Greetings to all! Time is passing and AP® exam days will be here soon!
One of my favorite aspects of teaching AP® Spanish Language and Culture has been celebrating students and cheering them on to success. Like many other AP® teachers of various subjects, every year I would arrange for ways or “special effects” to celebrate my students’ hard work and let them know that I appreciated them, believed in them, and that I was their biggest cheerleader. This was especially true of the last month leading up to exam day, when they needed a little extra encouragement. In this blog, I will share ideas for special activities that add joy to the AP® exam day experience, prompting students to want to achieve even more!
A little background: When I first started our AP® program at Jackson High School in Ohio, I was hungry for advice for a successful AP® Spanish testing experience for my precious students. I hung on to every special idea shared on the old AP® Spanish Lyris listserv, and was in awe of the creative ways teachers went out of their way for their students. Of course, I wanted to do the same, so I expanded on the ideas shared and added many of my own. Two of the ideas that I will share in this blog originated from that listserv, which was replaced in 2012 by the College Board AP® Spanish Language and Culture Community, which I now moderate. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those teachers before me who generously shared their ideas for the good of all our students.
Now let’s talk about my “special effects,” which added an extra dose of caring and celebration to build students’ confidence for the big day and celebrate their success. Although I taught AP® Spanish, these ideas are appropriate for teachers of any AP® world languages (or literature) and cultures.
Special Effect #1: 24-hours of Speaking Only Spanish (3 weeks before the exam)
This idea actually originated from one of my students many years ago, when her teacher was requiring 24 hours of miming, with no speaking, for drama class. My wonderful student suggested that we have the same kind of activity for AP® Spanish. Of course, I loved the idea, so I worked on my plan for this project, which became a yearly favorite that my AP® classes anticipated with excitement. (Make sure to get it cleared with your principal first!)
- About 3 weeks before the exam, for 24 hours, students were required to speak only Spanish, starting from the moment they woke up in the morning. I asked them to even “think” in Spanish to themselves. I always explained the parameters of the 24-hour project a few days before, when I also distributed the materials that they would need.
- Students received a guidelines letter with a log sheet on the back, which they shared with their teachers, coaches, activity sponsors, parents, etc., ahead of time to prepare them. They also received signs to carry on the project day, stating that they were participating in this project, were not to speak English, and asking, ¿Puede hablar español conmigo?
- Yes, this activity is actually a strategy for working on speaking skills and proficiency, but it was truly fun and a yearly “looked-forward-to” AP® event. The whole school knew that it was coming and knew how to handle it.
- Some teachers could communicate in Spanish, but most counted on other Spanish students (in pre-AP® levels) to interpret answers students gave in Spanish, etc. This ended up being an added bonus in that it engaged other students in the project.
- The screenshots below show:
- The first paragraphs of the letter to be taken around the day before the project to prepare people in the student’s life: teachers, parents, coaches, etc.
- The log sheet to be signed by teachers, coaches, students at lunch, parents, etc., attesting to the fact that the student has not used English and spoke only Spanish all day. I also left room for comments. I loved the parent comments like, “I wish that I knew all that she talked about at dinner!” Or teachers who commented that they liked practicing their Spanish interpretation skills.
- The sign that students carried to explain why they were not able to speak English and inviting others to speak Spanish with them.
- I loved that students used to tell me that it was hard to speak English the next day!
- I am sharing my speaking project here for anyone wishing to access and adapt it.
Special Effect #2: Special Letters (2-3 days before exam)
I must thank Leslie Patiño, who shared her version of this letter (which I have adapted) with me many years ago. I give it to students two or three days before the exam, and it tells them that I have been their guide, but that now I am “passing the baton” to them and that, for the first time, they are ready to go it alone, without me, as they enter the AP® exam room in May. It is lovely and the students were often teary eyed after reading theirs. I am sharing the letter here for anyone who wants to adapt it. I also added a handwritten, personalized comment to each student.
Special Effect #3: Locker Decorations (day before exam)
I enlisted the help of my Spanish Honor Society students (in the level before AP®) to help decorate AP® students’ lockers the day before the exam. The AP® students were delighted to find their lockers decorated with streamers and signs with phrases in Spanish like, ¡Sí, puedes hacerlo! (You can do it!), ¡Estrella de Español AP®! (Superstar AP® Spanish student!), ¡Eres ganador/a! (You’re a winner!), ¡Estamos orgullosos de ti! (We are proud of you!), ¡Tendrás mucho éxito! (You will be very successful!), El día ha llegado…¡Sueña en grande! (The day has arrived, dream big!), and many more!
Special effect #4: Exam Prep (last class before exam)
Make sure to do this on the last day that you know you will have ALL students in the class, before AP® exams start. I reviewed major points and advice for the different sections of the exam, vocabulary and grammar reminders (such as LA fuente), and general reminders! I also distributed a handwritten, personalized note on nice stationery to each student. Here I talked about how proud I was of the work each student had done and how special it had been to be their teacher. I also included test-taking reminders, personalized for each student’s needs.
GIANT Special Effect #5: Exam Day Breakfast (day of exam)
I always wanted to make sure that students came to the exam fully awake and nourished! I have done this many ways, from soliciting donations from Panera to purchasing and preparing breakfast myself. The best breakfasts were provided by my Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (Spanish Honor Society) students as part of their service. They signed up for food to bring, helped me set up, and stayed to serve and clean up. We hosted the meal on the school commons or in the lunch area. This was also an opportunity to do cheers in Spanish! (Yes, we really cheered!) I shouted (en español), “What are you going to earn?” They responded, “A five!” I also gave last minute advice, collected students’ phones, smart watches, and any notes they had with them, and sent them off to the exam confidently!
Special Effect #6: Exam Day Snacks (day of exam)
During the exam, I left a basket with snacks and water in an accessible area for students during their break (between Section I and Section II of the exam). NOTE: I used to distribute goody bags on exam day, with granola bars, water, black and blue ink pens, #2 pencils, etc. But I stopped doing that many years ago because of exam security rules. (Like the possibility that students could write on any paper, even snack wrappers.) You do not want to raise any suspicion of exam day violations! You may want to review this College Board page about what students can and cannot take into the exam.
FOLLOW-UP Special Effect #7: Celebrate! (post exam)
After AP® exams were finished, my students and I would take a trip to a Spanish or Latin American restaurant to celebrate. It was a favorite way to finish up our AP® year together. Exams were over and we could relax for a great meal together and CELEBRATE!
NOTES: Make sure to speak to your principal or AP® Coordinator about silencing bells and announcements in the testing room. Imagine your students listening to an audio and an announcement is made or a bell rings, drowning out what they were listening to and upsetting their concentration. Be your students’ advocate!
When students were testing, I must admit that there was a lot of nail-biting on my part, wondering how my students were doing, thinking of them in the exam, and worrying. But then, once finished, they always came running to my room, happy to share that ¡Lo hice! (I did it!), and that it was “easy” after the rigor of our class all year. Whew … I always breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed that happy moment!
Buena suerte, bonne chance, buona fortuna, viel glück, and good luck to all your students and to you for success on the AP® exam in May!
If you missed my webinar entitled “From Valentine’s Day to the Exam in May: Nurturing Our Love Affair with AP®,” focusing on teaching the class up to exam day, practice testing, and the like, you can access it here: https://vistahigherlearning.com/vhl-pd-webinars?wchannelid=5p1112jhjw&wmediaid=faa5sbwe7r
By Parthena Draggett
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