This year I taught AP Spanish Language and Culture to the new exam format, and I found the presentational speaking task to be the most challenging for me as a teacher. My students are Latino, so they have their own target culture experiences to drawn on as well as the cultural information that I present in class. On the flip side, since the school where I teach is 95% Latino and we live in a predominantly Hispanic part of Denver, I found that the students may not have a deep knowledge of American culture outside of our community. So, in addition to cultures of the Spanish-speaking world, I felt compelled to provide information about “American” culture, if you will. I think this is true, however, for all language teachers to some extent, for there are AP contexts about which adolescents may not have background knowledge, such as art or architecture in the United States. Without that background knowledge, they are unable to make the cultural comparisons with supporting details and relevant examples that are required for the presentational speaking task.
Another issue I find with the cultural comparison is that there are 6-7 contexts for each theme. I feel I can only reasonably teach about 3 contexts per theme. The AP Spanish Language Course and Exam Description states that not all contexts have to be covered, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that a context that we do not discuss will be the one on the exam. I could assign the other contexts as outside research projects, but I feel like I am leaving their level of knowledge up to chance. To avoid this issue, I have decided to teach half the contexts in the class before the AP Language course, which I call “pre-AP” and the other half in the actual AP course. This is where vertical alignment of language courses with the AP exam is useful.
Even with limiting myself to 3 contexts per theme, I feel that we only have time to do a superficial coverage of culture at best, which leads to stereotypes that come out in their oral presentations.
At the end of the first unit, I gave my students the presentational speaking prompt found in the practice exam. Before recording, we read the directions and the rubric, and listened to the student samples included with the practice exam. Then the students recorded using the same equipment they would use during the actual exam. I was pretty disappointed with the results. The students did not incorporate anything that we had studied during the unit, instead relying on their own prior knowledge. This is not bad per se, but obviously my cultural lessons were not sticking with them. A good number did not make the comparison, instead talking about each culture separately, or just talking about one culture.
For the second and third units, I again gave the students a presentational speaking task at the end of the unit. This time I tried giving the students a Venn diagram to fill out during the 4 minutes they had for brainstorming, then they recorded. The main problem this time was that my students were able to talk about their personal experiences from the Hispanic community, but they had little or no knowledge outside of that for comparison. Some of them even made up information about non-Hispanic culture in the United States. Would it be wrong to allow students to compare and contrast their experiences as a Mexican-American in the United States and a different Spanish-speaking culture such as Spain or Argentina, for example?
For units 4, 5 and 6 I tried using Venn diagrams at the end of a lesson or series of lessons on a particular context so that they could write down what they remembered and see how it could turn into a speaking task. Here is my template.
I also tried to incorporate information about our city and the U.S. As we talked about environmental issues, for example, we read about the ozone warnings that Denver experiences each summer. Though the students’ oral presentations improved, I still did not see the students incorporating much of the class material, or at times doing so inaccurately. They used vague generalizations rather than concrete examples, which was frustrating to me because I felt that I had infused the lessons with specific things that they could use in their presentations.
So after a year of working hard to saturate the course with culture and teach the students exactly what they needed to do to complete the task successfully, the question that they had to answer on the exam was not related to anything specific that we had discussed in class. The students relied completely on their own knowledge and experience to answer the prompt.
As I think about next year, I plan to do more modeling by filling out the Venn diagrams myself so that they can compare their completed Venns with mine and see what I thought was important. Perhaps I should use more of a T-chart and have the students fill them out during the course of the class period as they hear or read something that they think is of relevance. I also think that I should provide the students with a presentational speaking prompt at the beginning of each new context that we discuss, and everything we do will relate to answering that question. They will not necessarily record a presentational speaking task for each prompt, but at least they are reflecting on and processing that cultural information. Furthermore, since there is not yet a bank of student samples for the new presentational speaking format, I need record my own so that the students can hear what I was looking for in their presentations for comparison with their own recordings.
My principal suggested that I have the students take more ownership of the learning by doing research, so I will try to incorporate that as well, but my impression from observing my students as they research is that students + computers to find information = inefficient use of class time. If anyone has suggestions for making research gathering more effective, I am eager to hear your input. Around 90% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, so expecting them to go home and do research is not a very realistic expectation since their access to resources may be limited.
One last thing that I can share is a template I developed for the presentational speaking assessment that the students performed each unit, in case it could be useful. I look forward to hearing how others have tackled the cultural comparison in their AP language classes.