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Merritt: hm Mann: And that means that they're ready for anything. You know, I remember taking questions from parents when we'd have question night, or I don't know, we did this at (the middle school) many times, and one of the times it was about well, you know, “When they're in 6th grade or they're in 7th grade, will they start reading Don Quixote?” Um we said, “Well, no, of course not. Seventh graders in Spain don't read Don Quixote. That's-that's not the way it works. It's-seventh graders in the U.S. don't read Shakespeare, as a rule. Um it's too advanced. It's not appropriate to their level.” So I think the idea that some parents have is that after they've had six years of Spanish, they're fluent, and they can do anything.
Versus being able to kind of reframe it, and say they've had six years and well even, I think that-that the language used was-that they had “a language experience” in quotation marks, “a language experience” so that it wasn't, which is really lowering the-the bar.
Merritt: Yeah Mann: I think communicating that over and over and over and over and over with parents is going to be crucial be-lowering their expectations in some cases, because, if they think that their kids are, whatever, fluent, they think fluent means that they can do anything.
… Mann: So being more realistic with what can they do, what kinds of things and then-and then also sharing expectations with parents and students about you know, the middle school years, “These are important years for you to work on A, B and C” instead of having it be kind of nebulous and just well now this is what we'll study.
The solution to the problem of unrealistic expectations and overconfidence for Mr. Mann seemed to be the definition and application of the “A, B, and C” that the students would have to work on in middle school in preparation for high school, and the parameters of what school practices allowed students to do with language. Whether or not a student might be able and willing to read Don Quixote, since it was not traditionally read in middle school, these students would not be reading it during those years. While Mr.
Mann perceived unrealistic expectations to be an ongoing problem of parents and students exiting the Spanish Immersion program, the former Spanish Immersion students at Midville High School seemed to have conformed to those lowered expectations, having struggled to maintain a sense of their autonomy and confidence in using Spanish in this academic setting.
Domains of Language Learning and Use in Spanish 4AP: Dichotomized View of Language Use, Autonomous View of Literacy In much the same way that Potowski’s (2002) use of the dichotomy of academic and interpersonal language to consider how Spanish Immersion 5th graders limited understanding of the wide range of domains or “spheres of human activity” involved in language learning in an immersion setting, the AP exam (and the preparation for it in the course) emphasize two major categories of language use: “interpersonal” (conversational) and “presentational” (academic). However, in order to perform well on the exam, both teachers and students recognize that a student must be familiar with both a variety of registers and social situations within the “interpersonal” tasks, and a wide range of domains of knowledge within the “presentational” tasks. In this section, I will first present the range of social situations and subject domains obtained in the Interpersonal and Presentational Writing/Speaking prompts in the exams from 2007I will then consider the responses of both teachers and students to that range of situations and domains.
Language Use Dichotomy: Interpersonal and Presentational Writing/Speaking, AP Exams 2007-2011 The Interpersonal and Presentational Writing/Speaking sections of the AP exam are what many students, including former Spanish Immersion students, consider the most challenging (Focus group, 5/5/09), in part because of difficulty in predicting what the exam will demand in the way of the social situations (Interpersonal) and domains of knowledge (Presentational) for each communication situation. On the one hand, the exam assumes an autonomous view of literacy and language use, in that the conceit of the exam is that the students should be able to speak and write about any topic or in any situation presented them on the exam. However, the exam preparation practices also seem to imply the importance of familiarity with a wide variety of social situations and topics, and so preparation often involves practicing writing and speaking about past prompts. Still, teachers and students all seem to recognize that students would be much better prepared if they were given some range of topics from which the exam prompts would be selected for each year’s exam, that performance on the exam depends upon familiarity with the language associated with that social situation or domain. An examination of the Interpersonal and Presentational prompts over the course of five years reveals the wide range of language and domain knowledge needed to perform well. (See Appendices M-O) The Interpersonal prompts often involve communicating with family or friends either in writing or speech about a range of social activities, from parties, hobbies, outings, travel, to books read. They involve expressing opinions (about books, about the importance of people in their lives, about personal preferences), feelings (about people, activities, changes in life), accepting or turning down invitations, suggesting or describing activities, among other language uses. Many of these social activities involve the same informal register since the context is one of friendship or family. However, in some cases, the situation is much more formal, involving a significant power differential between the writer/speaker and the recipient. On the regular version of the 2010 exam, for example, the Interpersonal Speaking prompt read as follows: “Imagine that after class, your Spanish teacher talks with you about plans to celebrate a ‘Language Week’ to promote the study of Spanish.” While a student may think of a teacher in friendly terms, and so this prompt would not involve language that is a great deal more formal than the prompts involving friends and family, other prompts move further away from familiar, informal situations. In 2009, the Form B (the version of the test given to students who
had to retake the exam for a variety of reasons) Interpersonal Speaking prompt read:
“Imagine that you find yourself in the office of Diego Carrasco, the Director of International Studies, to interview as a possible leader of a group of students who are going to Costa Rica, where you studied last summer.” The 2008 Interpersonal Speaking prompt was: “You have applied for an internship with Nuestravisión, a television network. Imagine that you receive a phone call from the director of the network to discuss the job.” These two prompts represent much higher risk situations, ones that high school students would be much less familiar with, and in which the students would have much less power than their interlocutors. And yet, in theory, students’ performance would be judged similarly for each spoken task.
The Presentational Writing/Speaking prompts, inasmuch as they represent academic writing and thinking, involve reading, speaking and writing about a range of subjects which are important in both the academic and public realms. The writing situations involve composing an answer to a complex question about a particular theme or issue. The students’ written response is based on three texts, two written and one audio, from which they must compose a synthesis of material. The texts themselves are often taken from real world sources, newspapers and magazines. From 2007-2011, the
questions covered by the prompts for Presentational Writing23 included:
The prompts listed above are for the Regular exam. Form B, the alternative exam, included questions that were meant to be similar in some ways. For instance, the alternate question for 2007 was “What is the importance of sport as an expression of a 2007: How does tourism affect culture and environment?
• 2008: What is the impact of business and international investments on some • countries?
2009: How does climate change affect some animals?
• 2010: What impact does music have on the lives of young people?
• 2011: What is the impact of the use of bicycles in different places in the world?
• The domains involved in the reading and writing for these prompts vary widely from tourism, international business and investment, climate change and animal behavior, popular and youth culture and development, and the impact of technologies of transportation. Some students will be more familiar with one domain than another in English, depending upon their family, life experience and the classes they’ve taken or other educational experiences they’ve had. Writing about popular and youth culture may be significantly easier for them than writing about either business and investment in foreign countries or the effects of climate change would be.
The Presentational Speaking prompts have tended to be even more challenging given the difficulty of producing a coherent synthesis of sources with two minutes of planning and two of delivery, and the technical challenge of recording one’s voice with a cassette recorder in a room with 100+ other students all doing the same. As with the Presentational Writing prompts, the final product has been the same for the last five years, a comparison of either the two sources themselves, or of how the subject is treated
in them. The prompts provided from 2007-2011 were:
2007: Compare the differences and similarities in how the two groups discussed • (Puerto Ricans and Paraguayans) maintain their cultural identities in the United States.
2008: Compare the similarities and differences in the lives and artistic work of • musicians Carlos Santana and Gustavo Santaolalla.
2009: Compare the differences and similarities between the ideas presented in the • two congresses on the Spanish language.
2010: Compare the life and experiences of writers Juan Marsé and Gabriela • Mistral.
2011: Compare the ideas expressed in the two sources about health.
• While three of the prompts might relate more closely to work the students have done in their AP course on Latin American cultural groups, music and writing, the 2009 and 2011 prompts revolve around subject matter that many students may have had no experience with in Spanish, and perhaps little in English.
Compared to the wide range of domains of language use to which Spanish Immersion students were exposed during their six years of elementary school, these prompts represent an equally wide variety of academic domains, history/social science, science/environmental studies, culture, but also introduce new sub-domains such as people?” While “sport” is a different domain than “tourism” they are both connected in the question to “culture.” economics, health sciences, and linguistics with which even many high school students would have little exposure to in English. And the subject matters represented by the prompts and sources are decontextualized from their social (whether personal or academic) situations in a way might give students very few resources to work with in creating a response.
Teacher/Student Responses to Domain Demands of Exam: “Everything under the sun” So how can teachers help students prepare for the wide range of language use domains possible in the AP exam? From my observations in Mr. Mann’s class, the answer that seemed apparent was to practice as wide an array of past exam elements as possible, and to read as much as possible. Mr. Mann’s students did both (See Appendix P), though as I have pointed out earlier, all of their reading up to the exam came in the form of short readings, either drawn from their text of short stories and poems or from the AP exam prep book. Since teachers have no idea what domains might be encountered on the exam, the only way to address the question of domain-related knowledge and language use would be to follow Mr. Mann’s practices.
During our interview, Mr. Mann explained that the College Board left the question of what reading to do to prepare for the exam entirely up to the individual AP teacher. While that afforded him a great deal of autonomy in selecting readings, he also saw problems related to the College Board’s lack of direction in relationship to the Presentational Writing prompts.
Mann: There was no reading list. You could basically read anything. It could be on any theme under the sun, practically, as long as it was in Spanish, and in fact some of the-it was interesting, because, obviously the theme of the Presentational Writing this year was about climate change. Last year it was about globalization, so they're broad themes.
He commented that in the previous year’s exam prep readings “globalization was not something that came up a lot,” which he and his fellow AP teachers saw as a problem that needed to be accounted for in their teaching. He implied that College Board might consider ways it could have made it clearer when a particular domain should receive their focus in exam preparation.
Mann: But it [globalization] could [come up in the readings] if that were something that they [College Board] felt we really needed to explore more.
However, given the silence of College Board on what subject matter or language domains might appear on the exam in any year, Mr. Mann and his colleagues were left with trying to choose the readings their students did carefully, mining them for all the language domains they could.
Merritt: Yeah so-how is it that you all have chosen what will be the thematic material or the readings [you use for practice in class]?