In Part one, I described a lesson taught by Hillsdale High School English teacher Sarah Press. Nicole Elenz-Martin is another teacher in the San Mateo Union High School District at Aragon High School. An 11-year veteran of teaching, she teaches Spanish level 3 through level 6 (including Advanced Placement). Elenz-Martin is also an instructional coach in the district and an instructor in the Stanford World Language Project.
At the end of the lesson I observed, before the next class entered, we talked about what I had seen and she quoted to me Abe Lincoln’s thought (see above) about the importance of preparation before the real work begins. Her quote captures much of the unseen planning that goes into the lesson I watched.
Aragon has just over 1400 students of whom 70 percent are minority. Twenty-four percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches (proxy measure of poverty). Nearly 98 percent graduate. I attended her Spanish 3 class (8:00-9:25AM) on February 10, 2016.
In this Spanish 3 lesson, there are 33 students present at 8 AM. The classroom has six rows of six desks each facing the “smart” board that defines the front of the room. The teacher’s desk is in the rear the classroom. On the walls, hang or are stapled, student work, photos, and sayings in Spanish. I sit in the rear to better scan the class and watch the activities unfold over the next hour-and-a half. Every student has a Chromebook on their desks taken from an in-classroom cart. Many also have pens and paper out. The entire lesson was on learning new vocabulary with a focus on verbs and how to use those verbs with indirect object pronouns to “express opinions in a culturally accurate/appropriate way.”** Students have the link to the teacher’s “Daily Agenda” and on February 10, it lists what will occur. Except for occasional ad-libs and explanations, the class I saw was conducted entirely in Spanish.
Elenz-Martin pursued a sequence of activities in the lesson in first introducing different verb infinitives (e.g., gustar, encantar, interestar, disgustar) in worksheets, slides on the “smart”board and a constant patter of Q & As with members of the class. Then she had prepared tasks that required students to practice with one another the different verb forms using examples from pop culture, sports, food, clothes, and items familiar to the students. Let me run through a few of the sequential tasks she guided students through during the lesson I observed. The description suggests the degree of pre-planning that she had to do in moving the class through these fast-paced tasks, the frequent and intense student participation, and the coverage of grammar.
*Teacher flashes on “smart” board “gustar” and asks students to use it in sentence. She gives examples of its use with Oprah Winfrey, tacos from local restaurants, chocolate pastry, Netflix, Starbucks. She calls on individual students to give answers expressing what they like for celebrities, food, films, and coffee. She often responds, “excelente.” She then asks students to talk to neighbor and create sentences using the verb. Music plays in the background and when the music stops, the students get up and move to another desk to talk to neighbor about another verb. This goes on for about 10 minutes with students pairing up with different students whenever the music stops.
*Elenz-Martin passes out worksheet with incomplete sentences of verbs using direct and indirect objects for students to fill in. The drill is also on tablet screen and students begin work on filling in sentences; teacher walks up and down aisles checking what students are entering on screen and answering questions. After about ten minutes, students have completed filling in blank sentences on their tablet. She scans quickly what students have entered and then moves onto next activity.
*She clicked her laptop and the phrase, “A los Warriors” (reference to championship basketball team, the Golden State Warriors) appeared on the “smart” board. She asks students to pair up and use verbs with indirect object pronouns. She then calls on students for their sentences. This goes on for a few minutes before Elenz-Martin begins to flash other verbs and examples:
–Me encanta Instagram
–No me interesa Facebook
–Me encanta vivir en San Mateo
Students vote on their Chromebooks and teacher gets instant results of students preferences as she also calls on students (or they volunteer) their answers. Many “muy biens” from teacher.
She then asks students to give thumbs up/thumbs down as to whether they understand concept of using the verb, direct object, etc.
*The teacher segues quickly to doing a review of verbs by flashing a series of photos that she had prepared. In rapid fashion, photos flit across the screen with accompanying infinitives. For example, she showed a dog with a water bottle on head accompanying verb “doler.” Then another of a slice of pizza with verb “quedar,” followed swiftly by yet another picture of dollars and word, “sobrar.” With each photo, Elenz-Martin calls on students for their answers, and students respond chorally in Spanish with much laughter.
*Final activity before class ends is another worksheet that she passes out, asking class to fill out blanks in seven sentences using verbs and indirect objects. Teacher walks up and down rows checking work and answering questions. She brings activity to close by calling on individual students to answer what verb they used to fill in blanks.
Finally, she asks students to log out and return Chromebooks to cart. As buzzer sounds, this minute-by-minute organized lesson comes to an end.
Before the next class arrives, Elenz-Martin and I chat about how much work has to occur prior to the lesson being taught. She agreed and quoted Abe Lincoln about spending far more time sharpening his ax then cutting down the tree.
**I had sent a draft of this post to Elenz-Martin asking her to identify any errors I made. She identified three and I corrected them. Included in the three is one that she said I had not captured her objective for the lesson accurately (I have her permission to use her answer):
There is a large cultural component with this grammar that is very different from how we communicate our opinions in English.
Students knew how to do the conjugations already, but what they did not know was how to use these new verbs with the indirect object pronouns to properly express likes, dislikes, and events from this unfamiliar type of perspective.
“You don’t say that you like the phone, but rather, the phone is pleasing to you.”
“You aren’t actually missing your homework, but rather, the homework is lacking to you.”
“You didn’t miss the bus…the bus lost itself from you.”
For viewers that want to look at Elenz-Martin’s syllabus, see here. For the days she is absent doing district coaching, she prepares videos for the sub on what she wants students to do in class. For example, see here.