The new Advanced Cultural Studies in Spanish course replaced AP Spanish Language & Culture this fall with an emphasis on an exploration of the interplay of history, culture, and contemporary issues across the Spanish-speaking world. Within these studies, each student sets goals for language skill development and polishes their skills during sophisticated class discussions, which are conducted exclusively in Spanish.
“Our students have strong language skills and while they can always use polishing, in general an entire course spent polishing skills to pass a test didn’t seem like a fit for their strengths,” said World Languages & Cultures Department Chair Vicki Garrett, who teaches the course.
Students seem to agree. Junior Maya C., who last year took AP Spanish—the course replaced by Advanced Cultural Studies—told Garrett that she learned more in the first month of this class than she did in the entire year-long AP course. “Last year was more review and more surface level,” said Maya.
Garrett says she has been amazed at the level at which the students are working. “I wasn’t quite prepared for how limited my own vision was in terms of just how much students would do with the flexibility to go more in depth on a topic they get interested in. They’re making nuanced connections between issues and dimensions—political, social, environmental, gender—between time periods, between countries, and they are doing it in Spanish.”
Junior Maya C., who last year took AP Spanish—the course replaced by Advanced Cultural Studies—told Garrett that she learned more in the first month of this class than she did in the entire year-long AP course.
An example of the flexibility afforded in Advanced Courses was the class’s recent expanded study of Chile. Current events surrounding the country’s surprising rejection of a new constitution created an opportunity to reorder the planned curriculum to include an extended study of Chilean history and politics from the mid-20th century to the events happening in real time. “We tried to pick apart (what was happening in Chile surrounding the vote) and trace the roots of that,” said Garrett. “One thing we stumbled upon was a strong international lobbying effort from clean energy companies because there is a large lithium reserve there. So, we talked about how our clean air initiatives are related to this politic situation in South America. These are the types of topics and learning that students are interested in and that aren’t going to get teased out if you are limited on time and bouncing from topic to topic.”
“I think one thing that has been interesting for me to experience is the expectancy of depth and intensity. I have rarely discussed things like indigenous peoples’ politics in current day Chile in comparison to what it looked like in the past,” said Claire S. ’23. “I have never really gotten to discuss that, especially not in Spanish and not in context of a movie I’ve never watched, and that’s been really very interesting. It feels like new areas are being explored, which is really exciting.”
Before coming to Westridge three years ago, Garrett taught Spanish at the collegiate level. “I draw upon some of my content (from my college classes) and I have never seen anything like what is happening in this class. This is on par with work of college Spanish majors that I taught, and the Westridge students are more engaged—even during the first semester of their senior year when they are spread very thin.”
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Read on for more student thoughts on the Advanced Cultural Studies in Spanish course:
Maya C. ’23: (who last year took AP Spanish—the course replaced by Advanced Cultural Studies) Everybody seems more engaged than the class did last year there is a lot more participation in the day-to-day class. Last year’s class was more narrow and confined to what AP wanted you to know. We’re not only focusing on language and culture but in bringing on other areas that we are interested in.
Isabella H. ’23: The rigor has actually increased because students aren’t just being fed information. We are being forced to think on our feet and make connections with the guidance of our teachers and that’s really what the real world is…You can make so many connections without feeling like you have to follow a strict curriculum.
Maya C.: I’ve definitely felt more challenged when speaking in class—wanting to make sure that my ideas come across well because they are such serious and often controversial topics you don’t want your words to be misinterpreted…I feel like my language plateaued last year. If anything I lost a little bit. This year I am starting to develop my language again because I am having to talk about more serious topics and am reading different texts.
Claire S.: It feels like a whole new muscle being built and its combining so many different elements. From a somewhat psychological standpoint, the way we are comprehending these things is hitting so many keystones of how our brains work.
Isabella H.: I think (the move to Westridge Advanced Courses) is crucial because as a student you need to be able to explore and to make new conclusions and to reflect on what you have learned and not just use it for a test…I think we think of (the new advanced courses) as replacing and being equal to APs, but they are actually more because students get a better understanding of the material and can present their own ideas and thoughts and make their own conclusions. This is because they are given a wider range of material and have greater flexibility in the classroom. The teacher can pull in more resources. It does what the AP wants and more—you can use the language in a way that is actually useful.
Claire S. ’23: For the APs I am taking right now it is basically about the speed… in (Advanced) Spanish, yes, we are moving quickly but it’s also a question of advanced in terms of ‘are you thinking about subjects that we haven’t necessarily covered in Spanish before’. I have never discussed global foreign policy in Spanish but we’re discussing elements of it here. It’s that idea of advanced ideas being brought in, and you are expected to bring your A game—you are taking risks, basically.
Maya C.: This class focuses more on vocabulary because the readings are harder and we’re watching movies. I feel like by this point most students’ grammar is so well developed it’s almost not necessary to go over it again…with grammar you get hyper-focused on tiny things, and it takes away from vocabulary, which I think is most important in language development because while grammar can make your ideas clearer, vocabulary gets them through on a deeper level.
Claire S.: There is something really exciting about coming up with a new idea that I formed in my head in English and in Spanish—that is crazy to me. There is less of a sense of being a human translator and more of a sense of speaking Spanish. There is a lot of good risk taking…big ideas being thought of in a new language is very exciting for me.