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 | By Marissa Nichols

The Solution is Immersion in Spanish Class

Notre Dame San Jose’s Bayard Nielsen Spearheads Nationally Lauded Classroom Approach

Walk into any of Bayard Nielsen’s Notre Dame High School Spanish classes, and you will immediately notice a difference: students are seated in a semi-circle around Bayard, who is speaking exclusively in Spanish.

Bayard uses a pedagogical strategy known as "comprehensible input" (C.I.) which is also utilized by several Notre Dame Spanish teachers. He has explained the objective is to be in dialogue and engaged in meaningful communication, in contrast to rote memorization, “Natural language is used to discuss interesting topics, and class-wide checks for understanding are used to immediately ascertain how much was understood.”

But Bayard's work with students extends beyond the classroom and leans heavily into Catholic Social Teaching (CST) through projects involving creating narratives from in-person student-conducted interviews at the Day Worker Center of Mountain View. From these interactions, students create bilingual books, comic strips, and games to gift to the center and its families, all the while building upon necessary language skills.

In the process, learners create mutual solidarity as they listen and learn from one another. Kathleen Quizon, Notre Dame High School’s Director of Mission and Ministry explains the relevance of Bayard’s in the context of the Church’s mission, “To share this kind of kinship and accompaniment is what Jesus modeled and what Pope Francis has called the Church to imitate in the 21st century. This approach aligns with CST’s commitment to human dignity, integral formation, and the call to family, community, and participation.” She further adds that these non-coincidentally align with Notre Dame San Jose’s hallmarks.

During Covid lockdowns, students adapted their narratives into a bingo-like game, a "lotería," so that English and Spanish-speaking children could learn more about the Day Worker Center and its community. This project was lauded a second time by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Prior to this, ACTFL acknowledged his work in 2017. He was also a Human Rights Educators (HRE) USA grant recipient in 2019.

Bayard, himself, has always felt a pull to the field of education. “I have loved teaching for as long as I can remember. From tutoring in middle school and high school to working as a teacher as an AmeriCorps member, I really enjoy the challenge of explaining difficult concepts to others in more simple terms. I was drawn to Notre Dame twelve years ago because of its fantastic mission and my experience as a student at Bellarmine.”

When asked about the effectiveness of the C.I. strategy, he has stated his belief that it works for all learners, “I can differentiate the curriculum to account for varying levels of proficiency, especially among heritage speakers. Traditionally, heritage speakers need to memorize vocabulary, remember conjugation charts, and do homework. In a C.I. class, these are replaced by more meaningful and inclusive activities.”

He also insists that C.I. works well for teachers and encourages them to try the method. “It is easier for teachers, more engaging for students, and follows current research in second language acquisition. It creates a classroom community where inclusion is the norm and diversity is celebrated. It is teacher-facilitated but student-centered.”

When asked what inspired him, Bayard explained, “I am inspired by my students, whose passion for social justice is incredibly strong. I am also inspired by what my colleagues at Notre Dame do daily. I also really enjoy finding ways to use technology to reinvent what was done before in the classroom to be more purposeful.”

Bayard’s teaching also speaks well of local Catholic education as his teaching vocation is rooted in his own student experience, “At Bellarmine, I was very involved with community service and tutoring, especially at Sacred Heart Nativity School. That experience, combined with the leadership training at Notre Dame, allowed me to reimagine an already existing partnership between Notre Dame and the Day Worker Center in Mountain View to challenge my students to stand in solidarity and become stewards for the center's amazing workers.”

Bayard’s work is a hopeful testament that the Church’s global mission of solidarity and justice can be poignantly implemented in the classroom, “I involved my Spanish classes in this project because, for some of them it mirrors into their own culture, while for others, it is a window into another. It provides a purposeful, practical application of everything they learn in class while addressing many articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Bayard Nielsen
Kathleen Quiazon

Bayard Nielson holds a master's degree in education and is a National Board-Certified World Language instructor who lives with his wife in San Jose. During his 12 years of teaching at Notre Dame High School in San Jose, his classroom comprehensible input (C.I) method has made him a nationally recognized and award-winning instructor.

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