teacher showing something on the tablet to a student

Recently, ACTFL put out their comprehensive list of topics for the AAPPL. These topics offer excellent preparation for the test. I’ve also found them to be valuable in other aspects of my curriculum building and unit planning.

I began my teaching career in the formulaic era of Realidades and Paso a Paso‘s thematic chapters about amusement parks and bulk vocabulary memorization. Eventually, I had to revise my professional approach when I realized that, while my students were gaining a treasure trove of Spanish information, they were unable to apply this information and use it in ways that were meaningful to them.

I came across the AAPPL three years ago when my district investigated obtaining the Seal of Biliteracy for the State of Iowa. Having my students earn recognition for their skills was an important step in moving our courses forward. Professionally, I learned a lot of lessons in my experience with the AAPPL, such as investigating the ACTFL Can-Do Statements and critiquing my own units. The first time I looked at the topics the AAPPL covered, I had two important takeaways: 1) my curriculum included a focus on units and topics that were not covered in the test, and 2) the topics that are covered in the test are relatable and allow the students to make personal connections and use the language in a way that is meaningful. I began to use the AAPPL Topics as a curriculum guide—not to “teach to the test,” but to help create a curriculum that culminated with students being able to use the language effectively.

For example, I have always done a “city places” unit. Through my experience with the AAPPL, I shifted my focus from simply listing places in a city to being able to describe our community and provide information and support to visitors.

I use the AAPPL Topics that ACTFL provides and ask myself: How might my students have to use these in the future? How may my students need to provide explanations, information, advice, or descriptions about themselves and our community within each of these topics? This provides helpful direction and a great springboard for my unit planning throughout the year. I don’t tailor everything I do to the topics provided by ACTFL, but I always keep in the back of my head: Can my students use the information we are going over in class in a meaningful way? In what ways can I incorporate technology and innovations into what we are doing? In what ways am I preparing my students to give information about community service options in our area?

While looking at these topics, I discovered missed opportunities for different perspectives in our curriculum. It doesn’t mean you need to add whole units on certain topics to your already full curriculum, but perhaps there are ways to incorporate some of those themes in your current units? For example, instead of adding an entire health and fitness unit, why not incorporate some of the basic themes of healthy habits in your existing food unit or your daily schedule unit? This is where I get a lot of professional support from the AAPPL Topics. It helps me enhance my existing units and find those everyday applicable angles or perspectives that help hook my students and boost their confidence that they will actually use the language in meaningful ways.

To reiterate, this is not designing your units to teach to the test but rather to teach towards proficiency. The topics provided are broad and general enough that no teacher could ever create units for the specific content covered on the test. Knowing that “animals” might be a topic on the AAPPL test could mean that your students will need to provide information on domestic pets or wild animals common in your area or learning about marine life in a biology class. It’s possible that using the AAPPL Topics to enhance my curriculum will not help my students with specific items on the test, but it does help create a solid foundation of skills that my students are confident in. That confidence of being able to use the language meaningfully, more than anything, is what yields positive results for my students.

Whether or not you are using the AAPPL test with your students, I find the topics useful to all teachers during curriculum analysis and to anyone looking to enhance their units to highlight everyday applications. Our world is ever evolving and so is our language and the ways that we can use it with our students. Revising or revitalizing our units frequently is a great way to keep the language relevant. The AAPPL Topics are helpful guides during that critique process and, in times when you need a more direct guide in your curriculum development, the AAPPL Topics can help crystallize topics that are truly essential.

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