Scaffolding, conversing, linguistic analysis … and Extempore

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As I’m planning a potentially-rich, definitely-logistically-challenging activity in my university-level Spanish classes, I’m realizing how much easier this could be with Extempore.

Let me explain. I’m an assistant professor of Spanish language and linguistics at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. If you’re familiar with San Antonio, you know that this is a city in which the majority of the population is of Mexican descent. At my university, a Hispanic-Serving Institution, there is a lot of Spanish spoken all over campus. This is a fantastic environment in which to teach the language!

Most semesters, I teach two different courses: intermediate Spanish language and an advanced course on topics in Spanish linguistics. My advanced students all speak Spanish proficiently, but most of my intermediate students struggle. Last year, I came up with an activity that combined the two classes. I wanted my intermediate students to practice speaking with fluent speakers. What better resource than all of the fluent speakers already on campus? Even better, these speakers were fellow students, peers and friends, alleviating somewhat the pressure of speaking in Spanish and providing a more relaxed atmosphere than there would be in an oral exam with a professor. Don’t imagine that the advanced students didn’t get anything out of it, either. They, in turn, used the recorded conversations for analysis and did an assignment comparing oral production and linguistic attitudes.

I saw this as a “win-win-win.” The interaction gave the intermediate students the benefit of scaffolding provided by more capable peers, they got to practice their spoken Spanish, and the advanced students got to do real-life linguistic analysis. And, of course, it was far more fun for them than speaking with me or doing some sort of book activity would have been. However, one aspect was most definitely not “win.” This was scheduling the conversations. As you can imagine, university students are busy, and I had to find times that would work for over 30 pairs.

This is where I am again. I was so happy with the results of the activity, that I think I forgot how painful it was to schedule it! The same week that I started making the scheduleI learned about Extempore from a friend, and started thinking how I could use it in my courses. If I decide to use Extempore in the future, the linguistics students would record questions and other types of tasks appropriate to their analyses. Then the intermediate students would, on their own time, respond to the questions, practice speaking and provide linguistic data for the advanced students. I’m excited about the possibilities, for me and for my students at all levels of Spanish proficiency.