Stefanie Bakken

4, 6-8 Spanish/ World Language Dept. Chair/Grade 7 Advisor

Joined St. Anne's in: 2014


I love learning and teaching languages. I started studying Spanish in 7th grade in Denver and never stopped. After high school, I spent 18 months living in Costa Rica, mostly volunteering in the National Parks and living with a host family. I have also spent time in Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Spain and most recently, Cuba. I have a B.A. in Spanish, with a minor in Portuguese and an M.A. in Spanish with an emphasis on literature and teaching. Outside of school, I love camping, hiking, dancing, riding my bike, working in my garden, traveling and doing art and craft projects. 

About Middle School Spanish at St. Anne's

There is a difference between learning a language and acquiring a language.  Language learning involves a heavier emphasis on textbooks and grammar activities and often requires extensive memorization. Language acquisition, on the other hand, is a more subconscious and natural process. It mirrors the way in which children learn their first language. The hope is that our middle school students acquire Spanish in such a way that they go on to become life-long language enthusiasts.

Organic World Languages Logo

Using the Organic World Language (OWL) teaching method, our goal is to speak Spanish 100% of the time and communicate understanding through both actions and words. Our Spanish classes feel and sound much like a   homestay in a Spanish-speaking country in that everyone is doing whatever they can to understand and be understood.

Classes will be focused on these 6 OWL goals:

  1. Speak Spanish

  2. Learn to not be afraid of a 100% Spanish environment

  3. Take risks and make mistakes

  4. Learn to infer (make sense of words we don’t know) and use circumlocution (use what we know to get our meaning across).\

  5. Participate and be part of the classroom community

  6. Take ownership of ourselves and our own learning

Students will understand and communicate in Spanish on a variety of topics.  

The students are  the curriculum and the driving force of the instruction; textbooks will not be used. Instead, we will use authentic Spanish media (articles, commercials, advertisements, poetry, songs, etc.) to drive our conversations. Some topics from previous years include: the refugee crisis and refugees in the Olympics, things that contribute to your emotional well-being, arguments for and against being a vegan, animal rights, sexism in fairytales, generational characteristics, the upcoming election, the ideal school day, school uniforms… If it’s interesting to the students, we will talk about it!  

Student progress is measured according to the proficiency guidelines provided by the American Council for Teachers of Foreign Language (ACTFL).

By the end of 6th grade, students will be able to communicate in the Novice Low to Novice Mid (NL-NM) range. This includes:

  • Lists
  • Memorized phrases
  • Short recombinations of words
  • Emerging sentences 

By the end of 7th grade, students will be able to communicate in the Novice Mid to Novice High (NM-NH) range. This includes: 

  • Lists
  • Memorized phrases
  • Simple sentences
  • Ability to start creating with the language
  • Beginning to extend sentences with more vocabulary and variety in structure. 

By the end of 8th grade, students will be able to communicate in the Novice High to Intermediate Low (NH-IL) range. This includes: 

  • Lists
  • Memorized phrases
  • Strings of sentences
  • Creating with the language
  • Extending sentences with more vocabulary and variety in structure and tenses. 

For example, if a student were talking about “tacos”, here’s what that might look like:

Novice low: Corn, crunchy, meat, cheese, delicious, food, eat, salsa

Novice Mid: Crunchy corn, meat inside, meat delicious, cheese inside, salsa hot, eat a lot, I tacos delicious.

Novice high: I like tacos. Tacos, tacos with beef I like. I put cheese and salsa. The salsa is very hot. My friend John doesn’t like beef. He likes chicken.

Intermediate low: My family eats tacos a lot because my mom makes best tacos. She makes tacos, amazing, with different ingredients. My favorite tacos is beef and corn tortilla and salsa. You want eat tacos at my mom’s place soon?

This means that after 3 years of an immersion class, most students will be able to carry on conversations, using language like the novice high and intermediate low examples above, about sports, food, politics, movies, travel….whatever interests them!

How does this translate to grades?

Proficiency (40%)

This includes activities and assessments designed to monitor students’ progress in language acquisition. How much language do they know? What are they able to do with the language?  

Process (50%)

This includes activities and assessments designed to monitor students’ progress towards becoming effective and efficient language learners. This includes things like study skills, thoughtful reflections, and OWL goals.  

Vocabulary (10%)

This includes activities and assessments designed to assess a specific set of vocabulary words.

How this breaks down:

  1. Listening Skills (10%)

  2. Speaking Skills (10%)

  3. Reading Skills (10%)

  4. Writing Skills (10%)

Student proficiency will be assessed by the teacher and student  once a trimester.

Students are assessed according to the following scale:

A (90-100): Full Control

(Students are able to comfortably use the vocabulary and functional chunks to communicate in a variety of settings.)

B (80-89): Partial Control

(Students are able to partially use the vocabulary and phrases but are not yet able to manipulate them or use them comfortably in multiple settings.)

C (70-79): Conceptual Control

(Students have a conceptual understanding in that they may be able to understand words and phrases in context but struggle to produce them on their own.)

How this breaks down:

  1. Homework (10%): This category includes daily homework checks, journal checks and other checks for regularly assigned tasks.

  1. OWL Goals (30%): Progress towards these goals will be formally assessed by the student and teacher at least twice a trimester. Students and teacher will conference to provide evidence of growth and develop goals moving forward. Weekly “focus” goals* will also be added as necessary.

  1. Reflection/Goal Setting (10%): Students will be required to reflect regularly on their language learning process. In addition, students will be required to use their portfolios to reflect on and document their growth towards their individual language goals once a trimester.

  This category includes all vocabulary quizzes. Vocabulary quizzes are given at the end of “unit” or approximately every 75-90 words.

Frequently asked questions about Organic World Language (OWL)

Is it true that students rarely use desks?

Yes. Desks create a physical barrier that get in the way of communication. We conduct class in a circle to create an environment conducive to building a community, moving around, and having conversations.

Is it true that students stand during the majority of the lesson?

Yes. Because the emphasis is on communication,  this often results in acting out our messages, moving around the room, and interacting with a variety of people in class.

What’s the purpose of all the silly games and movements?

In order for students to take risks in the language, they need to feel safe. They have to know they won’t be laughed at for making mistakes. The team building games are designed to build trust within our community. They also provide great opportunities for new, relevant vocabulary. The movements and transitions are specifically built in to give students some brain breaks. An immersion environment can be mentally exhausting, and we want to make certain not to push the students to the point where they feel mentally overloaded.

What about grammar?  Will there be traditional grammar tests?

No. Reflect on how you learned your first language. You learned to say things because they “sounded right,” not because you memorized the rule. However, this doesn’t mean grammar isn’t present in everything we do. As students acquire the language, they will naturally start to notice patterns. We will identify and label them as they come up.

Are other schools in the area using this methodology?

Yes, several other independent schools are using parts of or all of this methodology. Immersion environments are also becoming more popular in public schools. Because this methodology provides a framework for teaching, rather than a curriculum, it can be adapted and used at any grade level, depending on the needs of the program.

How will this methodology affect my child’s placement in a more traditional high school program?

This is a highly individualized question that depends on the student as well as the specific high school program. In general, research continues to show that students in immersion-based programs are consistently able to speak and write more comfortably, more fluently, and more creatively because they’re focused on communication rather than language conventions.

What kind of homework can my child expect?

Homework is typically designed to provide students with exposure to authentic Spanish through a variety of media and the chance to use their Spanish in new, creative ways ( an advertisement.)