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AP Spanish Language & Culture, Lexington High School

5 July 2017


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.


From September 2018 to January 2019, the 34 students enrolled in AP Spanish Language & Culture at Lexington High School in Lexington, MA, engaged in monthly 10-minute conversations to supplement the classroom curriculum. Discussion prompts were constructed both to complement the Global AP Themes and to extrapolate upon what students were studying in class so that they could deepen their understanding of each topic by discussing it with a native speaker. The opportunity to talk with native speakers seemed particularly relevant for these learners, who are advanced students preparing for a standardized exam of which one portion will be a dialogue. Throughout the process, students were encouraged to keep a journal that tracked whom they had spoken with, what cultural information they had gleaned and what they were learning about their own interpersonal speaking skills. In early February, students wrote a one-page reflection paper in which they considered what they had learned, how their overall experience was, how they felt about the prompts and what they perceived as their own strengths, weaknesses and growth.

Below are the five speaking prompts that were assigned to students on a monthly basis. Students typically had 1-2 weeks to complete each one. The prompts did not change the existing curriculum per se, but rather were inserted into it as a supplementary/complementary requirement.

Assignment 1 (Theme: Private & Public Identities; National & Ethnic Identity)

Assignment 2 (Theme: Private & Public Identities; Heroes & Historical Figures)

Assignment 3 (Theme: Beauty & Aesthetics; Standards of Beauty)

Assignment 4 (Theme: Beauty & Aesthetics; Visual & Scenic Arts/Art as Protest)

Assignment 5 (Theme: Science & Technology; Healthcare & Medicine)

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Students were receptive to the opportunity to hone their speaking skills, learn about different cultures, hear different accents, debate classroom topics, and take their learning outside the classroom. Most students wrote about how their confidence increased significantly over the course of the semester. It will be interesting to note if student scores on the conversation section of the AP exam (and the practice assessments we do in class) increase as a result of this grant opportunity.

Below are quotations from some of the students’ reflection papers:

Over the five months, there were some technical difficulties and missed appointments, but I believe they were resolved, and no momentous obstacles were encountered. One native speaker chose not to participate and one student simply did not do the assignments. The only critical feedback came from a student who wrote, “Because the assignments were so spaced out, I don’t really feel like I had the chance to greatly improve my Spanish speaking abilities.”

I plan to write and submit a brief article to the MaFLA (Massachusetts Foreign Language Association) newsletter about my experience with TalkAbroad, as well as Flipgrid, as tools for interpersonal communication. I will also share my experience with my colleagues both near and far via my professional Twitter account. Should the opportunity arise, I would be willing to write or present about TalkAbroad for a conference or publication at a future date.

Incorporating TalkAbroad into the existing AP Spanish curriculum was undoubtedly a success. True interpersonal speaking in the classroom is almost impossible because students rarely have the opportunity to interact and negotiate meaning with a native speaker. TalkAbroad filled an obvious gap in the curriculum and in students’ skill development by giving them a true interpersonal speaking opportunity once a month for the first semester. Feedback indicated that students would have liked to continue for the rest of the academic year. At my annual evaluation meeting, I will discuss the outcomes of this grant with my supervisor and inquire as to whether we can find a way to continue in future years. I think it will be a question of whether we have the budget to purchase TalkAbroad for my AP students each year. I am hopeful that this can happen, or that at the very least we could find a suitable alternative. I am extremely grateful to have received a curriculum development grant that allowed me to enrich my students’ language learning experience in such a profound way.

Project Lead

Ryan Casey, Lexington High School (Lexington, MA)