Spanish 101 in the Liberal Arts

Is there a better way to teach Spanish that actually matches the goals of the Liberal Arts? Often elementary Spanish courses are taught to a grammar-focused textbook that relegates the cultural lessons to the side as “did you know” trivia. Since Spanish 101 (and the same for other romance language basic language courses) are thought of as memory courses that favor the middle-school spelling-bee champions or the students who have mastered the art of mnemonic devices to recall random vocabulary. Unfortunately,  standard textbooks encourage foreign language instructors to focus on grammar instruction over cultural content. When we run out of time, the first thing we cut is the cultural content. But an examination of the content is what allows students of the most elementary levels to develop higher-order thinking skills. Although foreign language courses belong to the “communication skills” category in general education plans at many institutions, even the basic language course should be a content course.

For, this reason my colleague (Janice Rodriguez) and I, and with departmental collaboration, have decided to create an open source textbook for Elementary Spanish built on the foundations of the liberal arts and responds to the 2007 MLA Report’s call for “content from the beginning; language to the end.”

The Summer Teaching and Learning Grant and the generous technology resources and brainpower provided by IT Services will allow us to create an OER textbook that can be adapted for use by other liberal arts institutions.

May: My colleagues and I began to research open education resources to better understand what is involved and what kinds of platforms we could use to deliver the textbook. It was fascinating to understand the differences in terms of editable and non-editable content, authorship, etc.

June: We met to discuss a basic outline for the textbook that would still address the necessary communication goals of the novice level and the cultural content that could be collected locally and through OER platforms. We decided to focus on cultural content that would be most interesting to Albright students, an ethnically and geographically diverse student body. We are thinking about highlighting businesses, since it is a way to include several interests that would also allow us to find authentic cultural content. An example includes fashion (buying and designing clothes). Or we could highlight content from the different foundations courses (100-level gen ed)  at Albright: fine arts, humanities, the sciences, social sciences, mathematical reasoning. We are looking for a way write content and assessments that encourage to think critically about the world even if the expression of their thoughts is limited by language. It is possible by choosing the right images, graphs, and other non-linguistic content. So the question: What cultural content will foster higher-order thinking skills and what linguistic content will most enable them to express themselves?

July: I primarily worked on course preparation for my fall courses since they were all new courses for me. I did not work on the OER textbook project besides reading through textbooks that have already been produced online such as a a resource through the BBC and resources. I also looked through databases that have open source editable content that we can use for our own textbook.

August: We met to work on the student learning objectives of SPA 101 that were based more on observable and therefore assessable performance goals.

I decided to enroll in a graduate education course at Albright. The entire course is on assessment. The course is really helping me to better outline goals and objectives based on the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) standards and develop the most appropriate assessments for those goals.

September: In collaboration with my colleague, Janice Rodriguez, we have began by creating our own content to supplement the textbook content. This is the first step to creating enough content to produce a text that is completely independent of any other textbook. We are using several examples of authentic content and are creating assessments that assess higher-order thinking skills (Bloom’s Taxonomy).

October: I started IRB Application. I attended the Pennsylvania Foreign Language Conference where I got several ideas on authentic content for the textbook.

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About Lennie Amores

Hola, soy profesora de español y enseño cursos de lengua, cine, cultura, y literatura.
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