Past vs. Today

Ardythe has pointed out that [traditional teachers], by indicating they are addressing the common core and 21st century skills, cannot defend their program, and that [we] will be well armed with the information Robert (in italics below) gave:

I know I keep saying this, but go to the AP test. As of 2013-2014 the Spanish test will be aligned with the German and French tests. The new exam tests language (not linguistic) competence in six areas: -oral interpersonal communication -written interpersonal communication -audio, visual and audio visual interpretive communication -print and written interpretive communication -oral presentational communication -written presentational communication

College Board is asking AP teachers to structure their courses around Six Course Themes: -Global Challenges -Personal and Public Identity -Science and Technology -Contemporary Life -Beauty and Aesthetics -Families and Communities

There are no fill-in-the-blank questions, no discrete grammar items on the new exam. There is a great deal of emphasis on comprehension. One of the sections requires students to analyze texts (oral and written); the questions all deal with what the students are able to understand. The “distractors” are answers that use a word from the text in the answer but are not the correct answer. This is to discourage students from merely looking for “key words” without comprehension. Another section presents students with a written text, a graph and an oral text. From those sources they have to write a persuasive essay in which they answer the prompt and reference all three texts. Yet another section is a recorded conversation. (I’m actually impressed with how they have constructed this.) If students answer in any way the questions posed, the whole conversation flows and makes sense. There is no single right answer because there are myriad ways to answer a question. One more section asks students to respond to an e-mail from an adult. Again, it is free response, so any answer that completes the task will do reasonably well.

A colleague is an AP reader. She reported to us that their instruction were to grade holistically. They were not to take off points for errors of grammar as long as comprehension was not affected. For German, that means that gender and case don’t carry the weight that they used to. For Spanish, an example would be that “la gente son” will not cause a reduction in score. My colleague also said, the single most common reason for lowered scores is that students do not understand the prompt and therefore do not complete the task.

The AP exam is still not the epitome of a comprehension-based assessment, but it is certainly not simply a grammar test. Teachers who do not teach reading and writing, listening and speaking for comprehension to their students will put those students at a distinct disadvantage for the AP exam.

In addition, ask the fundamental question – and keep asking – “What is the goal of our instruction?” Is it to produce students capable of passing an exam, is it to produce students able to compete in the “new global economy” and global community because they have 21st-century skills in language, is it to produce life-long learners who will continue with the language once they are out of school? Check out the website of the partnership for 21st century skills at My guess is that most of your colleagues are unready to answer that basic question, but it must be answered in order to decide how best to achieve the goal. Most teachers, unfortunately, have little idea of what the end product should look like. They will usually say something like, “My goal is to teach students Dothraki (or whatever language they teach).” But what does that mean? Does it mean teaching students to use the language to communicate, or does it mean teaching students about the language so that they can analyze it and possibly translate it? You cannot do both in a 7-12 program, and studies show it is easier to transition to the latter if you can already do the former rather than vice-versa.

Back to Ardythe supplying even more information:

Page 4 of the World Language Skills Map specifically lays out a “Past” column and a “Today” column that shows that both textbook centered and teaching about the language is out.

That skills map addresses much of CI and was a great resource for the Common Core and Global Achievement Gap stuff we had to do at our school during opening week. I can’t remember who originally posted it –maybe Robert– but it has been a lifesaver for me. ¡Gracias!

Here is the link:



6 thoughts on “Past vs. Today”

      1. Is the one chill sent the same one you sent Sarah? I think my job here is to organize this ammo so we can get to is properly. The category titled “Administrator/Teacher/Parent Re-education” is where I will put a lot of these articles.

  1. As usual, your timing is perfect! Parent night is coming, and I have a few parents who ask, “They will learn to conjugate, right?” My answer is usually that of course, they will learn to use all the forms of the verbs, as they occur in conversation. It is always helpful to have the articulate and well thought-out answers from this group in my head!

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