As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I really had a great 2021-22 school year. Working with both my Spanish II and IV students was a lot of fun and together we had many great experiences (at least their surveys told me so). Teaching Junior level students in Spanish IV is a joy for me as a teacher and a class that I love teaching every year (even though it is one of their toughest year’s overall in high school). It is Intermediate Spanish on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and in every class there is a mix of Intermediate Low and Mid students and I work hard to move them each as far along as they can go. During this first official “non-Zoom or hybrid teaching” year since March 2020, I must say that I had many students who started my class at Novice High levels. Truthfully, for me the important part is that students’ proficiency grows during the year regardless of the level but it is at this Spanish IV that we test our students using Avant’s STAMP 4S Spanish Exam to get a sense of their proficiency levels and provide them an opportunity to earn the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy.
This year students took the test in May following three weeks of intense AP testing in all of their other classes. My Spanish IV is not AP (that is our level 5 class) so my students take the STAMP exam instead of taking a final exam in level IV. The STAMP 4S Exam scores each section: reading, listening, writing and speaking on a 9 point rubric that aligns with the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. To earn the OHIO SEAL OF BILITERACY students can score a 5 (Intermediate Mid) on one section with the rest of the scores being at least a 6 (Intermediate High). To help put this in perspective, to be a teacher in the USA, you need to score an equivalent of 6s (Intermediate High) or in some states a score of 7s (Advanced Low).
This year all of my students were non-heritage speakers of Spanish, and I am so happy to have had 17/34 – 50% of students earn the OHIO SEAL OF BILITERACY as Juniors (honestly any high school student scoring 5s and above is quite the feat; remember, you need to prove Intermediate High 6s to become a teacher). I know my students were very proud of this also, especially in spite of the global pandemic and not having “regular” school for 12 months. Of the 3 years of doing this test, this is our highest number of Juniors earning the Seal, each year my student’s proficiency is improving.
Using the Data
The STAMP 4S Exam results provide me a lot of data to help influence my practice as a teacher. One takeaway from the data and students this year is to use more short readings and images with text in class and also to include more listening excerpts like news reports; this year I chose not to do many current events and now I see that may have hindered their development a bit in listening (at least for the sake of testing). Students did however do a lot of authentic listening using Edpuzzles based on many topics but I am going to add a new approach too. This coming school year, I am planning on incorporating many more of these resources on a daily basis with a targeted question that we think through, and I will report back on the results in the future.
Development of Thought
With all of that said, students all felt that they really grew this year with regard to their speaking and writing communication because I pushed them to develop their thoughts and sentence quality. We worked very hard on adding transition words, conjunctions, and other words to add complexity to their sentences – all while not worrying about perfection and accuracy. I tried to move them into the headspace of just communicating in Spanish and we saw some really great results. In terms of accuracy building, we did work on learning the highest frequency verbs in multiple tenses (see my last post about Mastery Learning) and in many ways this did help their capacity to use words in a variety of time frames, which does help show a range of proficiency. I certainly do not feel that the frequent verb quizzes that I talked about in the post solved all of the accuracy needs of my students, but I do feel it gave them a breadth of knowledge so they knew of their existence, could use many of them correctly, and at least help them understand them in context. As I mentioned in that post, it is my goal to use these highest frequency words in every level we teach in our program through the lens of Mastery Learning so that when they get to the next level they would have mastered a great deal of the structures from those high-frequency lists.
Defining my Core Classroom Values
Before starting last school year, I redefined my classroom core values as a teacher and assured that these five components were incorporated into all units of study and lessons. Even though they are not revolutionary, and in many ways they reflect our standards, it was important for me to highlight these guiding principles to students so they understood my hopes for building our class community, my overall expectations for them, connections in all of the content we would study, and how to approach thinking. My Classroom Core Values were and will remain the same this year:
- Listening to Acquire Language
- Communication & Conversation in Spanish
- Cultural Comparisons
- Creative Thinking
A fundamental aspect of my Spanish IV course is to have students make connections to bigger questions using a somewhat thematic approach, but more importantly, using overarching essential questions and concepts. Over the past two years, I have transitioned to using sections and units from the online textbook series Nuestra historia by Voces Digital. For me, in the 20 years of teaching level IV, I have very rarely used a textbook. I have created so many units of study and I have so many materials that I have not relied on one book per se but oftentimes a plethora of materials from many sources. Using many of the resources and stories provided in Nuestra Historia level 4, I was able to choose pre-AP global and relevant topics that formed the basis for our Discussions Days. These discussions were similar to my common practice of using Socratic Seminars/Circles (see my post here), but Discussion Days did not require students to prepare as much as Socratic Seminars, and I was quite happy with the results. In fact, when my students did do their first Socratic Seminar this year, they felt at ease and very well prepared, which was a wonderful result of using 4 shorter Discussion Days instead of 3 longer Socratic Seminars. For an example of what my Discussion Days look like, you can check out the free presentation “Critical Conversations in the World Language Classroom” on my resource page, which includes 10 discussion topics in English and Spanish for the intermediate level and the rubrics I have used (by the way, they do support 10 of the topics in the Nuestra Historia Level 4 text).
Including Novice Topics
Along the same lines with these more current and relevant topics, I was very intentional this year about incorporating as many novice topics as possible so students could become familiar speaking about those topics as well as the more “global challenge” ones. I have always started the year with the topic of “Identity” and will continue to do so because students need to be able to talk about themselves, their families, their interests, what they do in their free-time, what they’re studying, who they are as individuals, what their hopes and aspirations are for the future, information about their beliefs and religion, and information about their communities. It is my job and responsibility to assure that they can talk about these topics and not just say “they should have learned it in the past.” In fact even though they have learned about them in the past, when they get to intermediate Spanish they’re able to develop their ideas about these topics in a way that novice students should not be able to do. A change this year was for me to have interpersonal discussion interviews with each student about these topics and their opinions. In my end of the semester surveys, all students said how much they enjoyed these real and individual discussions with me and that I must continue to make time for them in the future. They said that the experience was empowering and a great way to show themselves what they can do in Spanish. For them it was a good experience, and if a test can be a “good experience” for students then happy days are here again for me as a teacher.
Not Reinventing the Wheel and Finding Balance
I know as I continue to comb through last year’s lessons, I will remember so many other great days, ideas, and also those on which I would like to improve upon this year. I wrote this post because I do not want to change everything that I did last year. I love creating new units and I love delving into new topics, but for myself as a teacher, I need to be realistic in terms of continuing to do what was successful in a more intentional way and not reinvent the wheel every single school year (even if I do enjoy the process). Something I learned from the pandemic was that I do need to build in time for myself as a person and watch how much time I am dedicating to my teaching life – finding a healthy balance between school and home life is crucial. Is it now that I’ve made this realization being in my forties or was it because of the pandemic? Regardless of what it was, I know I feel and look better after practicing yoga and building in the “me” time necessary to keep going for another 20 years.