How we increased student engagement and achievement in intensive Spanish for non-native speakers

Four adults working at computer terminals in a college lab

As coordinator and co-designer of the Intensive Spanish Program at the University of Texas at El Paso, I have been able to engage students and help them achieve a better grasp of the target language by using certain features available on MySpanishLab.

All of the Intensive Spanish courses for non-native speakers at UTEP are now hybrid, so sections meet once a week for three hours. As every language instructor knows,  it can be quite challenging to keep students engaged for 180 minutes. Luckily, MySpanishLab has provided different ways to keep my students engaged as they practice the target language in and outside the classroom.  

Students who take Intensive Spanish have a weekly quiz on the grammatical structures that will be reviewed in class. I always assign the video tutorials in the online learning  setting of MySpanishLab on a weekly basis, so most of the class time is spent communicating in Spanish and not on long and unengaging grammatical explanations. Students seem to respond very positively to this strategy, and they tend to do great on their quizzes as well.

When it comes to teaching new vocabulary, I have found the flashcards, concentration, and even soccer games on MySpanishLab, can be extremely fun and engaging when used at the beginning of each class. By doing this, students are exposed to the vocabulary that they will be required to use accurately—not only in class, but also in their online discussions and group projects.   

Finally, I also use the Videoblog and Art Tour features to encourage conversation and to practice listening skills during class time. I have noticed that when we do this in class, students are able to put grammar into use with their classmates in a stress-free environment, which provides a great opportunity to practice the target language before work happens on group projects. The group projects include an instructional presentation, a survey, an online debate, and a TV show.

In short, I have learned that by making use of the aforementioned features available in MySpanishLab, I have seen an increase in student engagement in and outside the classroom, and consequently, this has helped students achieve a better grasp of the language after one semester of Intensive Spanish.

Read more about how Gabriel and his fellow instructors improved student achievement in this educator case study.


About the Author
Gabriel Avila

Gabriel Avila

Gabriel Avila was born in El Paso, Texas in 1974. After graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso with a B.A. in Spanish, he moved to Paris, France, where he attended La Sorbonne to study French. He came back to El Paso in 2000 and soon started working on an M.A. in Spanish Literature. During this time he started teaching undergraduate Spanish courses and fell in love with the profession. He is currently coordinating the Intensive Spanish Program at UTEP, which he also co-designed along with his colleague Hector Enriquez. He is a film and music buff, and he performs and makes albums with his norteño rock band in his spare time. He plans to start working on a PhD in Education in 2017.