Jose G. Ricardo-Osorio. "A Study of Foreing Language Learning Outcomes Assessment in U.S. Undergraduate Education." Foreign Language Annals 41.4 (2008): 590-610.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what a degree in Spanish really means. The obvious conclusion is that it means different things for different stakeholders:
- Professors think it has to do with critical thinking skills and an overall knowledge of language and culture--usually taught through linguistics and literature.
- Students think it means learning to speak Spanish and learn about the people of Spanish-speaking countries.
- Employers think it means fluency.
Those may be gross generalizations, but as generalizations I think they are accurate. (Write a comment to agree or disagree!)
It seems to me that only in a well-run Spanish community service learning course or program do those three perspectives begin to converge.
Why do I say that? Because in most literature/culture courses in the Spanish major that I am aware of, there is no intentional language instruction. Students are expected to improve their fluency and accuracy by osmosis.
So then what happens after a Spanish major takes several courses of this type of instruction in linguistics and literature/culture? I don't think we know, in the true sense of program assessment. We can see what grades a student received and whether or not he/she studied abroad, but not much else. At the University of Illinois, only the students studying to be high school Spanish teachers must take the oral proficiency test.I invite you to read Ricardo-Osorio's article about students' foreign language learning outcomes. I learned a lot from it. I also understand that most Spanish departments--especially now--simply don't have the resources it takes to do a thorough assessment of their majors' learning outcomes before they graduate.
What are the types of assessment that Ricardo-Osorio notes?
- The OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview)
- Student Portfolios
- Exit Exams
- Computer-Assisted Assessment
- Capstone Course Project
- Service Learning Project
Regarding the Service Learning Project as a means to assess student learning outcomes, Ricardo-Osorio writes, "Due to the nature of service learning, performance-based assessments can easily be incorporated. Thus, Students may be required to apply what they learned in the classroom to real life scenarios" (595).
As anyone who teaches/directs Spanish community service learning (CSL) knows, this is very oversimplified. We are only beginning to understand what assessment can look like in foreign langauage CSL. (Darcy Lear and I plan to present and publish on this in the near future.) And in a huge program like the U of I's, how could you possibly create a CSL experience for every student AND assess that experience in the way Ricardo-Osorio describes: "To ensure quality, teachers must observe and record not only what and how the students do, but also the effect of the experience on the other participating agents of the project (i.e., community and special populations) (Holland, 2001)" (595).
I am glad to see CSL included as a part of the solution to assess our Spanish majors' learning outcomes. Obviously, the idea needs much more development and input from CSL practitioners.