First and Second Year Spanish, East Stroudsburg University
The purpose of this project is to analyze the usefulness of TalkAbroad as an activity for the development of language and culture acquisition in three levels of university Spanish courses. Each course features an oral exam at the end of the semester (here replaced by the TalkAbroad conversations), normally counting for about 5% of the total course grade. This is usually a 5-minute conversation with the instructor in which course objectives are assessed via question and answer discussion. Students review for this oral exam and practice for it. Importantly, it is an assessment, and not practice. Lacking still is practice during the semester.
Development of oral proficiency (underpinned by appropriate grammar and vocabulary knowledge) is the ultimate goal of our language courses. Written proficiency is a related, lesser goal. Emphasis on oral proficiency is consciously in sync with current standards and best-practices, and we employ textbook programs that provide online material to support acquisition of speaking skills both in and out of class.
Like most American higher education language courses, ours still bring too little guided speaking practice to students. The usefulness of our textbooks’ online speaking activities is ultimately limited, since they are unguided and not true conversation. In addition, during class we instructors find ourselves facing a crowd of inexperienced and under-motivated learners, often 30 to a group, with an ambitious agenda of content to practice and too little time to guide small-group or individual conversation. The lack of experience and motivation of our learners is, of course, reflective of broader patterns in the United States; as part of a regional state university, we consider our profile to be something like a ‘slice of life’ of the country as a whole. Our students usually enroll in levels 1 and 2 not due to language interest, but rather because they need General Education credits that language courses can bring. Our policy of nearly 100% target-language usage during class is calculated to maximize acquisition of speech, but represents a serious challenge to most students. In the past, we have sought to provide on-call practice for our students (especially those in levels 1 and 2) by posting volunteer, advanced Spanish students at a common space within the department. This failed, due to lack of interest on the part of students, and lack of experience on the part of the tutors/conversants.
Two level 1 sections will have a task-driven conversation at mid- semester with a native-speaker partner, and a finals-week conversation guided by content of the second half of the semester. Students in Spanish 3 and 4 sections will engage in a task-driven conversation every 2 weeks (six total for the semester), with content guided by relevant studies at each phase of the semester. All conversations are required and graded as a total of 5% of the final course grade. The instructors will review recordings for each conversation and assess; students will return a survey on the experience; instructors will share results.
Expected Impact: We hope that the addition of TalkAbroad conversations results in effective and enjoyable practice of speaking/listening skills in our courses, as well as stronger cultural competencies. We recognize that large jumps in each category require longer, more intensive immersion, but hope to find indications that the TalkAbroad conversations engage students and allow for effective practice on that longer-term journey toward stronger competencies. The rubric should be helpful to gauge this success.
Dr. Jeff Ruth, East Stroudsburg University