OHS’s newest foreign language course pilots challenging AP curriculum

OHSs newest foreign language course pilots challenging AP curriculum

Caroline Berry, features editor

In the spring semester of the 2022-2023 school year, Oxford High School introduced its newest foreign course, Advanced Placement (AP) French. Students enrolled in this class will spend the entire semester preparing for the AP French Language & Culture Exam in May. The exam is composed of student-produced writing tasks and spoken responses as well as interpretation of french writing and audio recordings.

AP French is taught by Chelsea Winnick, a French teacher who has been with the district since 2017. Winnick received her B.S. in French Language, Literature, and Culture from Colorado State University and has been a french educator for several years now. Though she has taught French 1-4 in previous years, this will be her first year teaching AP. While there are currently three French teachers in the OHS foreign language department, Winnick is the sole teacher of the AP curriculum. The class has now become an option due primarily to the demand by students wanting to challenge themselves further in the realm of the French language. 

“Honestly it came down to student interest,” Winnick said. “People had been asking for a while if we were going to add it and the kids just really kind of pushed for it. It makes you happy as a teacher to hear how much the kids are inspired to learn.”

Another factor that played into the addition of this class was the full block-scheduling system that was first adopted by the school in the fall of 2020.

“I think part of it also stems from our block system now,” Winnick said. “In the past, when we had a year-long system, there were only four options, you would have to take a foreign language, so students would have to choose between [French] four and AP. Personally, I felt that going from [French] three to AP was a bit of a jump. I know a lot of other schools that do it but I didn’t quite feel that the students would be adequately prepared that way. For a while, I was the only French teacher, so I would’ve had to teach all five levels which is a lot. Having a larger French department and the block system where students can take one through four and then AP, just really sets the students up in a better position.”

While this can be considered a major improvement for foreign-language learners, it does not come without its difficulties. Winnick has found that teaching this advanced coursework differs greatly from the other French courses offered.

“The biggest difference in teaching French four at OHS and AP French is that we all have to sign a contract at the beginning of the year saying 

that we will only speak French in the classroom,” Winnick said. “I only speak French and they only speak French for those 90 minutes. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it’s kind of like ripping off a bandaid. I want it to be hard now so that it’s not hard in May. In all honesty and frankness, I believe that the AP French test is harder than a college French class.”

The structure of AP French differs quite a bit too because of the national exam that the students are required to take at the end of the year.

“Another big difference is that the comprehension is expected to be high,” Winnick said. “The structure of the class is very different in the sense that instead of being more thematic and having certain grammar topics we go over, it’s more of like a test prep course. A lot of what we do is get familiar with the question types, what the format will look like, and pretty much everything that will be expected of them on the test. We also get to cover some more complex topics and study culture a little more deeply than we do in some of the other French courses” 

So far students have found the class quite challenging, but rewarding at the same time. The class is composed of only nine students who aspire to take their foreign language skills to the next level. Among these students is Michelle Le, a junior at OHS.

“The hardest part about AP French is the complete immersion from day one,” Le said. “The class is supposed to be taught exclusively in French, so the two hardest parts of learning a language (speaking and listening) are being challenged right away.”

While the format may be slightly different from their previous French classes at OHS, students love getting to apply their previous knowledge in a french-only environment.

“AP French deals more with the application of what you have learned in other French classes,” Le said. “There won’t be many grammar lessons in AP, just the occasional grammar “brush-ups.”

Another benefit of AP French is the exposure it gives students to the cultures and traditions of French-speaking countries all over the world.

“Learning different francophone cultures is a big part of this class,” Le said. You learn how to write formal letters, emails, essays, etc., and you work to improve your conversational skills. I love that AP French focuses on teaching different cultures. I have learned so many things about different countries and traditions while in this class.”

Winnick and others in the foreign language department have had a profound impact on these students. Many have been so inspired by their teaching that they plan to pursue foreign language studies after high school.

“AP French might seem scary, but it is a very rewarding class,” Le said. “Mrs. Winnick is extreme-

ly helpful and amazing at what she does. I would like to major in French and linguistics after high school.”

One factor that has made this class so successful is Winnick’s connection to her students. Due to Oxford’s block system, Winnick has had the privilege of teaching many of her AP students several times in the past before.

“Most people in AP I’ve had multiple times before,” Winnick said. “We know each other really well and I think it creates a really good ambiance in the room. That’s what is special about foreign language classes. I have some students who are in their fifth class with me. You just get to know each other really well.”

A good classroom dynamic is key when taking on a task as difficult as learning a new language. 

Thanks to Winnick, students now feel comfortable taking risks and communicating with their peers in a way they never could before. 

“When I was in French 1, I was so afraid to speak French because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself,” Le said. “But, I realize now that the only way to improve is through practice. I still make a whole lot of mistakes in class every day, but I am becoming more confident in my French because I can see the progress I’ve made.”

As AP French has already brought so much fruition in its first month of existence at Oxford, it will likely continue being offered for semesters to come. This course provides great opportunities for students looking to improve their fluency.

“I’d like to think that AP French will continue forward in the coming years at OHS,” Winnick said. “I think that the department as a whole is headed in the direction of keeping it. We’re really strengthening the way we do things and we’re already producing lots of bilingual students and AP is a logical continuation of that.”