Spanish 275-C, College of Charleston
My name is Devon Hanahan and I am the Basic Spanish Language Program Coordinator and a Senior Instructor for the Department of Hispanic Studies at the College of Charleston. My project is called “Magic Carpet” and it is an enhancement of the current curriculum for my Spanish 275-C (Conversation) students.
Although my 275-C classes have been very successful in the past in terms of refining pronunciation, improving fluency and teaching conversational gambits, there has always been the restriction imposed on us by being in a classroom and having to create situations in which students feel inspired to communicate in the target language. I constantly remind them of the prize that awaits them: the opportunity to travel and to make friends with real people in Hispanic countries. With the “magic carpet” of the TalkAbroad platform, we will be able to go anywhere in the world to meet native speakers of the language. I would eventually like to make this component a part of all of our basic Spanish classes in an effort to improve students’ skills, introduce them to other cultures and to show them how much they have in common with people from all over the world.
I will teach three sections of Spanish 275-C in the spring of 2018. Each section will have 10 students and will meet for one hour a week. These students will have just completed the GenEd required semesters of Spanish and are enrolled in the three-hour course of Spanish 275, which is designed to review all skills before the students make the leap to the 300 level courses. Only motivated students who plan to major or minor in Spanish take Spanish 275 and the accompanying 275-C course.
My current 275-C curriculum focuses on broad topics such as family, education, goals, pastimes and hypothetical situations. Students are given the opportunity each week to contribute to class discussions on these and other topics, with a different student each week acting as the monitor, while I observe, take notes and keep the conversation going when the monitor needs help. Afterwards, I go over the general strengths and areas in need of improvement with the whole class.
We also focus on a different aspect of pronunciation each week and spend the first few minutes of each class drilling the focused sounds and preparing to use them well for the rest of the class. Almost every week, we have time for an activity to jumpstart the conversations. For example, a cortometraje (Spanish film that lasts 3-5 minutes), a partner activity, a news clip or a brainstorm in the form of a Venn diagram or some other collaboration.
I am pleased with the results of my past Spanish 275-C conversation classes, but I have always mourned the limitation that forced us to converse just among ourselves. The missing key has been the lack of contact with people who can share their native language AND cultural similarities and differences with these students. That is what they need to get genuinely excited about going on in their studies. TalkAbroad will bridge that gap for us. I have already spoken to several students who plan to take the class about the possibility of this addition to the curriculum and they are very eager to participate.
I plan to integrate three TalkAbroad conversations into the curriculum. Because this is a one-hour course that meets only once a week, I cannot complete more than three conversations without impacting other elements of the curriculum. Before each contact with partners, we will prepare for the conversations by brainstorming vocabulary, thinking of questions and pondering possible similarities and differences with the conversation partners and their lives. I will grade each conversation on my own time with a rubric, which is included in Appendix C.
All three conversations will be conducted in the present tense in keeping with the ACTFL guidelines. These students are Intermediate Low or Intermediate Mid, and as such, although they can read and write in other tenses, they are not yet ready to converse outside of the present tense and the near future.
After each conversation, we will share and compare results. An important component of the comparison will be the inclusion of the country of origin of each partner to incorporate cultural comparisons among countries. All five elements of the ACTFL World Readiness Standards will be met in this proposal and I can’t wait to get started!
My semester using TalkAbroad went exactly the way I wanted it to go. I had previously taught this conversation class without TalkAbroad and focused on speaking strategies, such as high frequency verb use and circumlocution. I still did those things, added to presentations in the classroom, but I added in TalkAbroad so the students could see these techniques put into practice in real life. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from the students. We would brainstorm ideas for them to talk about during class and after they would have their conversations, we would discuss the conversations in class and the students would submit a short summary of the conversation. Students were able to take what they are practicing in class and implement those skills in real life. There was not one student who didn’t enjoy their experience and they were all excited to be able to speak to a real person. It was a great experience and we have already signed up three conversation classes consisting of 30 students for the Spring 2019 semester.
I used a rubric to evaluate the conversations, and a portion of the students’ grades was based on their participation in the next day’s class where we discussed the conversations. The students were required to do three conversations throughout the semester. Unfortunately, in the coming semester, I have had to drop it down to two conversations, as the students need a bit more time in class to prepare for and follow-up the conversations. Including three TalkAbroad conversations into a one-credit hour course was difficult to fit into my already established curriculum because of time constraints.
After a recent experience with another foreign language conversation company, it confirmed my desire to use TalkAbroad and helped me appreciate how organized and easy to use the TalkAbroad platform is.
Going forward, I am planning to use it again for this conversation course, and now that 10-minute conversations are an option, I may include it as part of my curriculum for my regular basic language class programs. Overall, TalkAbroad is extremely user friendly and a very positive part of class. For me, being user friendly is very important and TalkAbroad was very easy to use for me and my students. Having taught this class without TalkAbroad, and now using it, TalkAbroad really takes the class to the next level and makes the class more meaningful. It got the students much more excited about considering going to another country and using the language and that’s an important goal for me as I’m teaching my students.
Devon Hanahan, College of Charleston