Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Transforming Ways of Enhancing Foreign Language Acquisition in the Spanish Classroom: Experiential Learning Approaches

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Transforming Ways of Enhancing Foreign Language Acquisition in the Spanish Classroom: Experiential Learning Approaches

Article excerpt

Introduction

The small liberal arts college on the East Coast where this study was conducted has a strong commitment to educating students to become global citizens. In 2002, the college adopted a new strategic plan, "Transcending Boundaries of the Map and the Mind," that emphasized the international and intercultural dimensions of every subject and included a minimum 12credit-hour requirement in a foreign language (FL). In 2005, the plan was expanded to include a required study abroad experience for all students. These new initiatives offered an opportunity to diversify the Spanish course offerings to meet students' needs and interests. To that end, since the early 2000s, every semester, students at the intermediate level of Spanish (SP 130) have been able to fulfill the FL requirement in a variety of ways, including traditional courses that meet with an instructor 4 hours a week face to face (T classes) and nontraditional classes, such as classes that meet 3 hours a week face to face and include an hour of community-based service learning (S classes) or one hour interacting directly with native speakers online (V classes). Students can also complete a 3-week intensive course abroad (ICA; G classes) to meet the FL requirement. To determine to what extent student learning was equivalent under each program model, in 2010, the Spanish department implemented its own assessment tool, which students complete at the beginning and the end of each semester in all SP 130 classes. This study investigated students' language gains and their perceptions of changes in their intercultural awareness under each of the four instructional models.

Review of Literature

In the field of second language acquisition (SLA), experiential learning may take many forms. In 1984, Kolb suggested that learning is a lifelong process across all life stages and human settings by which ideas are created, transformed, and disposed of through experience. Bringle, Hatcher, and Muthiah (2010) stated that a high-quality learning environment "actively engages, fosters collaboration with others, and promotes tasks that are relevant and have real consequences" (p. 39) and that high-impact learning opportunities such as study abroad, participation in learning communities, and service learning courses enhance student engagement and success (p. 40). Such experiences not only help create "the strong bonds between universities and communities" (Wehling, 2008, p. 311) but also allow students to develop "(1) the ability to combine the theory and practice of democratic ideals of ethics and citizenship; (2) the ability to define issues and problems locally and globally, think critically, and develop possible solutions; and (3) the competence to cross the economic and cultural boundaries of other disciplines and cultures" (Wehling, 2008, p. 297). Experiential learning experiences are also known to improve retention and persistence (Grim, 2010; Yeh, 2010). Persistence or engagement "is related to how much a student is integrated into the academic and social subsystems of the university" (Young, 2004, p. 2), and retention is the interaction between students and institution that leads the former to perceive their academic experience as rewarding and helps them make the decision to stay (Tinto, 1987).

Service Learning

Perhaps because the longstanding focus on learning has usually been framed in terms of "distant geographies" (Hartfield-Mendez, 2013, p. 356), it took FL departments longer than other disciplines to consider service learning as pertinent (Hale, 1999). It was embraced primarily as "a pedagogical tool focused [only] on producing higher levels of language proficiency" (Wehling, 2008, p. 299). In recent years, the service learning practice has evolved "as a teaching method that uses community involvement to apply theories or skills being taught in a course" (Thompson, 2012, p. 2). Service learning has also been found to promote a more integrative motivation for learning and can foster linguistic self-confidence (Pellettieri, 2011, p. …

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