Why You Can’t Just Teach Language With Worksheets


In Gabriel Borlant-Guertler’s Spanish class, you won't find students memorizing endless vocabulary lists or working on monotonous grammar exercises. “My focus has been to have the students look at Spanish as a tool, an advantage, and an academic subject, instead of a class they have to take for a grade or a language they only speak at home with their families,” said Borlant-Guertler, Spanish teacher at Ánimo Leadership Charter High School. Borlant-Guertler found that providing students with a never-ending supply of fill-in-the-blank worksheets and other typical language exercises taught students basic Spanish, but failed to truly engage them: “As a language teacher, you want to do the reading and writing, but the big thing is giving students the opportunity to take charge of their learning.”

Teaching Beyond the Language


One of Borlant-Guertler’s goals is to help students become more comfortable with Spanish while also becoming better presenters and public speakers. This approach has proven beneficial for both native and non-native speakers, because it allows students to be more creative with the language as opposed to solely completing workbook exercises. In addition, it reinforces skills that will serve them well into college, including research and verbal communication skills.

“It’s been especially helpful for native speakers, because they often see Spanish as the language they speak at home instead of something academic,” said Borlant-Guertler. “I strive to show students that knowing and developing their Spanish can be an academic advantage, whether it allows them to do well on the Advanced Placement Spanish test or enter the workforce as a bilingual speaker.”

Students are responsible for creating six presentations around topics like family dynamics, history of immigration, community issues, social justice, and environmental issues. Their final presentation is to prepare for a model United Nations conference where students act as ambassadors from Spanish speaking countries. These presentations not only challenge students to prove mastery of the Spanish language, but also encourage them to take charge of their learning by choosing their own research topics. “His class provides freshmen students with a lot of structure and support,” said Dr. Alyce Prentice, Green Dot Area Superintendent. “Regardless of what our students go on to do after high school, speaking persuasively in front of people will serve them in all that they do.”

Seeing the growth in students is Borlant-Guertler’s favorite part of teaching. At the start of the school year, students often struggle to make it through their presentations, avoiding eye contact, and doubting their own words. “By the end of the year, having those same students present as experts on their topics, with great eye contact, and confidence in both themselves and language skills reminds me why I do this work,” reflected Borlant-Guertler. “Just knowing the amount of accomplishment they feel and having the opportunity to reflect with them on how much stronger they've become over the year is what it's all about.”

A Place to Call Home

Borlant-Guertler can’t imagine not being in the classroom; he joined Teach for America to help create opportunities in underserved communities before attending law school. As a new teacher, Borlant-Guertler struggled, but attributes his success as an educator to Green Dot's robust supports. “Green Dot made it so easy for me to understand what a good lesson should look like and what good teaching looks like,” said Borlant-Guertler. “Having a high level of structure, consistent and relevant professional development, and collaboration across the organization made for an environment I could grow and thrive in.”


At Green Dot, we invest in growing every teacher towards professional excellence. We provide those who achieve with leadership opportunities that allow them to share their invaluable expertise while remaining in the classroom where their impact on students is most felt.

Outside of the classroom Borlant-Guertler is a part of the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), a committee that provides input on the region’s curriculum and professional development. Having worked alongside Borlant-Guertler for many years, Prentice feels honored to have had the opportunity to watch and support his growth and development inside and outside of the classroom. He worked so hard and because of that, incredible learning occurs in his class every day. He's contributing to the professional learning of others on the Ánimo Leadership campus and across the organization,” reflected Prentice. “It is a testament to the change we can create and impact we can have when we really work hard and invest in our students and colleagues.” 


Borlant-Guertler never left for law school and he’s now in his seventh year of teaching. A moment that always touches Borlant-Guertler is the “Intent to Register Assembly”. Each spring, Ánimo Leadership hosts this assembly with students and families where graduating seniors share what colleges they’ll be attending. “Each year you hear kids say they're going to UCLA, Berkeley, and Yale, you start to truly visualize this pipeline to success,” beamed Borlant-Guertler. “It really strengthens everyone's belief in the mission, staff, students, and families combined. It reinforces this positive and supportive atmosphere and that makes Ánimo Leadership a really beautiful place to call home.”