Advanced Composition & Stylistics in Spanish

Problem:  The Advanced Composition & Stylistics course in Spanish is the required senior writing course for all Spanish majors. During the first attempt at teaching the class, I attempted to provide detailed feedback on all student writing, and was unable to keep up with the grading load. There was no drafting process, because I felt unable to provide feedback on multiple drafts. As a result, students did not receive a beneficial amount of writing practice and gained very little from the course.  Additionally, it seemed that students were not really engaged in writing things that would only be read by the instructor.

Objectives:  Increase writing time by scheduling class in a computer classroom and by adding low-stakes writing assignments that received credit/no-credit grades. Use technology to create digital portfolios to keep a record of student work. Improve learner autonomy by training students to review their own and others' writing. Increase student engagement by creating the opportunity for others to read their work, and potentially allow them to present their portfolios as evidence of Spanish proficiency to future employers.

Design:  The ideas presented here will come as no surprise to scholars and practitioners of composition pedagogy, but I would like to point out that most foreign language instructors are not trained to teach specific skills such as writing, speaking or listening. We have a great deal of experience in teaching basic language courses as a result of our graduate education, and perhaps some experience in teaching advanced courses in our area of specialization, but many of us enter full-time jobs with no training in teaching required service courses such as composition or conversation.

In the most recent iteration of the course, students were required to create an online portfolio using Google Sites. This was an ideal solution, as our university had recently migrated all student email to Google Apps for Higher Education, so all students had an existing university account with Google. I provided a model portfolio site (available here), which included an instructional video on the main page showing students how to set up their Google sites. Students were required to have certain components in their online portfolio, but could choose to add additional components based on their interests; however, most students did not create additional pages. 

The course was scheduled in a computer lab classroom so that students could save all of their in-class writing to their online portfolio. If students have made their work publicly available, their portfolios may be viewed by going to https://sites.google.com/site/spanish4040/enlaces and clicking on a name. The portfolio contents included the following:
  • Compositions. Students created a file repository page (using a Google Sites page template) entitled "Mis Composiciones" where they uploaded their compositions, revisions, and peer reviews. Students were able to complete peer reviews by going to their classmates' sites and opening the composition from the file repository page.
  • Blog. Students were required to keep a weekly blog using the blog site Blogger, also a Google product. This did not integrate well with Google Sites, so students were required to use a Google Gadget to embed the blog into their Google sites. Blogs were initially graded on a 10-point scale, but this proved to be too labor-intensive with the other grading demands of the course, so it was changed to credit/no-credit.
  • Reading journals. Students were required to find an article online in Spanish, read it, and write a brief (100-150 word response). They were instructed that the response should include a one-sentence summary of the content, but that the majority of the journal should be some form of response to the article (why they chose it, what the implications were, etc.), so that they were using original language and not plagiarizing the article content.
  • In-class writing. Students created a second file repository page for storing all of their in-class writing assignments. Each file had to be saved with a specific name that included the date of the assignment, because participation was graded on the basis of the completeness of their in-class writing. Requiring files to have a common naming system allowed me to easily find them each week in order to assess participation.
  • Resumé. Because one of the objectives was for students to be able to use the online portfolio as evidence of Spanish proficiency in their job searches, they were required to create a resumé page that included their resumé (in Spanish) embedded in a Google Document.  This allowed them to update their resume within the Google Document without the necessity of continuously uploading an updated resumé.
Special considerations:  The use of Google Apps for Higher Education in this project was critical due to the need for student privacy and FERPA laws. Regular Google Sites allow you to specify individuals who may access the site, but this would have been very tedious, as there were approximately 50 students enrolled in two sections of the course. Google Apps for Higher Education allows an additional layer of privacy; the sites can be completely public, open only to members of the domain (unomaha.edu, in this case), available to select individuals, and available only to the user. Students were required to make their sites visible to anyone on the university domain, and could opt to make them completely public if they desired. 

An additional benefit of using Google Apps for Higher Education was that students could transfer ownership of their sites to their individual Google Accounts if they desired, so that the portfolio would not be lost upon graduation.

Support: This project did not receive financial support.
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