Are your heritage courses producing any results? How do you know?

So one of the up-and-coming stars of heritage language teaching, Adrienne Brandenburg, asked a very good question recently for heritage teachers, which I’m sure their administrators wonder also:

I’d like to answer that question with more questions:

How do the American Lit teachers on the third floor know that their instruction is working?  What does it look like when a British Lit teacher’s instruction is working?  What research is showing that English 101 is working?  Hm, “working”…

In the heritage classroom, we are less language-y and more language arts-y.  So how do language arts teachers prove the effectiveness of their classes?  I have two impressions based on interactions with my language arts colleagues:  (1) You can show some improved reading comprehension and knowledge of mechanics of grammar and writing through STAR testing, PSAE, PARCC, and other fun exams; but (2) progress is not always quantifiable, but we trust – oftentimes anecdotally – that being immersed in the reading of novels, discussions about them, writing research papers and essays, all does improve our students’ written, verbal, and cognitive skills.

Unless your school funds the National Spanish Exam, AAPPL, or the Stamp exams for your students every year, you really don’t have access to all the assessment resources you would need in order to show hard proof that your heritage class is working like our language arts colleagues do.  That being said, people constantly raise questions about how worthwhile those language arts oriented exams are anyway.

We do have a way to measure how effective our heritage classes are.  It’s called ACTFL’s 5 C’s, the World Readiness Standards.  “But wait- all that ACTFL stuff is for L2 learners!”  Generally speaking, I disagree, but the devil is in the details.  I’m actually going to present a conference session in February addressing this very issue (my first conference presentation ever – I’m insanely nervous), and I guess this blog post is turning into a sneak preview of where that’s going:

COMMUNICATION

  • Reading- Are your students being challenged to read texts in your heritage class that they wouldn’t encounter in an L2 classroom or outside of a classroom?
  • Speaking- Are you having conversations at the Advanced and Superior levels in your heritage class that they wouldn’t have at home or in the community?
  • Listening- Are you exposing your students to media and audio resources that contain topics at a higher level than they are able to speak and write at in order to move them up the proficiency pyramid?
  • Writing- Are you attempting to help your students spell better, revise their work, use more creative vocabulary, and write within genres that they would never have to if they weren’t in your class?

Codigo de correcciones screenshot

I am going to say that most heritage teachers will give a resounding “yes” to the above.  Your class is worthwhile.  You are doing the work that the field (ACTFL) is telling you to do and doing things to improve your heritage students’ proficiency.  Check.

CULTURE

  • Is your students’ knowledge of their own history and culture expanding in your classroom?  Take a look at some of those questions towards the middle of my post here.
  • Is your students’ knowledge of the history and culture of the wider Spanish-speaking world (or worldwide Chinese community, or Vietnamese history and culture) growing?

I bet it is.  Your heritage class is worthwhile.  Check.

CONNECTIONS:

Are your students learning about science, technology, the environment, politics, and current events in Spanish?  We talk about drones every year.

5-21 preguntas about drones

Double-points for learning about those things, and improving their language skills along the way.  You are doing the work.  Check.

COMPARISONS:

  • Do you have students compare English and the heritage language?
  • Do you ever compare American culture to the heritage culture(s)?  This is one of our best discussions every year.

4-27 Los padres cultural relationship difference a comenzar

Don’t we do those things all the time?  You’re doing the work.  Check.

COMMUNITIES

  • Do your heritage students have pen pals in Spain, Uruguay, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic?

  • Do you ever do “Latino studies” in your class?
  • Do you have your heritage students interview family members or someone in the community about their experience immigrating to the U.S.?
  • Do you do something like one of these things above?  If so, check.

SEAL OF BILITERACY

Is it more likely that your heritage students will be able to be Intermediate-High or Advanced-Low speakers and writers by taking your class, thus increasing the probability of earning the Seal of Biliteracy in your state?  Then you’re giving something beneficial to your students and your district.  Check.

Has your state not approved the Seal of Biliteracy yet?  Why not, for crying out loud?

Heritage teachers will have just as hard (or easy) of a time proving the effectiveness of their courses just as much as language arts teachers will.  When I see my students leaving my heritage class knowing who Diego Rivera was, knowing more about the Aztecs, knowing why they all have a little bit of Arab blood, understanding the cycle of dictators in Latin America, identifying what “UNAM” is, having some rules to rely on for knowing where to put accents, and being able to explain the historical figures embedded in the murals and posters in my school’s immediate community, I have full confidence that my heritage courses are effective.

 

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