Teachers prepare students for AP World Language exams remotely

May 3, 2021 — by Carolyn Wang

When Spanish 3 and AP Language and Culture teacher Sarah Voorhees met with a special cohort in March made up of her AP students, she couldn’t help but notice a drastic change in speaking performance compared to students in prior years.

“It became very obvious once I started meeting with them that their language skills were really suffering,” Voorhees said of online learning.

Despite the obstacles of remote learning and the pandemic, the College Board decided that the 2021 AP World Language exams, which include a reading, writing and speaking portion, will be in-person. 

Since teachers are trying to prepare their students for the exams in a hybrid model, this format poses steep challenges, particularly in developing speaking skills.

Elaine Haggerty, who teaches French 1, 2, 3 Honors and AP, said, “Last year, when we went into lockdown, my AP students were comfortable speaking French for several minutes at a time in class. This year, I have no way to gauge how well students are prepared to take the test for each section.”

Throughout the year, Haggerty has focused primarily on keeping reading comprehension and speaking skills up. As such, her curriculum includes, but is not limited to, reading, listening and speaking prompts. However, remote learning has forced her to sacrifice the “fun stuff in language learning,” including movies, verb relays, acted-out skits and crêpe parties. 

Meanwhile, Voorhees has had her class focus on practicing free-response questions for the AP Spanish exam as well as reading and listening practice.

“The most difficult circumstance this year is that they are not in person practicing the language for 90 minutes two to three times a week,” Voorhees said. “Their reading should be about the same and their writing is good, but they have been doing it all from home, so I have no idea how much they are using Google Translate.”

Senior Imaan Qureshi, one of Voorhees’s AP Spanish students, echoed Voorhees’s concerns.

“Many people don’t have a super big vocabulary anymore since it’s really easy to have Google Translate open to help them all the time,” Qureshi said. “But I think Maestra Voorhees has done a really great job in forcing us to practice so we know what to expect on the AP exam.”

Even with greater emphasis on developing speaking skills, online learning poses difficulties due to limited interaction among students. Haggerty describes her breakout rooms as “clunky” because they don’t allow each student enough time to speak, unlike the partner work available in former in-person classes.

While there is not a simple solution for teachers to equitably assess how every student is performing individually, Haggerty assumes that the overall chance of passing the test remains the same, considering “every student in the nation is in the same boat and the test is curved.” She has also noticed a definite increase in self-sufficiency and motivation due to the year’s special circumstances. 

Voorhees has appreciated the resiliency of her students despite the learning challenges.

“Of the three years that I have taught AP, this group is my favorite, even though I haven’t met some of them in person,” Voorhees said. “They have been so patient and willing to try anything.”