The 50-minute Spanish 2 Honors class began September 27, 2016 with a “bell ringer” exercise. The teacher has a slide on the screen with 10 sentences. The task is for students to put the verb into the past tense (Pon la forma del verbo en el preterito Pon la forma del verbo en el preterito).The class had worked on conjugating verbs and the past tense during the previous class. The 29 students have their laptops and tablets out and are working at their desks for the first 10 minutes.*
Desks in the room are arranged in a horseshoe with two rows on each side and in the middle leaving a large open space where the teacher stands. The teacher’s desk is in the front of the room where whiteboards and screen are located. Walls have posters of artist Diego Rivera, a toreador, and other art objects. On the ledge above the front whiteboards are paper mache figures of dogs, parrots, and a crocodile.
David Campbell has taught 16 years, the last eight at Mountain View** High School. Tall and confident in demeanor, he is wearing dressy dark jeans and a light blue shirt with a multi-colored bow tie (he tells me that “it’s bow tie day at the school). The class, except for a few instances, is conducted entirely in Spanish.
Campbell signals the 10th and 11th grade students that the opening exercise is over. He asks students to lower the lids of their devices. They do. Then he goes over each sentence with the class—using a laser pointer to hit each sentence on the screen—focusing on the correct past tense of each verb. The teacher asks choral questions, that is, ones that are undirected to particular students. Many, but not all, students quietly, almost murmuring, answer. This call-and-response pattern of questioning continued throughout the lesson. Occasionally he will direct a question to a certain student who answers. Often, Campbell says “excelente” and “muy bien” to both class and individual responses.
The teacher then segues to another activity. Using the game-based software Kahoot, students open their devices to the program and click to the slide on their screen that is exactly like the one showing on the screen in front of the room. This is a timed exercise. A bouncy tune starts and students go over 10 sentences selecting from among multiple choices the correct past tense for a regular or irregular verb. A countdown of how many seconds are left to complete the exercise shows on screen. As students tap in their answers, the number of students who submitted answers hits 10, 18, and then 29. All of this appears on a slide on the screen as well as the teacher’s laptop where he can see each of his student’s answers. When all students have submitted their responses, Campbell taps a key and a bar chart of the students’ responses appears on the front screen (there are no names) showing how many students have picked the correct answer and how many erred. For most of the sentences, around 20 members of the class got the correct answer. For a few sentences, less than half of the students did. In all instances, Campbell would explain what made the answer correct and go over the wrong answers, explaining why they were incorrect. In effect, the teacher was re-teaching the rules for determining the past tense for regular and irregular verbs. Below is an example of the series of exercises Campbell used with students.
Pon la forma del verbo en el pretérito
- Yo (cerrar) las ventanas anoche.
- Los estudiantes (escribir) las respuestas en la pizarra.
- María y yo (nadar) en la piscina el sábado.
- Tú (vivir) en la casa amarilla, ¿no?
- Mis abuelos no (gastar) mucho dinero.
- Enrique no (beber) ni té ni café.
- ¿(Tomar) tú la última galleta?
- Todos los jugadores (oír) las malas noticias.
- Yo (decidir) comer más frutas y verduras.
- Ellos (olvidar) la dirección de la tienda.
Then Campbell shows a scoreboard on the screen of how many points individual students accrued in each exercise. The class watched eagerly to see who got the highest number of points. There would be much buzz and murmuring and even a few handclaps for the winner. The teacher gave the student with the highest score, a rubber eraser.
For the next 15 minutes, this flow of activities continued. Foot-tapping tune—some students would sway to the melody or move their feet—10 or more sentences with multiple choices for which verb was stated correctly in the past tense. Then bar charts showing the class’s answers followed by the teacher’s explanation of both correct and incorrect answers. Finally, the scoreboard appears with first names of those students with the highest scores.
After closing this activity, Campbell asks all of the students to stand. They do. Then on another slide is a set of verbs that students conjugate in a ditty and clap at the end of each line. It is a song exercise that these 10th and 11th graders are familiar with and seemingly enjoyed.
Fui – ser
Fui – ir
Di – dar
Vine – venir
Tuve – tener
Hice – hacer
Puse – poner
Estuve – estar
Quise – querer
Pude – poder
Supe – saber
Dije – decir
Traje – traer
Vi – ver
Anduve – andar
After sitting down, the teacher moves to the next activity, again another way for students to practice using the past tense for regular and irregular verbs. He uses a software program called Pear Deck; students’ screens show the verbs—some accompanied with photos) as they also appear on screen in front of room. He asks students to talk to their partner and run through the conjugation of the verb ( e.g., boot) in the question (habla con tu vecino y explica que es un verba de bota (ejemplos)
Campbell follows up each slide with choral questions, students responding in unison and explanations for each verb. He then asks individual student to conjugate the verb, returning to choral questions.
For only time in lesson, he speaks in English to differentiate between regular and irregular verbs.
Campbell then returns to Kahoot with its catchy tunes, lists of sentences with verb that has to be converted into past tense, multiple choices for students to click onto, bar charts for class answers, and the piece de resistance, the scoreboard revealing top scorers.
Examples of these sentences students had to parse:
Senor Campbell (leer) los libros de Harry Potter
Las dos chicas quebradas (servir) la comida anoche
In looking around the class periodically, it seemed to me that nearly all of the students compete with one another and are engaged in the tasks the teacher has directed them to complete. The degree of understanding students had of regular and irregular verbs was less clear for me to determine since most questioning called for choral student responses.
Class worked right up to the chime sounding the end of the class. Students stowed their devices in backpacks and shoulder bags and left the room.
*Bring-Your-Own-Device began two years ago in the District after teacher-led pilot projects at the two high schools demonstrated its viability. For students who do not have a device at home or when one breaks down, the school provides chromebooks.
**Part of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Mountain View High School has just over 1800 students (2015) and its demography is mostly students of color (in percentages, Asian 26, Latino 21, African American 2, multiracial 2, and 47 white). The percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced price lunches (the poverty indicator) is 18 percent. Eleven percent of students are learning disabled and just over 10 percent of students are English language learners.
Academically, 94 percent of the students graduate high school and nearly all enter higher education. The school offers 35 Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses across the curriculum. Of those students taking AP courses, 84 percent have gotten 3 or higher, the benchmark for getting college credit. The school earned the distinction of California Distinguished High School in 1994 and 2003. In 200 and 2013, MVHS received a full 6-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Newsweek ranks MVHS among the top 1% of high schools nationwide. The gap in achievement between minorities and white remains large, however, and has not shrunk in recent years. The per-pupil expenditure at the high school is just under $15,000 (2014). Statistics come from here and mvhs_sarc_15_16