What’s Become of Higher-Level Spanish Classes?

Students+in+their+morning+online+Spanish+class.+The+students+must+complete+all+their+classwork+on+Chromebooks+or+their+own+personal+laptops%2C+limiting+in-person+and+inter-class+communication+and+language+practice.

Photo by Simon Pleasant

Students in their morning online Spanish class. The students must complete all their classwork on Chromebooks or their own personal laptops, limiting in-person and inter-class communication and language practice.

The world has been rapidly developing with improvements in technology, transportation, communication, and countless other categories. Given this futuristic society, today’s education system seems to be nothing more than a relic of the past. At least, this was the case until the Covid-19 outbreak seemingly changed school education forever.

After Covid-19 forced education online, the use of a computer and cellular device seemed to be nothing less than a necessity. As teachers and students get used to new systems of learning, it could be seen as a first step in the direction of modernized education.

With students returning to school in person, there have been some notable changes as some teachers now allow students to view and turn-in assignments through the online portal used during Covid-19 schooling last year, Canvas. Despite these improvements, many Spanish students this year were met with a rather unexpected surprise. Earlier this year, the school sent out an email that, given the current staffing problems, Spanish 3, 4, and AP Spanish would all be taking place online. Despite being online, these classes still demanded the students to show up in person and use either their own personal computers or school-provided Chromebooks to complete their classwork. 

While this new form of education offers more freedom for an individual to get ahead on work and work at their own pace, many students prefer the traditional means of education. AP Spanish student Heather Taylor (12) said, “It’s definitely worse because you don’t have an actual teacher, so it’s harder to learn everything.” Without a teacher, some students are having a hard time grasping the content. The lessons also don’t seem to be helping students communicate in Spanish. Spanish 4 student Diya Suri (11) said, “I feel like I’m not learning as much, because it’s online… I feel like I’m not improving my conversational skills.”

AP Spanish student Heather Taylor (12)
Spanish 4 student Diya Suri (11)

A large amount of the stress being put on students has come from the assignments. The work assigned seems to be harder than what some students are capable of and the due dates conflict with other classes. Heather Taylor (12) said, “We have stuff due every day.” Without lectures, the class seems to use graded assignments to teach instead. For many students, these assignments are more than what they are capable of. Spanish 3 student Todd Osborn (11) said, “A lot of it is harder than what I know how to do.”

Spanish 3 student Todd Osborn (11) logs onto his computer. Spanish classes are held in multiple classrooms, including the Publications Lab.

Many students are worried about how prepared they will be for future Spanish classes or interactions. Some students feel they aren’t learning as much as they would in a normal class. Spanish 4 student Thomas Fry (12) said, “We learn zero Spanish in that class.” This is a real problem for the students that plan on taking a future Spanish class. Spanish 3 student John Clawson (11) said, “When I take Spanish [4] next year, I’m not gonna know anything.”

With many students opposing the current online system, one bit of assistance seems to have been their saving grace. Campus supervisor Marcela Lopez, the proctor of the online Spanish classes, has made herself very invested in the students’ knowledge growth. Lopez said, “I feel like it’s more interactive with students. I’m enjoying it a lot, I’m enjoying talking to them when they need help, them coming and talking to me about what they need. Getting to know students in a smaller group has been really, really great too.”

Lopez still has hope for her students and believes things will get better throughout the school year. Lopez said, “I think they could learn more, and I think we’re gonna start getting more out of it here soon when we start doing a little more projects and immerse ourselves a little bit more in the cultures as the months’ pass.” Lopez also advocates for having a proctor rather than a completely online Spanish course. Lopez said, “If you’re just at home and it’s online, I don’t think people stay on track as well as having someone in here.” The advantage of having a proctor with Lopez’s experience in Spanish has proved its use. Lopez said, “I don’t think it would have been as good if we just had a [substitute teacher] in here who didn’t know Spanish.”

Online Spanish proctor, Marcela Lopez, can be seen proctoring Spanish classes, supervising Study Hall, and patrolling the halls, ensuring students get to class on time.

Given the students’ responses, the experience of taking Spanish online has been challenging and unrewarding. With the complicated program, conflicting schedules, harder assignments, lack of conversation, and the absence of a Spanish teacher, it seems the higher-level Spanish classes are at an all-time low. Despite this understanding, the solution to this issue may not be easily found, given that finding teachers qualified and willing to take up the role of teaching a higher level Spanish class is proving difficult, as evident in the school’s previous email. With no clear end in sight, it starts to beg the question, what does the future of Palmer Ridge’s higher-level Spanish classes look like?

After this year, many students may be reluctant to sign up for another year of proctored Spanish and even be inclined to advise students to avoid taking online Spanish if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Given that one foreign language credit (two semesters of a foreign language class) is needed for Palmer Ridge graduation and two or three are recommended for most college applications, it is quite disappointing that Palmer Ridge’s new format for Spanish classes seems to be inadvertently discouraging students from going further and continuing their Spanish education.