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Introducing Change in Spanish 201

Course Portfolio

This initiative is part of an ongoing process of curricular revision and development, in which the Spanish Department has been working for the past year and a half. The process of curricular revision has the following goals:

  • To align our language and culture instruction with the Framework for 21st Century Learning, Knowledge and Skills, thereby placing the learning of language within the context of higher-order learning.
  • To incorporate in our offerings the recommendations in the MLA report that exhort language instruction professionals to convey cultural content through means other than literature.
  • To break down the traditional area division between Latin American and Peninsular Spanish.
  • To strengthen our program and the Lawrence curriculum through interdisciplinary course offerings and undergraduate research opportunities.
  • To provide academic avenues for engaged learning in accordance with Lawrence’s mission to “prepare students for lives of responsible and meaningful citizenship.”

Note: Adapted from original curricular project

Roles of Spanish 201 in the curriculum, scheduling, and staffing

SPANISH 201 allows students to fulfill their competency GER in foreign language, since it is a course “numbered 200 or above and taught primarily in a language other than English” (Lawrence 2013-14 Course Catalogue). Spanish 201 introduces new linguistic and cultural content, and it prepares students for Intermediate Spanish II (SPAN 202), a bridge course between GER and the courses that fulfill Spanish minor and major requirements.

SPANISH 201 is offered every trimester, with a class limit of 20 students per section. The number of sections is increased in the spring term in order to accommodate the numerous students who complete the basic language sequence (SPAN 101-201) over the course of the year. The course is always taught by the same four instructors, which include one tenured faculty, one tenure-track faculty, and two full-time lecturers. All sections share the same syllabus, calendar, textbook, online materials, written exams, and general evaluation components, with some freedom allowed to individual instructors for customized assignments.

General student profile for Spanish 201

Students who enroll in this course have completed SPAN 102 or taken the placement test provided by the department. In terms of language acquisition, students enter SPAN 201 at a high beginner level of ability (by ACTFL standards) and are expected to reach a low intermediate level over the course of 10 weeks of instruction.

Regarding the ability to reflect on, and transfer cognitive processes, the student population in SPAN 201 is somewhat diverse in terms of age, academic background, and previous preparation. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors have already completed two freshman seminars, common to all Lawrence students, where analytical, critical, and writing skills in English are the main focus. Freshmen often take these courses simultaneously with SPAN 201.

Freshmen students who start language study at the intermediate level are more likely to bring a stronger preparation and have a self-motivated interest in the subject. They often continue on the program and eventually become Spanish majors and minors. On the other side of the spectrum, there are juniors and seniors who have delayed completion of the language requirement, and therefore are not planning to continue their language studies after graduation.

These two distinct populations tend to take SPAN 201 at different times during the academic year. For this reason, we collected evidence from two separate active group in different trimesters, with each instructor using a second section as a control group.


Course objectives for Introducing Change in Spanish 201

By the end of the course, students should accomplish the following:

  • Develop the 5cs (communication, connections, culture, comparisons, communities) in language learning.
  • Solve problems, either metalinguistic (such as why we use a particular verb form in a given situation) or about daily life (such as asking for directions in a new city.)
  • Acquire theoretical and practical knowledge of critical thinking skills involved in language learning.
  • Actively reflect on specific cognitive processes involved in specific tasks, as well as their impact on individual learning strategies.
  • Gain awareness of the ways in which the skills they acquire can serve them in a variety of academic settings and real life situations, in what we can call “language across the curriculum” strategies.


Project description and protocols

Spring Term 2013/ Fall Term 2013

Instructors Cecilia Herrera and Rosa Tapia


Presentational speaking task of comparing/contrasting the student’s own community and a Spanish-speaking community with a focus on a specific social problem.

Group 1A: project 1, environmental problems; project 2, urban communities

Group 2A: project 1, access to technology; project 2, urban communities

Assessment tool

Ad hoc rubric for presentational speaking

Learning outcomes

  • Develop 5 C’s: Communication, connections, culture, comparisons, and communities.
  • Acquire theoretical knowledge of critical thinking skills involved in language learning.
  • Actively reflect on specific cognitive processes involved in target task and their impact on individual learning strategies.

Instructional plan


Stage 2: Chapter 15 (8-9) (both)

Stage 1: Week 4-5 Chapter 13 (Herrera), Week 1-2 Chapter 11 (Tapia)

  • Present theory on higher order thinking skills in the context of the foreign language and culture classroom.
  • Provide and explain rubric.
  • Do chapter activities that build up to project 1.
  • Review 1-2. Prepare and conduct target task 1 (presentational speaking project).
  • Student self evaluation.
  • Formally evaluate and give feedback.
  • Class processes feedback with a  focus on higher order thinking skills.
  • Reflective activity 1: How did project 1 engage my critical thinking skills? What did I learn about strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to enhance my learning abilities?

Stage 2: Week 8-9 Chapter 15 (Herrara and Tapia)

  1. Introduce chapter activities that build up to project 2.
  2. Review theory on higher order thinking skills in the context of the foreign language and culture classroom.
  3. Review rubric.
  4. Prepare and conduct target task 1 (presentational speaking project).
  5. Student self evaluation.
  6. Formally evaluate and give feedback.
  7. Class processes feedback with a focus on higher order thinking skills.
  8. Reflective activity 2: How did project 2 engage my critical thinking skills? What did I learn about strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to enhance my learning abilities?

Assessment plan

  • Compare group outcomes of projects 1 and 2.
  • Conduct ad hoc surveys and contrast results with the other active and control groups.

Grading criteria and feedback

Feedback was given to students on the basis of the attached rubric for maximum integration of goals, performance, and evaluation. We found that students used the rubric with high accuracy and consistency in their self-evaluations, and they expressed appreciation for the rubric’s fairness, comprehensiveness, and usefulness. The technology tool we used (VoiceThread) also allows for instructor feedback that could be recorded or typed on a specific slide or section of the presentation.

Dissemination Strategies

Instructors and procedures for Introducing Change in Spanish 201 project

Ross Tapia used a regular section of SPAN 201 in the winter of 2013 as a control group, which we call group 1. This section did not implement any of the changes described under the project description and protocols (see Activities).

Cecilia Herrera taught a section of SPAN 201 in the spring of 2013 that we will call group 2. Group 2 received explicit instruction on higher-order thinking processes and their application in the foreign language classroom and beyond. This section also completed two multimedia projects with a focus on producing an oral narrative for a Spanish-speaking audience.

Tapia taught a session of SPAN 201 during the fall of 2013, which we will call group 3, and used the same procedures and assessment tools of group 2.

All three groups were given an identical exit questionnaire, asking students to evaluate the impact of the course on their development of higher-order thinking skills, as well as appropriate communication and cultural skills. We expected this procedure to provide us with a more reliable sample for evaluating the impact of the changes that we introduced in the active sections, 2 and 3. Read the exit questionnaire in Appendix 3 (see Resources & Materials).

Resources & Materials

Appendix 1-4

  • Course Syllabus (p. 7)
  • Grading Rubric (p. 10)
  • Exit Questionnaire (p. 11)


Web-based, multimedia presentation tool

Outcomes and Significance

Evidence of Student Learning

Direct Evidence

The evaluation of the entire sample of student projects (groups 2 and 3) averaged in the low to mid-advanced section of the rubric, which is significantly higher than the “proficient” level we had originally set as a desired minimum outcome. Both groups, 1A and 2A, also showed an overall improvement of 1.5-2 percentage points in the second project.

Indirect Evidence

From the instructors:

We were also able to informally gauge improvement through observation of other performance indicators, such as frequency and quality of class participation in tasks that required critical thinking (debates, role-playing, and problem-solving activities). Students also became more skilled at evaluating cultural materials and using this information creatively in other class activities (reactions to audiovisual materials and readings, short essays, and written portions of exams). In addition, students expressed and enhanced understanding of the processes behind language acquisition, and appreciation for the cognitive development that comes with analyzing the intricacies of a new linguistic code.

From the students:

Another form of indirect evidence is the reflective questions students completed in their self-evaluation of the projects using the rubric. Students were asked to reflect on how the projects engaged their critical thinking skills and their learning awareness in terms of strengths, weaknesses and strategies that can enhance their learning abilities. (See appendix for student’s comments and self-evaluation.) Students also completed an online exit survey about their perceived development of critical thinking and advanced communicative skills in the course. We noticed a gradual increase in the answers from groups 1 to 3 in the percentage of students who estimated that the course had contributed “significantly” or “greatly” to different aspects of their intellectual and linguistic development (See appendix for questionnaire results.)


Conclusions and Future Plans

The assessment of the course is overall positive. The new protocols and tools encouraged students to focus on developing cognitive awareness and critical thinking skills that can be transferred to other disciplines. A key factor was making our objectives and methods more explicit and transparent for the students. Including them as intentional participants helped immensely in the overall success of the project.

Our plan for the future is to continue implementing these types of projects and activities in other classes at different levels. We already began this process informally in our summer intensive course, which was taught by the three members of this team, and our initial impressions were very positive. We plan to share our findings with our colleagues in the Spanish department and if possible, to invite other departments to join us in this effort.

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