Milton Alan Turner, Saint Ignatius High School
This year, the AP Language and Culture Exams in French, German, Italian and Spanish will not only require students to perform the same types of tasks in the free response sections, but the students in all four languages will also be evaluated using exactly the same rubric. This has been the case for the past two years for French, German, and Italian. As of the May 2014 exam, the same will be true for Spanish.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to attend and present at the AP Annual Conference. Based on my experience there and as a Question Leader for the Persuasive Essay for the AP French exam, I would like to offer some suggestions to AP teachers in all four languages for preparing students for the presentational tasks: the Persuasive Essay (presentational writing) and the Cultural Comparison (presentational speaking).
In the Persuasive Essay, students must present and defend their own opinions on a topic using information provided from three authentic sources: a print article, a chart or graph, and an audio source (interview or podcast). The students must appropriately cite the three sources.
The most frequently asked question at the AP Annual Conference concerning the Persuasive Essay was “Can students use expressions such as ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ in their essay?” ABSOLUTELY! In fact, the directions and the scoring guidelines require that the students clearly state their opinions. Expressions such as “I think” or “I don’t believe” are quite useful in this regard and appropriate use of the indicative and subjunctive moods is important.
To help students in understanding the sources and preparing their persuasive essays, it may be helpful to inform them that the opinions presented in the written source (article) and the oral source (interview or podcasts) will ALWAYS have opposing viewpoints. The chart or graph is often neutral and contains information that can be used for either viewpoint.
To appropriately cite sources, students can simply state “in the article,” “in the graph” or “in the interview.” However since the sources are all labeled, it is quite appropriate for them to simply write “in Source 1,” “in Source 2,” or “Source 3.” Students are better off developing a compelling argument than spending time figuring out multiple ways to cite the sources.
In the Cultural Comparison, the students are to compare some aspect of their own community with a target culture of their choosing. It may seem like a trivial matter, but stress to your students that they should explicitly identify their community (“In Cleveland” or “In the United States”) and the target culture they will discuss (“In Morocco” “In Mexico” or “In Austria”). In making the comparisons, the students should aim to discuss both similarities and differences in the two cultures.
Please warn the students to pay close attention to the wording of the prompt or topic. The French topic will often ask students to compare ATTITUDES (perspectives), not just products. For example, the 2013 Cultural Comparison prompt in French was to discuss the attitudes of people in your community concerning the importance of visual arts (painting, photography sculpture, and drawing) and compare it with the attitudes of a French-speaking culture. Merely saying that there are more (or fewer) examples of visual art or museums in one culture than in the other and listing examples is not enough! The student needs to say that Culture A considers the visual arts to be more (or less) important than the Culture B because there are more (or fewer) museums or exhibitions.
Finally, it is best that students practice these tasks as often as possible starting as early as possible in their language learning. From Level 1, provide students with as many appropriate authentic materials as possible and have them practice making comparisons between their own attitudes and those of members of the target culture. Remember, AP is meant to be a program, not a single course.