n our increasingly globalized world, multilingualism has become a necessity. With countless studies citing the numerous benefits of learning an additional language —more job opportunities, better multitasking skills and longer attention spans, to name a few — it is important that all students learn an additional language early and well.
Fortunately, Paly has recognized the need for foreign language literacy. Students are required to complete two years of a foreign language in order to graduate; by the time many students graduate high school, they are proficient in an additional language, which opens up many doors post-graduation.
The Campanile recognizes and applauds the language department’s continuous efforts to emphasize student engagement with languages instead of rote memorization of grammar and vocabulary. However, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which prepare students for standardized tests at the end of the year, should utilize a more structured class style centered around nationwide AP requirements to ensure that students are adequately prepared for evaluation by someone other than their teachers.
According to Spanish teacher Kevin Duffy, the language department is pushing toward the integrated performance assessment (IPA) method of analyzing student mastery of languages and moving away from traditional evaluation methods like grammar tests. With the new change, grading is composed of presentational speaking, conversational speaking, presentational writing and listening and reading comprehension, with formative homework and classwork assignments not included.
While the IPA method may help students in lower-level language classes master all aspects of a language, an AP class requires more structure that specifically prepares students for the exam. The changes implemented in the department could benefit lower-level classes, but may not work as well with AP standards.
Thus, The Campanile recommends using more AP-specific material, such as practice tests or AP review guides, from the beginning of the school year, so that students can evaluate how much ground they must cover to ultimately perform well in the class and on the AP exam at the end of the year. Because grading is only comprised of evaluations, students need more opportunities to gauge teacher expectations, measure their own improvement and receive constant feedback, instead of relying on a few tests per semester, which ultimately places a lot of weight on each test.
Additionally, while it is important to ensure that students can demonstrate their knowledge of their language in multiple ways, teachers must first help students establish a strong foundation in grammar and vocabulary, which is crucial for a comprehensive mastery of the language.
Even in high-level AP language classes, teachers should continue to review the basics, because the reality is that students often enter the year with a hazy recollection of what they had previously learned. Advanced language classes may be the only place where students openly state that they wish they had more opportunities to practice and review the basics. Teachers can incorporate this material by devoting the first few weeks of class to a fast-paced grammar “boot camp;” or if they would prefer not to take up valuable class time, they could instead assign it as optional homework.
The Campanile appreciates the language department’s efforts to constantly develop it’s teaching and evaluation methods.
However, when transitioning to a new form of teaching or grading, it is imperative to listen to student feedback, as they are ultimately the ones learning the material. We hope the language department will take our concerns into consideration when designing it’s courses for next year.