Spanish Department and Tang Institute Revolutionize Curriculum

Clara Isaza-Bishop, Head of the Spanish Department, is spearheading an initiative to completely change the Spanish Department curriculum by eliminating textbooks and implementing more culturally-focused materials. The Spanish Department has been receiving support from the Tang Institute, Associate Director of Educational Initiatives Erin McCloskey, World Languages Division Head Elizabeth Meyer, and others in order to execute the changes they have been planning over three years, according to Isaza-Bishop.

“It’s been a process of three years… we were following the textbooks and we decided that we could do better. The vocabulary wasn’t interesting [and] wasn’t relevant to the students’ lives… it was difficult to make all of a sudden; it’s difficult to create everything from scratch,” said Isaza-Bishop.

The changes are mainly focused on allowing the students to make connections between what they are learning in class and real-world communication. They are also working on exposing students to a variety of Spanish dialects, such as Spanish spoken in Spain, Spanish spoken in Latin America, or Spanish spoken in America.

“Everything that happens in the classroom is related to the lives of the students and connected to the Spanish world. We want to make meaningful connections, so that [things] are relevant to the students’ lives. This used to happen a lot in the high level courses but not the low level courses. Our classes are not all about verb tenses and it’s more about what students can do for communication or what would be interesting for them,” said Isaza-Bishop.

With the new curriculum, multimedia resources will be used to educate students rather than traditional textbooks. 100 and 200-level Spanish courses forewent their textbooks this year in favor of more authentic and personal materials, such as audio or news articles. The department has been working very hard to successfully navigate the curriculum to a new place. According to Isaza-Bishop, the new curriculum is based on the World-Readiness Standards For Learning Languages created by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

“At the high level we already don’t use textbooks, but at the low-level we are using old materials. We are using authentic texts, and by authentic texts I mean articles and music. We use multimedia made for someone in Spain or Columbia, and what we do is we work with those and create exercises that are comprehensible to the student,” said Isaza-Bishop.

The department is also trying to incorporate climate and sustainability into the new curriculum, partially inspired by the efforts of Salvador Gómez Colón ’21. Gómez Colón is an activist for social-humanitarian work and was invited to the World Economic Forum (W.E.F.) to talk about sustainability, so Isaza-Bishop recorded a conversation of theirs in Spanish about the W.E.F., his work, and climate activism.

“I interviewed him in Spanish so he could tell us about his experience and why he became interested in environmental issues. Now we are in the process of editing the video and making activities with it. This video will be used in the 200-level course where we are studying how our daily habits have an impact on the world. This video will help us review vocabulary and learn about Salvador’s story on how he became involved in environmental issues,” said Isaza-Bishop.

Nico von Eckartsberg ’23 is in Spanish-200 and enjoys learning from this culturally-oriented curriculum, versus one focused on a textbook.

“I think learning from authentic materials is better because you really learn a sense of how people talk in Spanish-speaking cultures, as well as what is useful knowledge. Some things in the textbook you just will never use when actually talking to a person. I also think in my class we focus on speaking a lot and that’s really important because if, let’s say, you visit Mexico, speaking is probably the most important skill to know,” said von Eckartsberg.