I’m excited to share good news with all of you. Once again, a group of 8th graders (25 total) took the Avant STAMP4s test. (STAMP stands for Standards-Based Measure of Proficiency. It basically is a highly reliable and valid test which measures language proficiency through our World Standards and the ACTFL guidelines. The test measures proficiency in Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. It gives results which compare our students to thousands of students across the country and gives feedback to teachers as to the effectiveness of the methods they use to teach.
This year’s test group is special in a number of ways. They are the first group who have studied for 250 hours at St. John’s. Most of the groups take the test at 180 hours. As well, this group is the first to have participated in Silent Sustained Reading for two years. The group self-selected and as such was a good representation of the class on the whole.
The results? I couldn’t be more proud and grateful. They all did wonderfully. The group mean, across all four skills, was a 4.45. The Avant company correlates a 4.45 to about 520 hours of study (comparing with students across the country). That is almost double the amount of time this St. John’s 8th grade group. We had two students achieve a score of 5 in each of the four areas tested (at least 650 hours of study normally) qualifying them for the Global Seal of Biliteracy Functional Level (side note: the Global Seal is rigorous. They require proof of proficiency in both languages and only accept specific, reliable tests, STAMP is one, a College Board AP score of 3—a low pass for this level—is another). There were an additional 10 students who are close to this level.
Most significantly, these students achieved this level of proficiency without using a commercial book, without being given traditional grammar explanations, without ever conjugating verbs, without ever filling in a single worksheet, or taking a single multiple-choice quiz. How did they do it? Well, this group has been special since the beginning. They dove into the method we use at St. John’s. They took seriously the information given to them about how acquisition occurs and had fun with all the rest. We always try to keep class light and fun—but 90% in understandable Spanish—and they took this idea and ran with it. We started with very simple words (all taken from lists of most commonly used words in daily speech), which were then used in engaging contexts. Because our brains are hard-wired to acquire language through story, the engaging contexts took the form of story co-creation with students. Very shortly they began to read those stories in versions which push their level higher. Once completed, the cycle of oral co-created story followed by multiple version reading repeated. This was always done with a few new words in a different context. As such, common every day useful words were recycled a lot. As soon as they were ready, we then added chapter book reading—both read on their own, and together as a group. At every step I tried to find situations in which would give them the opportunity to use all this new vocabulary to talk about their favorite subjects: themselves.
If this interests you and you’d like to hear the expert’s opinions about what is going on in Spanish class at St. John’s, I am attaching a link to a video. It is one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of how the choice of method can make all the difference in the world. You don’t have to watch the entire hour. The first 20 minutes gets to the heart of what I am talking about here (and if your time is really limited, start at 4:00 minutes and stop at 18:00 minutes.)