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AP Spanish Language & Culture, Lexington High School

5 July 2017

Overview

This grant would allow me to use TalkAbroad as an authentic, formative Interpersonal Speaking assessment in my AP Spanish Language & Culture classes to fill a noticeable gap in the curriculum. These conversations would give students the opportunity to discuss some of the various topics covered throughout the first three units of the course and reflect upon some of the questions – both personal ones and essential ones for the unit – that have arisen. The conversations would also be an ideal opportunity for students to interact with native speakers as a culmination of the speaking practice they will have done in class with each other and with me.

I have two classes of AP Spanish Language and Culture at my school, with a total of approximately 40 students. It is a year-long, 4-credit course comprised mostly, if not entirely, of seniors. The AP course is offered at the Spanish 5 level, which means for most students, it is their seventh year studying the language. These students are typically hard-working and high-achieving, with this course being just one of several APs in which they are enrolled. All students have access to multiple technological devices both in and out of school. This will be my fifth year teaching the course.

Course Information

The course content and unit design are arguably its strongest points. I’ve developed a rigorous class that engages deeply with a variety of themes and texts that cover all of the global AP themes. Students read various texts by José Martí and write their own satires; discuss the immigration polemic; develop a community service project to aid the environment; create border art; compare standards of beauty in various countries; and much more. I consistently use authentic resources across all three modes of communication, engage students with relevant topics and provide opportunities for independent practice at home.

What’s most prominently missing, however (across this course and the others that we offer), are authentic opportunities to practice Interpersonal Speaking (IS). My department has engaged in a curriculum review process over the past several years in which we have been implementing ACTFL proficiency guidelines, Can-Do statements, enhanced instructional technology and other critical elements. It has become clear to me in this process how critical IS practice is, and yet most of the time it consists of students talking to other students – the blind leading the blind, so to speak. They’re not able to interact with a native speaker to practice negotiating meaning, receive immediate feedback on their comprehensibility and study colloquial speech patterns.

Interaction with native speakers is particularly valuable at this level because students are typically Intermediate High speakers, poised to go to college and perhaps pursue study abroad opportunities or a major or minor in Spanish. The more they can interact with native speakers now, the more prepared they will be as the global citizens we wish them to be after graduation. They have a lot of speaking skills and cultural knowledge, and it only seems logical to offer them opportunities to put everything into practice. When I think about integrating the 5 Cs and/or PBL in my classroom, the biggest element that’s missing is Community. Using TalkAbroad would allow my students to take that final step with their language skills: discussing their ideas with the Spanish-speaking community and getting immediate feedback on their attempts to communicate and negotiate meaning (with the kind of sympathetic speaker that is characteristic of the Intermediate level).

TalkAbroad Implementation

Students will use TalkAbroad to engage in monthly 10-minute conversations from September to January, for a total of five conversations. Each month will have a different theme, with a consistent focus on community:

These conversations will be assigned at roughly the same time each month, so students develop a feeling of consistency and routine. I will check them for completion and listen to 1-2 minutes of students’ recordings in order to provide some quick formative feedback. Students will be responsible for keeping track of what they are learning from each conversation, which will help them with their final reflection assignment. My hope is that these conversations will (1) feel like a logical development of classroom activities, as students will be able to apply what they’ve been talking and thinking about to an authentic conversation with a native speaker; and (2) become an activity they look forward to as a way to gain experience and confidence with a skill that they probably feel most nervous about.

Results

Results coming in 2019

Project Lead

Ryan Casey, Lexington High School (Lexington, MA)