Why were Crows Black?: “El espantapájaros”

Authors: Michelle Pinzl and Rose Marie Brougham, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Discipline: Moderns Languages: Spanish Course Name: Intermediate Spanish I

Course Description: Intermediate Spanish I is the third class in our introductory sequence. Students in this course have either taken our beginning level courses or have scored well enough on a placement exam to enroll. At this level students are either fulfilling a general education requirement, interested in earning retroactive credit, or preparing for a major or minor. As the third introductory course in our program students focus on developing vocabulary and grammar knowledge through reading, writing, listening, and speaking in Spanish. Concomitantly they learn about the cultures of the Spanish Speaking world.

Because of the interactive nature of language courses, these classes have an enrolment cap of 24 students. However, scholars have identified the ideal number of students for any language class to be fifteen. The classes observed this semester have 13 and 23 students. The course meets four days a week for 55 minutes in a classroom with a traditional teacher-centered format of tables and chairs.

This lesson study project focuses on the use of the past tense, which at this level is introduced in the first third of the semester.

Abstract: One of the most difficult hurdles for English speakers to overcome is narrating in the past. Spanish relies on two past tense verb forms: the preterit and the imperfect. Intermediate 1 students have already had exposure and some limited practice with the conjugation and the use of the forms, but because they have the option of two verb forms from which to choose, English speakers have difficulty relating to the cultural perspectives these tenses require. In an attempt to clear this hurdle our program uses a spiral approach, meaning each course level reviews the concept and adds a level of difficulty.

Because the course for this lesson study is the first of two Intermediate Spanish courses, students are introduced to and practice these forms in a very general sense, explicitly leaving out the many nuances they will see in future courses. The objective for students is to be able to conjugate verbs, identify the use of the tenses and begin to use them correctly in structured oral and written narratives.

To structure our lesson plan we chose to embed the grammar lesson inside the reading and viewing of an authentic text and video. This structure is based on the teaching grammar through reading lesson presented in The Teacher’s Handbook by Judith L. Shrum and Eileen W. Glison. By giving students an authentic text to read and by using a video to tell the story, we then have a context in which to discuss, analyze, and grammar with students.

Major findings:
Positive: students were engaged and stayed on task the entire time.
Negative: students do not naturally use the target language to converse unless given very specific instructions. At this level they cannot create with language.

Why were Crows Black?: “El espantapájaros” Lesson Study Final Report