AP Mindset Selena 1Applying a Pre-AP Mindset to Nelly Andrade-Hughes’ Selena
By Gary DiBianca

Why not a Comprehension-based™ reader? When Fluency Matters asked me to write a post about one of their Comprehension-based™ Readers and how it could be presented in a Pre-AP World Language and Culture classroom environment, I said “sure” because I think aligning most of Fluency Matters’ readers to the AP World Language and Culture topics is quite easy. First of all, the company’s readers have been developed in cultural contexts that provide wonderful backdrops to explore real language and culture.

The question I am left with is “Why do teachers feel that having their students read in the target language is not a Pre-AP experience?” Is it because many AP teachers still see AP Language and Culture classes as places for the linguistically capable students who must dissect grammar? Is it because interpreting a reader in the target language does not provide enough task-driven AP-like exercises? Is it because the Comprehension-based™ reader is not authentic enough for students even though it is written to scaffold language through careful word choice, yet it still uses all appropriate grammatical structures? Is it because a reader does not follow enough of a thematic approach to language learning?

As I ponder this, I must state that the goals and objectives of the AP World Language and Culture course have all been written focusing on the three modes of communication (interpretive [reading and listening], interpersonal, and presentational [both with a focus on speaking and writing]) while developing the cultural lenses needed to make comparisons. Of course, AP World Language programs should also take a look at the themes and sub-themes that have been developed and perhaps outline where and how these themes could be incorporated and intersected across the courses taught before AP Language and Culture. This type of teaching and preparation takes us beyond units of study based on singular themes and pushes us toward multifaceted units of studies just like teaching a reader does!


After reading Nelly Andrade-Hughes’ Comprehension-based™ reader in Spanish, Selena, I am reminded how much I love the biography genre. I am enthralled with delving into the lives of others and learning about their experiences and what has helped them become the people they are or were. From a pedagogical standpoint, I love how many connections can be made from a single source about Selena’s life and legacy. This reader has been written with two books in one based on proficiency level: a novice version and an intermediate. Not only is the reader a compelling story, but I am blown away at the support and resources that are in the accompanying Teacher’s Guide.

Since the Teacher’s Guide has been done in such a stellar way, I think any teacher using this reader with novices or intermediates would be teaching in a Pre-AP way just by doing a mix of activities from the guide. In order to frame the Pre-AP experience, I would choose two of the AP World Language and Culture themes to serve as the core of the unit followed by one or two to serve to make connections. For Selena, I would highlight the themes of Personal and Public Identity and Families and Communities with connections from the theme of Beauty and Aesthetics. Since the Pre-AP mindset should be to focus on the modes of communication, it is imperative to do that while knowing that the language and grammatical structure is being integrated in a natural way. Below I will highlight how one could also incorporate the 6 World Language and Culture AP tasks using this reader.

The Selena story is quite powerful with regard to her personal and public identities and how those shaped her overall experience with her family, her music, and her image and all of this within her community. While teaching the reader, I would highlight Selena’s two identities and require students to compare their identities or those of other famous child stars, who may have shared a similar experience as Selena. In addition to thinking about her two personal and public identities from the celebrity stand-point, her bilingual and bicultural identity is fascinating. As noted in the reader, Selena really did not speak Spanish in her personal life and she had to fake her way through her spoken Spanish abilities because her public persona was one who sang in Spanish. Her style of music defined a new genre that called to a huge community of folks whose backgrounds and experiences were similar and yet so different from her own. For students to practice the Presentational Speaking Task, I would have them reflect on these communities that are represented in the text and do a presentational spoken cultural comparison AP-like task that compares the student’s community and/or personal/public identity with those presented in the book.

Since interpretation is a stronghold when reading and discussing a reader, we can rest assured that students are getting great input from the source and we would then want to move students to higher depths of interpretation through the use of higher-order questioning and connection making to the AP themes. It is important to require students to make predictions, think of the main idea of passages or chapters, and state details while reading. If test prep is your department’s goal, then I would suggest writing questions in the style of the AP Language and Culture Exam for some chapters of the book (lucky for us in the Teacher’s Guide, all chapters have many types of questions including AP like multiple-choices ones).

To help with the interpersonal spoken and written communication, the Teacher’s Guide provides pre-discussion and personal questions per chapter that could be written about or discussed while making comparisons from the students’ lives and communities too. If teachers are looking for a Pre-AP simulated conversation for the reader, I would suggest developing simulated conversations based on the conversation from chapter 6 with “Selena and her father about her wanting to marry the guitarist” or from chapter 7 with “Selena talking with a producer and wanting to create a new album in English even though she had only created music in Spanish.” With regard to an AP-like Interpersonal Writing task, following the epilogue, students could write a formal email letter to an awards show that explains: “Why you believe a new Selena Award should be created in her memory, give a recommendation of someone who should receive such an award, explain what you feel this special award should look like, request a response to your email, and ask an additional question.”

To end, you should take advantage of having students view and listen to interviews about her, some of her Coca-Cola commercials, and of course, her music. These all could provide rich contexts for language for your students. Also, you could use two of these newly found sources and then the reader as a source, and create an Argumentative Essay prompt for students. An example could be “Do you feel Selena’s image was more defined by her personal identity or public identity?”

I sure hope you have a great experience teaching this reader, but more importantly, I hope you can see how you too can use a reader to teach in a Pre-AP way, which takes a Pre-AP mindset and possibly some AP-like tasks if you go in that direction.




Gary DiBianca is a Spanish teacher, world language consultant and coach, and AP reader. He has presented nationally and regionally on acquisition and brain-based strategies in the world language classroom, big picture planning and unit design, pre-AP vertical alignment and the 21st Century World Language Standards, the inclusion of topics of diversity in the curriculum, and teaching with TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Storytelling) and Comprehensible Input.  Gary’s current projects include sharing his thoughts on his blog: My Mosaic of World Language Teaching at www.garydibianca.com and working on the team for the digital AP Spanish text: Nuestra Historia AP: Aprender y Preparar.

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