If you are, I’d say you’re standing on the same cliff edge that I stood on in 2006! I was frustrated by my scores on my first attempt at National Board Certification, I was saddened by apathy about language learning and homework. I was heartbroken that in spite of my best efforts the students were not using language after high school (the vast majority). I was down that they were great at quizzes but terrible at any type of interpersonal interaction. I felt like I was 12 years into a career that didn’t feel like fun! So I jumped off.
If you’re feeling brave, let me tell you about the results first: (We are a school of 365 students with 1.5 Spanish teachers, average size of graduating class 80, average class size 20)
- current retention rate appx. 65% across the four year program (55 level 1 to 36 level 4)
- of the 36 graduating seniors ALL place Intermediate 1 or better on the AAPPL exam in Reading and Listening. appx. 90% place Intermediate 3 or better. appx. 70% place Intermediate 4 or 5!
- of the 36 graduating seniors, 3 place at Novice 4 on the AAPPL exam in Writing and Speaking, appx. 90% place over Intermediate 2, appx. 60% Intermediate 4 or 5! These numbers kill me because they beat the national average of N4-I1!
- our student giving project is approaching $10,000 in donations in its 4th year!
- we have seen a huge increase in numbers of students using language outside the classroom and in their university studies.
So what did we do?
- We ditched the textbook. But not the first year! I was the lone language teacher back then. The program at the upper levels was small so we didn’t need a second teacher. I pared down the vocabulary lists (check out my chuck it bucket post here.) If you are in a district with colleagues who are married to the text for one reason or another, the chuck-it bucket can help you adapt your curriculum so you can be free to be YOU while trying to jump through district required hoops!
- We started to USE language. I will admit it, I spoke about 90% ENGLISH in my classes for 12 years. When far, far former students tell me how many vocabulary words they remember, it makes me sad because that is all I ever gave them. A lot of disconnected facts! No real language skills. But things are different now! From day one of level 1 we use SPANISH. It isn’t scary, kids don’t say “ooooh, you won’t like that, you can only use Spanish…” We use very comprehensible input and we talk a LOT about them and their interests. YES. For a whole year! Tons of fun stories, movies, authentic resources, all things that lead back to great conversations in simple NOVICE appropriate ways. And we just go on from there. We can talk about Civil Rights, War and Peace, any AP theme… we just use language appropriate to the level!
- We got some training. I went to TPRS, TCI, OWL, all kinds of workshops and gleaned the most effective ways to present COMPREHENSIBLE input! It didn’t happen in a day but every year, I learned to slow down more. To have more fun. To enjoy our secret code language!
- We brought in culture. I live in a rural area. It is hard for my students to see when, why, how they are going to use Spanish. Learning little by little about the lives of the people who speak this language (and learning it as more than a cultural bubble in a textbook) has been eye-opening. Again, these units didn’t come overnight! I adapted from friends (kplacido.com, Kara Jacobs, martinabex.com, Cynthia Hitz to name a few). I designed 2 per course per year!
- We started teaching and grading for PROFICIENCY! It is not about how many endings students can learn. Sadly, learning only present tense in Spanish 1 is so unnatural and yet it is how every text is set up! We use verbs organically. If I need level ones to use subjunctive “His mom wants him to go” I just teach them that structure. By the time we look at it more deeply later, I have lots of seeds planted and I just have to water them to get grammatical transference. Same with past tenses. We compartmentalize them into Spanish 2 and then move on to 25 other grammar points in 3/4… but you know what holds back student proficiency? An advanced low speaker has a reasonable control of present/past tenses/and future… After college kids don’t always come out advanced low without a study abroad! Clearly we are not getting those three key tenses enough repetitions in our 4 years with them! The other stuff is really great but don’t sacrifice the key stuff.
- We started connecting to student careers. I spent years letting students think that their only option as a Spanish major/minor was to become a teacher. Some of them want to, but the majority want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects. We have cross-curricular lessons that put students in touch with their language study as it applies to their field of interest! Check out my posts about water for the Engineers, Natural Scientists, and the Philanthropists. We study music, law, literary features, art, exercise, food, soooo many things that connect Spanish with their lives and loves.
Please don’t feel frustrated about a new generation of kids who just don’t care! They do! There are just untapped resources to reach them! If we truly want to see a nation that values language, we have to help them see where language fits not only for future language teachers but for every student in every career! Take the plunge! You won’t regret it for a second. I’m 10 years in (almost as many as I taught from the text) and I just love the freedom I have to teach the units I love, the topics that interest my students, and the cultures I am so fond of!