year-olds right away recognized the themes."

Bilingual books written in the Southwest include text in both Spanish and English. Herrera, who is also the coordinator for the Spanish for Heritage Language Program at NMSU, said bilingual students can start a sentence in Spanish, but they'll sometimes finish in English.

"A lot of the students speak nothing but English with their parents and only Spanish with their grandparents," said Mayra Valtierrez, a teaching assistant and recent NMSU master's graduate. "The grandma is a big thing in heritage books so those kinds of themes were what we were looking at."

Valtierrez said she used team-based learning with the Spanish heritage class to build a community. In groups of four, the 16 students developed the books over the course of the semester after studying both bilingual and heritage books.

The idea for the project came after Herrera and Valtierrez attended a Linguistic Association of the Southwest (LASSO) conference in fall 2010 where using children's books as a teaching tool for classes was discussed.

"It's just great, because as students graduate they move on, so I think this was a great project for the NMSU students, but it also was a great outreach project for César Chávez Elementary as well." Herrera said.