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Mann: Well some of the readings-we actually-the AP literature reading listwe've taken from there and then what that does is it lessens the burden for [the AP Spanish Literature teacher] when he has them in AP Lit. Then some of those-we do some short stories, we do a play, we do some poetry, and so some of those things they'll already have read and explored and talked about and written about and so on. And um less work for him, but they're also very rich materials. So they-so, for example, we read “Un día de estos” which is a classic Garcia Marquez story which is just this little microcosm of society but him reflecting on the whole topic of la violencia in Colombia and it lends itself to such huge conversations giving them a lot of history about Latin America, Colombia in particular, about violence, the different political extremism-ists, I should say, that exist not only there but all over the place and sort of contrasting that with well how do political differences tend to get resolved in the U.S. That's just one story.
You can do so much with just that one story.
Even though many AP teachers have learned to improvise in this way to expose their students to as wide an array of language domains as possible, Mr. Mann shared how his colleagues are aware of the need for more direction from the College Board to help them prepare their students realistically for the exam. He recollected an interchange between AP teachers and presenters from the College Board at one of the training sessions he had attended that year.
Mann: We did-someone asked or I guess they [College Board reps] asked the audience, “Would it be helpful to have a list of possible themes so that it weren't so broad that it could be anything?” We all nodded and said “That would be really nice-to have-maybe give us 25 possible themes and maybe we can see how we can integrate those instead of everything under the sun.” Even 25 themes seemed more reasonable to Mr. Mann, though one could imagine that finding readings that would touch on that many themes over the course of even the majority of a school year would be challenging. Since as Mr. Mann pointed out, many traditional World Language students would have many knowledge gaps to fill before they might be considered bilingual, having to interact with the language domains of 25 themes, while not as burdensome as feeling the need to learn “everything under the sun,” would still be challenging for his students.
The focus group students also commented on the unpredictable nature of the Presentational Writing and Speaking prompts. While several of them felt that the Presentational Writing prompt of the 2009 exam was easier than some of the prompts they had practiced in class (in part because of how it would be scored as compared with how teachers had scored theirs), they felt baffled by the Presentational Speaking prompt.
Kyle: … on the formal presentation-that was that was my worst part. It was bad.
Chris: I think we really didn't know what to do on that one.
Kyle: Yeah, I was just like “Uh Spanish is a language and …” Merritt: What was the formal presentation about?
Anne: Like you read a source and you hear a source and you have to compare them.
Kyle: It was compare and contrast the two Spanish speakers’ conferences’ or congresses’ view about Spanish.
Several of the students faulted the poor audio source (which featured multiple speakers, background music, and fuzzy audio quality) for their inability to understand how to address the prompt, but Kyle recognized his own lack of knowledge of the subject matter.
While Kyle acknowledged his struggle with the unfamiliar subject matter, and talked about his strategy to talk more about the source he had read, and only devote 20 seconds of his discourse to the audio source, other students felt that they had understood the audio source sufficiently to make some use of it.
Teresa: …I got all the information I needed from the audio source in like the first 20 seconds and didn't need to listen to the rest of it.
The discussion of this prompt led Virginia to think of non-Spanish Immersion students and how they might have navigated the task.
Virginia: I feel like if I hadn't been in Spanish Immersion though that that audio part would have been really hard. Like I don't think I could have followed any ofor maybe picked up [only] some parts of it.
Even these students who had experienced years of Spanish language use in many different domains, both academic and social, because of the unfamiliarity of the subject matter, combined with the conditions of the test, questioned their ability to succeed in the task. How much more difficult would it have been for traditional World Language students?
Though they struggled with the Presentational Speaking and Writing prompts in various ways, as Virginia implied, their experience as Spanish Immersion students did help them in succeeding on the exam. Teresa saw herself as capable of thinking in Spanish, being able to process spoken language in a way that emphasized understanding rather than relying upon notetaking to be able to reproduce language she had received through the spoken source.
Teresa: Yeah, I can like think in Spanish and when I hear a word I can-I just like know what it means and I think that helped a lot with like the listening sections cuz we just like we could just write down cuz we knew what it meant.
Virginia: I didn't have to-yeah I never took notes on that.
Both Teresa and Virginia could see themselves depending more upon deeper understanding of the language they heard, and having to do less work to process language in order to produce their own version of what they had heard in making the comparisons necessary for the exam prompt. Teresa’s appreciation of her ability to understand the meaning of the language she heard stood in contrast to the lack of understanding she observed in non-Spanish Immersion students near her during the exam. As the focus group chatted before our session began, Teresa shared an amusing story about several girls near her who had confused the reference to “mancha roja” (red spot) in the audio source for the Presentational Writing task, with “mariposa” (butterfly). The students laughed about what they saw as a confusion of terms they would not make. Teresa later commented about her own language abilities: “at least I understood that there was red water and not butterflies.” In fact, their discussion of the “mancha roja” during this chat focused not on what it meant, but on what processes had brought it about.
Kyle: And I didn't know that the fish eggs-see I thought that they decided that it was chemical and it wasn'tVirginia; What?Unknown:
-No the ( ) was chemicalVirginia: (inaudible) Kyle: It means the red, it means that the waterChris: The red tide … Virginia: I thought they laid their eggs and all their eggs were red ?? : I couldn't understand what they were saying Virginia: Yeah, well I just thought that they laidMark: I definitely heard "chemicals."
Kyle: Yeah, it did say that.
Virginia: It used to be-they thought it was biológico Kyle: But then it was chemical or something, yeah Anne: People like-one thought it was like natural and some thought it wasKyle:
-and then and then- Anne:
-chemical Kyle: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Anne: I wasn't sure what they were telling us.
Chris: So there was confusion [about the cause].
Kyle: Yeah, so that's what I said. I just said “The confusion surrounding this is because of global warming.” Though Anne admitted that she wasn’t sure “what they were telling us,” in general, the group’s understanding was focused much more on the larger meanings of the content of the text, the very confusion scientists had experienced in understanding the source of the “mancha roja.” They engaged the texts as containing important content related to knowledge about global warming. This discussion reflected clearly the way they had been used to using language in their Spanish Immersion experience, not as a system to be memorized, controlled and manipulated, but as the medium through which to understand the world, and the content of various knowledge and activity domains. This language experience and focus contributed to their success on that day’s AP exam.
Why Spanish Immersion Students Were Prepared for High Achievement on AP Exam Even though several of the focal students expressed doubt and under-confidence in their performance on that day’s AP exam, in fact, they had been highly successful.
Not only did all of them, and all the other former Spanish Immersion students, pass the exam, most of them passed with scores of 4 or 5, scores that would qualify them for credit at many colleges and universities, and would exempt them from further World Language study at some colleges and universities. If the measure of success in World Language study is passing the Spanish Language AP exam, these students were highly successful.
Overall Pass Rate of Spanish Immersion Students as Compared with Non-Spanish Immersion Students This study represents the first time Spanish Language AP scores of former Spanish Immersion students have been gathered and compared to scores of non-Spanish Immersion students in Midville School District. While the high school World Language teachers have expressed concern about the quality of language these students use and produce in high school, as far as I could tell, they had never gathered data on the performance of the former Spanish Immersion students on this exam.
Table 4.1: 2007-201024 Spanish Language AP Exam Pass Rates (3, 4, 5), Spanish Immersion (SI), Non-Spanish Immersion and Total
As Table 4.1 shows, these students and their Spanish Immersion peers were more successful than the other Spanish Language AP students from the classes at the two Midville’s former Spanish Immersion students had taken the Spanish Language AP exam since Spring 2005; however, data from that year was missing for all students, and data from the Spring 2006 exam was missing for non-SI students.
In Spring 2006, 100% (N=12) of the former SI students passed the exam with a 4 or 5.
Midville high schools. In fact, their scores helped raise the overall pass rate, and removing them from the total number of students who passed the exam reveals a much lower pass rate among non-Spanish Immersion students. Their participation in the exam, then, helped Spanish AP teachers’ pass rates appear higher, which is an important way in which these teachers measure their own success and in which their success is measured by the site and district. The table also shows that year after year since the first groups of Spanish Immersion students entered the districts’ high schools, the Spanish Immersion students performed better on the exams.
Rate of 4/5 Score of Spanish Immersion Students as Compared with Non-Spanish Immersion Students Table 4.2: 2007-2010 Spanish Language AP Exam Pass Rates (4, 5), Spanish Immersion (SI), Non-Spanish Immersion and Total
Table 4.2 includes the proportion of students who passed with 4 and 5, the scores which can earn them college credit.
In this case, it reveals that the former Spanish Immersion students were significantly more successful at this higher level than their nonSpanish Immersion counterparts. The difference in proportion between them is significant (z = 3.54, P 0.0001).
What Contributed to Their Success?: Long-Term Literacy Experience and Content-Focused Language Use Their own sense of the difference between themselves and non-Spanish Immersion students in this testing situation points toward one of the sources of their success. They had had enough experience with Spanish to know the difference between a “mancha roja” and a “mariposa.” For many years, they had experienced literacy practices focused on understanding content and being able to use language to demonstrate understanding. As Ms. Gomez pointed out in our interview, the way that she knew that her students understood the concepts presented to them was their ability to use the language associated with those concepts and the domains that they belonged to.
Language was not separate from content, but integral to it. Their long-term exposure to many academic and social language domains through their classroom lessons and highly contextualized reading and writing experiences contributed to their store of language available to them to draw from in decoding readings and audio texts, and encoding written and spoken texts. Though they expressed under-confidence about their understanding of the specific domains involved in the reading and writing on the exam, their experience with a wide range of language domains through their elementary years could not help but contribute to their ability to recognize and respond appropriately to language tasks from a variety of domains.
Their reading and writing practices in elementary school had focused on reading and writing for multiple meanings, academic, social, personal, and they had engaged in many conversations about the meanings of their reading and writing with each other and their teachers. They were used to reading and writing (and listening and speaking) for meaning, the skill the AP test was based on. Their ability to receive language (reading and listening) and produce language (writing and speaking) focusing on larger meanings rather than on the particles of language allowed them to save time and produce more reading and speaking during the time allowed.
As Kyle pointed out in the focus group, none of the direct instruction in grammar they had received in middle school and high school was tested directly on the AP exam.
While the teachers who score the writing and speaking sections of the exam may have looked for specific grammar features or errors as they read and listened to the students’ responses, the Spanish Immersion students’ practical use of grammar in writing and speaking for meaning would have perhaps overshadowed any infelicities in their grammaticality.