||Janet Parker has 25 years experience teaching AP Language and Literature courses and has led College Board workshops and Summer Institutes. She is currently the instructor of foreign language education at The College of William & Mary.
Objectives of the current AP Spanish Language Course
The current AP Spanish Language course is intended to develop proficiency in the five goal areas outlined in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. It is designed for students who wish to attain proficiency across three communicative modes: Interpersonal (interactive communication), Interpretive (receptive communication), and Presentational (productive communication). The course is meant to be comparable to fifth and sixth semester college and university courses that focus on speaking and writing in the target language at an advanced level. Students who enroll should already have a basic knowledge of the language and cultures of Spanish-speaking peoples and should have attained a reasonable proficiency in using the language. The students who demonstrate the skills and knowledge required to receive an AP grade of 3, 4, or 5 can:
- communicate effectively in Spanish in the interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive modes;
- communicate in Spanish with a strong command of linguistic skills, including accuracy and fluency;
- comprehend Spanish intended for native speakers in a variety of settings, types of discourse, topics, styles, registers, and broad regional variations;
- produce Spanish comprehensible to native speakers in a variety of settings, types of discourse, topics, and registers;
- acquire information from authentic sources in Spanish; and
- demonstrate an awareness of some cultural perspectives of Spanish-speaking peoples.
Preparing to Teach
Prior to beginning an official AP Spanish Language course teachers must be knowledgeable of the skills and demands expected of the students on the AP exam. Secondly, developing and offering the course requires administrative and departmental support. The value of the AP course for students lies not only on exam scores, but rather on language and study skills gained during the course. Deciding when to offer the AP Language course depends on the rigor of the pre-AP preparation of the students who enroll in the AP course. Teachers who are considering launching an AP Spanish Language course should first choose several of the top performing students in the highest level course and have them take the AP Exam without special preparation. The exam grades and the AP Teacher Report will explain the results so teachers are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their program prior to beginning an official AP course in their school.
The anticipated class size is 25 students or less, allowing all students to practice and use the language daily. With more than 25 students, the course will lack the critical classroom atmosphere that allows each student to interact with the teacher. In the early years of building an AP program, the class size may be as low as 10-15; however, the administration and departments must be willing to carry that temporary shortfall.
The Spanish Department and the AP Spanish Language Course
Oftentimes, one teacher may initiate the AP Language course as a challenge for her teaching abilities and the students. Students enroll in the course because they are eager to advance their skills and are attracted by the appeal of earning college credits. But, if the program is to survive, it is important to enlist and energize all the department members who have the language ability, teaching skills, and willingness to be trained in the best practices of AP Language teaching. Students who will be successful on the AP exam must be exposed to authentic language from the beginning of language study. Students must read level appropriate literary, journalistic, and web-based selections as well as listen to a variety of authentic sources such as radio broadcasts, appropriate musical selections, and recordings. Students are encouraged to use the language in a variety of ways early in their language study without penalty for grammatical or syntactical errors. Consequently, the success of an AP Spanish language course is the result of a strong and well articulated language program from level one through AP language.
Selection of Students
Who will determine which students enroll in the AP Language course? If this decision is made as a department, the AP program will be more successful because everyone will have a role in the decision process. Most departments have developed written guidelines for admitting students to AP courses. The guidelines, developed cooperatively among teachers, administrators, students, and parents can include expectations for in-and out-of-class work. The criterions considered are usually grades in the previous year’s course, teacher recommendations, and/or a student application. It is important to leave the door open to encourage capable students to enroll who may not otherwise take a demanding AP course. Parents of potential students are eager to learn about the benefits of an AP Language course early in the high school experience. The department will benefit from the positive public relations of promoting the value of second language learning, especially when parents endorse the AP program.
AP Access and Equity Initiatives
Equitable access is a guiding principle for AP programs. Schools should make every effort to ensure that the AP classes reflect the diversity of their student populations. All students who are willing to accept this challenging program should be given consideration for admission. The College Board encourages elimination of barriers that restrict access to AP courses for students from ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the AP Program.
Developing a Syllabus
“One size does not fit all” underlies the development of an AP Spanish Language syllabus. Teachers contemplating the AP Language course need to consider what students must do with the language at the end of the course in order to prepare them. The syllabus should include the use of authentic sources reflecting all types of genres and media. Course content is essential; students cannot randomly learn rules of grammar and lists of vocabulary that are not embedded in a wide variety of academic and cultural topics. A syllabus is a living document that changes to accommodate unexpected issues, interests, or events. The real purpose of a syllabus is to give the students a flight plan of where they are going, how they are going to get there, and how they will benefit from the journey, all reflecting the communicative modes in a rich context.
The course expectations stated in the syllabus must focus on the skills and knowledge that AP students are expected to acquire:
- Identify and summarize the main points and significant details; make appropriate inferences and predications from a spoken source, such as a broadcast news report or a lecture on an academic or cultural topic related to the Spanish-speaking world. Speaking (S), Listening (L), and Writing (W)
- Identify and summarize the main points and significant details and predict outcomes from an everyday conversation on a familiar topic, a dialogue from a film or other broadcast media, or an interview on a social or cultural topic related to the Spanish-speaking world. S, L
- Identify and summarize the main points and important details and make appropriate inferences and predictions from a written text such as a newspaper or magazine article or contemporary literary excerpt. S, Reading (R), W
- Write a cohesive and coherent analytical or persuasive essay in reaction to a text or on a personal, academic, cultural, or social issue, with control of grammar and syntax. W
- Describe, narrate, and present information or persuasive arguments on general topics with grammatical control and good pronunciation in an oral presentation of two or three minutes. S
- Use information from sources provided to present a synthesis and express an opinion. S, W
- Recognize cultural elements implicit in oral and written texts. S, L, R, W
- Interpret linguistic cues to infer social relationships. S, L, R, W
- Communicate via formal and informal written correspondence. W
- Initiate, maintain, and close a conversation on a familiar topic. S
- Formulate questions to seek clarification or additional information. S
- Use language that is semantically and grammatically accurate according to a given context. S, W
When developing a syllabus, teachers must consider the preparation of students prior to the AP course. Students with three years of preparation will require a different course syllabus from students entering an AP course with four or more years of Spanish. Generally speaking, the more years of language study prior to the AP course, the better. If the language program is not particularly strong at all levels, it is recommended that the AP course be offered after the fourth year of study. If the scores do not meet expectations in the beginning years, the teacher can change the methods and syllabus accordingly.
Recordings, films, newspapers, and magazines are available for the first time AP Language teacher. The Spanish Language home page on AP Central posts numerous teacher resources and sample syllabi. Teachers in districts with limited budgets will have to choose wisely, which is why aspiring AP teachers attend the AP subject specific workshops that are held in a variety of venues, including online, one-day, and two-day workshops, or a one week Summer Institute. They will be introduced to the materials that work best for the different aspects of the course. In some cases, students may be asked to purchase their own workbooks or paper back textbooks for exam preparation, in which case, funds must be made available for those who cannot afford the purchases.
The AP Spanish Language course requires at least two texts and a variety of supplemental materials. Since reading comprehension is a primary goal of the course, teachers should consider a literary based text with a variety of authentic selections; some texts integrate grammar instruction in the context of the literary selections. If the school anticipates offering an AP Literature course, teachers will want to purchase a text that has many of the AP Literature selections included. A second text needs to be an updated grammar review workbook or reference text in which the exercises are meaningful and performance-based. Supplemental materials include exam preparation texts with exam-like questions for all sections of the AP Language Exam in addition to thematic vocabulary lists for reference and audio CDs for listening practice. The catalogs of the major publishers include a special section for AP Spanish materials. Teachers and students’ interests must be considered when selecting materials; more appealing materials motivate students.
Knowledge of the grammar structures is essential to provide the foundation for effective communication in the language. Grammar instruction should not be taught in isolation but rather identify structures embedded in the context of the cultural and literary selections while listening and/or reading. More importantly, motivate students by providing meaningful tasks that can be practiced orally and in written form using a variety of structures in the interpersonal and presentational communication modes.
The exclusive use of Spanish in the classroom is a must. Listening to authentic dialogues and narratives accounts for 20% of the exam. Additional authentic, unabridged sources or rerecorded versions, such as radio broadcasts, are integrated with the speaking and writing sections of the exam. With the support of technology, the Internet, and the large Spanish-speaking population in the United States, students have access to Spanish in a variety of formats that range from Spanish music or radio stations on the Internet, to Spanish-speaking peers in their schools. Additionally, metacognitive listening strategies can be taught as students must listen for key words and other contextual clues thus interpreting meaning from downloaded or taped passages.
Teaching Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension and analysis accounts for 30% of the AP Spanish Language exam. Reading needs to be an essential component of the course in order for students to acquire new vocabulary and practice interpretation skills. Students must read Spanish in all types of discourse, styles, and registers, for example: magazines, newspapers, interpreting a visual component accompanying a text, a Web page, or modern literary selections. Students can discuss what they read, write expository passages, or retell the event or story creatively. Students should practice metacognitive reading strategies in order to improve their comprehension by using contextual clues to make inferences. The more students read, and read prior to the AP course, the better prepared they will be for this challenging section of the exam.
There are two required writing tasks: 1) an informal written response to a prompt such as a postcard, e-mail message, a letter, or a journal entry (10%) and 2) a formal writing based on the integration of listening, reading and writing skills. The students will listen and read authentic sources and respond to a written prompt in a formal essay of at least 200-words (20%). At the onset of the course, teachers need to familiarize the students with the rubric that is used to evaluate the writing tasks and incorporate its use in all writing assignments. Teachers must provide instruction in the organizational format of the essay and the writing process. In order for students to write well, they need to write in Spanish using a variety of structures, control syntax, and articulate a rich vocabulary which includes idiomatic expressions. Students must be required to write daily, whether in a personal journal, a reader’s response journal, or a mini-composition. It is advisable to include the formal and informal written formats throughout the AP course integrated with the topics that students are studying. Additionally, students must practice writing the formal essay within the 45-minute time limit.
Grading Student Writing
An AP teacher will not become a slave to grading essays. Research indicates that the more students write, edit, and rewrite, the better writers they will become. A teacher does not need to make all the corrections. A student benefits more if he corrects his own mistakes on a written passage rather than the teacher. Many teachers use codes to indicate the type of error by highlighting parts of the essay that need changing or correcting, allowing students to correct their own errors before they submit it for a final grade. Another alternative is to use pairs or small-groups, grupos de consulta, which comment on the content, organization, and the grammatical accuracy of a classmate’s draft, using the same codes to indicate errors. The students work in collaboration as well as evaluate their writing performance levels according to the rubric.
The Spanish AP Language exam evaluates the students’ speaking performance with two different rubrics: one for the interpersonal mode and one for the interpretive and presentational mode. The interpersonal mode integrates listening and speaking in an informal setting of a conversation role-play. Students will be asked to interact with a recorded conversation in which there will be five or six opportunities for the students to answer. An example is listening to a telephone message inviting the student to an interview and then participating in the interview with a pre-recorded voice. The interpretive and presentational mode integrates reading, listening, and speaking skills. Students need to give an oral presentation in a formal and/or academic setting. They will read one document and listen to a recording, after which they will have two minutes to prepare the presentation and two minutes to answer the question related to the sources. These types of speaking activities must be included in language classes prior to the AP course as they are good indicators of students’ language proficiency. In order for students to perform well on this part of the exam, 20 % of their overall score, they must practice in simulated testing conditions; students need to practice speaking while other students are speaking in the same room. Operating the equipment is essential. Teachers must include speaking activities on a daily basis, preferably in small groups where students interact with classmates. Other options include debates, telephone conversations, panel discussions, sales presentations, and television commercials. The more input the students have in suggesting activities or creating materials for the course, the more confidence they will have when taking the exam.
Technology in or outside the AP Spanish course enables students to:
- engage with authentic visuals and realia on the computer screen;
- take risks that they might not feel comfortable taking in the classroom;
- self-correct as they speak or write without feeling threatened;
- connect with other disciplines using the Spanish language;
- read and interact with authentic language outside their comfort zone in order to improve their language skills;
- receive feedback from a wide variety of web-based materials and software programs;
- use computer tools to be creative and resourceful;
- create materials for use in the AP classroom; and
- maintain electronic portfolios of their writing samples.
This vuelo de pájaro offers an overarching perspective of the nature of the AP Spanish course and includes suggestions on how to begin. More instructional strategies, resources, and syllabi suggestions can be found on AP Central and in the various College Board publications for the AP Spanish Language course. The Spanish Language AP course is a fun and challenging curriculum to design, prepare, and teach. The effort reaps benefits and rewards for all. ¡Suerte!
Janet Parker is an instructor of Hispanic Studies and Foreign Language Education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. She also serves as a foreign language curriculum consultant for Montgomery County Public Schools, where she taught AP Spanish Language and Literature classes for 25 years. She has read AP Spanish Exams since 1992 and serves as a Table Leader in AP Spanish Language. She recently edited the Level 2 Teachers Edition of Realidades, the new Prentice Hall series, and has authored chapters in the Spanish Pacesetter Program as well as in the Teacher's Guide to the AP Course in Spanish Language. In 1996, she received the College Board Outstanding Teaching Award of the Advanced Placement Program for the Middle States Region.