Thursday, April 26, 2012

Example of a Spanish Community Service Learning Final Exam

by Ann Abbott

Writing an exam for a Spanish community service learning (CSL) course is never easy. Following the advice to "test what you teach and how you teach" carries some difficulties.

  • What I teach in the classroom is clear and the same for all students, but what they learn in the community is different for each student.
  • How I teach in the course is also clear: listening comprehension homework, task-based communicative activities in class, content from Comunidades: Más allá del aula, and reflective essays through the semester. But how do you test "how" students learn in the community during a final exam? Ideally, the test would also be experiential.
While I have been happy with the tests I have written for my "Spanish in the Community" students in past, this time I am trying something different.
  1. At home, students watch the above video of Newt Gingrich calling Spanish the language of living in the ghetto and his apology, in Spanish. (Thanks to Gillian Ward for this link.)
  2. At home, students can prepare an outline and notes for a rebuttal essay. The essay must have the following information in each paragraph: 1) write an introduction about one point from the video and your thesis statement regarding it; 2) write one paragraph supporting your thesis with information we have learned in class in Comunidades; 3) write one paragraph supporting your thesis with information from your experiences working in the community; 4) write a conclusion.
  3. In class, use your notes, outline and dictionary to write your essay.
Students take the exam today. I will update this post later with results from the exam.


  1. The majority of students argued that bilingual education should not be eliminated. They disagreed with almost everything in the video. Their arguments were mostly about the information on bilingual education in Comunidades; their own experiences working with children in bilingual education classes or in ESL classes; an activity we did in class questioning "success" as a purely economic and material concept; and other pertinent information.
  2. A few students agreed with the premise that immigrants need to learn English for success in the US, but they also rejected the premise that that could be accomplished by eliminating bilingual education.
  3. One student agreed with Gingrich; however he/she did not include specific information to support the statement that bilingual education prohibits success.
My thoughts:
  1. I will use this exam again. I think that it tested their knowledge of the content of the course as well as their experiences and observations during their CSL work.
  2. The ability to prepare ahead of time for the essay allowed students to do their best work. I cannot see any advantage to "surprising" them with this exam question during the exam writing period.
  3. Ideally, I would ask students to video their essays and post them to YouTube, where the original video can be found. Practically, however, it would be very time-consuming to watch all of those videos. 
  4. As a compromise, I think that I would add one more item to the test: post your thesis statement as a comment below the original video in YouTube. Throughout the semester I have done a few activities that asked students to enter into the "public discourse" on immigration reform, Spanish in the US, and other hot topics that we cover in the course. This would be one more example of adding dimension to the public discourse with fact-based statements.

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