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Spanish Conversation, Wright State University

12 Jul 2016

Overview

Spanish Conversation I (SPN3110) is a required course for Spanish majors and minors that emphasizes the practice of spoken Spanish while integrating the continued teaching of Hispanic culture. Currently, however, the students are limited to conversational practice with their classmates or, as a group, with a limited selection of native speakers invited as guest participants. I propose to utilize the TalkAbroad service in order to provide one-on-one conversational practice between students and native speakers. The goal of this curricular change is two-fold: (1) by measuring student oral proficiency (per the ACTFL OPI Standards) at the beginning and again at the end of the semester, students will be able to evaluate and analyze their own personal growth; and (2) via their interaction with native speakers, the cultural element of the course will become more student-driven, stemming from conversations and permitting students to participate in the dissemination of newly acquired cultural knowledge. Results from a formal evaluation of the revised curriculum will be discussed in workshops and conferences to demonstrate how this interaction with native speakers increases both oral proficiency and cultural competence.

Course Description

The proposed course for this project is Spanish Conversation I (SPN3110-03), a 3 credit hour class that will meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is the first advanced-level course for students coming out of the introductory levels of Spanish and the first course beyond the language requirement, meaning the students enrolled have chosen specifically to take this course. The vast majority of students are either Spanish majors or minors, as it is a required course for the completion of both the language major and minor.

Currently the Spanish Conversation I course focuses on the practice of spoken Spanish and the integration of Hispanic culture. It holds as its goals the improvement of oral proficiency and increased cultural competency, In its current design, this is done via the discussion of topics relevant to students’ lives and an expansion of those topics as they are found in the Hispanic world (i.e. popular culture, family relations, current topics, etc.). The instructor largely presents cultural information, supplemented by pre-researched student oral presentations. Students are tested both orally and in written format throughout the semester. The primary concern stemming from the current design is that this grade breakdown reflects a stronger emphasis on the written testing of the vocabulary and information rather than the oral component, even though there are oral exams as well. Ideally students should have a higher percentage of their grade composed of real life application of the conversational skills they are learning and practicing in class. Unfortunately, given the limited availability of native speakers and the group setting for such guest speakers, students are often only able to practice their conversation skills with their classmates. This limits not only the perspectives discussed in class, but also the opportunity to be challenged by native speakers of the language. Additionally, homework assignments tend to be written and not orally based, such as research of a topic or completion of activities based on current vocabulary or cultural information. Students are tested at the end of the semester during a final oral exam, completed one-on-one with their instructor. As it currently stands, students complete no prior assessment of proficiency to which they can compare their final exam. Combined with the previously discussed emphasis on written testing and the instructor-led cultural instruction, the resulting final course grade can appear to stem more from the memorization of cultural information and the participation in class conversation, instead of the real oral proficiency progress made by students throughout the semester.

TalkAbroad Implementation

The modified curriculum will integrate a more interactive approach to conversational practice and cultural lessons. Throughout the semester, students will hold a series of conversations that will build on topics discussed in class. In this way, students will not only further practice conversing in the target language, but also learn about the topic as it applies to the Hispanic world. They will then use these conversations as the basis of presentations to the class, widening the scope of conversations for all members of the course.

Additionally, these conversations will form part of an overall view of the students’ oral proficiency progress throughout the semester. Beginning with the implementation of a proficiency assessment at the beginning of the semester, students will be asked to reflect upon their progress throughout the semester and will complete a final proficiency assessment as part of their final exam. This new structure will not only give students an idea of where they stand in terms of Spanish oral proficiency, but will demonstrate the importance of real-life usage of the language in order to continue to improve.

Students will be required to complete 8 conversations throughout the 15-week semester. Students will have follow-up activities to complete based on their conversations, including brief presentations, video logs, etc.

To reflect the new element of TalkAbroad conversations, I have adjusted the grading scale for the course and I have designed the class topics to be more general, allowing for the contributions of the students’ conversations to help guide our classes. Having introduced the Conversations category to the grading scale, I have greatly reduced the weight and number of the written exams, allowing for an emphasis on oral production. The many changes of the draft of the new curriculum better reflect the intended course outcomes and the focus on students’ developing oral proficiency.

Results

Coming Spring 2017…

Project Lead

Dr. Melissa Doran, Wright State University