How does block schedule affect learning a foreign language?

Due to the block schedule at DP, many parts of the Spanish curriculum have been removed from classes. Various materials, activities, discussions, and projects are no longer included in instruction due to the decreased class time. This schedule has also stunted personal relationships between students and the teacher.

“We’re pretty much at the bare bones. We can’t take out much more,” Spanish teacher Marcelo Cruz said.

A lack of learning in Spanish one and two classes can affect students and teachers in later years.

“Everything gets backed up and at the end of the day it falls on the AP and IB teachers, where the students don’t know everything that they should have known because of the schedule, because there was no time to cover everything,” Cruz said.

“It’s like in math… The kids are expected to know how to divide, but they no longer add or subtract correctly yet. How can we expect kids to divide when they can no longer add or subtract?”

Another effect of block schedule has been increased breaks without speaking the language in a classroom. Oftentimes this means that language skills are forgotten while not in the class, negatively impacting language retention.

Cruz pushed back on the logic behind the schedule.

“Think about how the real world works. You learn your first language. How long did that take? Were you speaking fluently by the time you were 2, 3?”

Very few can say that they were.

The teachers know what it’s like to try to learn a foreign language as well. Mariana Montiel Garcia, another Spanish teacher, recounted her experience.

“The language is just gonna *phew* bye. … I took two languages in college, which were about a semester in length; Chinese and Italian. I don’t remember either of them. I remember a couple words from both, but out of a whole semester, it’s just not enough time.”

And with SBCC Spanish classes being a more accessible option, the Spanish department finds that oftentimes students use the classes simply to fulfill language requirements.

“Some students would take SBCC classes in the summer as a refresher, but not like a ‘lets get it out of the way’, which a lot of students I think are taking advantage of. Like, ‘uh, just gonna take that at SBCC and get it out of the way,’” Cruz said.

“Check that box, check that box!” Spanish teacher Bilha Raygoza said.

The Spanish department has other concerns with the accelerated nature of the schedule. Raygoza posed the question:

“Do you really have time to think, to digest the information of any of your courses? Do you really have time to reflect, go back and be like ‘oh, I learned this!’”

Especially with so much more content being taught in a day, missing class is even more detrimental to students.

“That’s another thing to point out: Absences, in languages or math courses. You’re absent three or four days-” Cruz said.

“You’re so behind! … You missed out on half a unit practically!” Raygoza said.

With the accelerated semester, teachers have even made changes to their grading scale. The Spanish teachers “have to be structured.”

“There’s not a lot of time for wasted time cause we don’t have time,” Cruz said.

The new grading scale gives students multiple options to demonstrate their proficiency.

“So they can absolutely not do so hot on the assessments, but still do everything else, put in the time, participate in class, do their work, and everything and still end up with a B, B+,” Montiel said.

Along with effort, the Spanish teachers also keep this in mind:

“In real life, what you put into life you get out of it. We like to mimic the reality of what real life looks like,” Cruz said.

But not all the effects of the block schedule can be seen in the classroom. For the teachers, one of the most noticeable changes is getting to know their students for only a semester.

“You don’t get to know your kids. It’s building a relationship with them, which I am all for because I love knowing my kids. I love having a relationship with them. Just when I reach that point, goodbye Jake! And now I have to remember another, what? 90 some new names,” Raygoza said.

She compared it to years past.

“Versus when we had them the whole year, my gosh, it was so nice. Because when we had them the whole year we got to build a solid relationship with our kids,” she said.

“We know what it was like, we see the changes, good things with this schedule, sure, opportunity, chances, options, more classes out of the way. But I think that part is…” Montiel said.

“Out of the way! That’s the key,” Raygoza said. “You’re just checking off the box.”

“But that’s not the way it used to be,” Cruz said.

“I wouldn’t know, but it sounds nice. It sounds beautiful!” Montiel said.

Although this schedule offers more classes and credits to students, it has the potential to reduce depth of learning and connection. In Spanish class especially, the negative effects of decreased time and oversimplified lessons is felt by the teachers who are trying to cram as much knowledge as possible into a semester. But the Spanish department is aware of the tough situation they are in.

“In the real world, learning a language takes time. And this schedule does exactly the opposite,” Cruz said.

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