Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
This is a follow up to my post The New and Improved FVR Program.
Well that was interesting....
Give a kid assigned reading, and they do what they have to to get the assignment done (maybe).
Eliminate the homework and give a kid time in class to read with options and support, and they check out books to take home.
That about summarizes my experience this week. It was magic!
Context: These students have had approx. 70 minutes of Spanish every other class day for 2.5 months. I assigned reading as homework three weeks ago (30 minutes), but eliminated all homework this time and decided instead to give students structured free-reading time during class with options for various materials, levels, and scaffolding by working with partners, in groups, or individually (see below for more details). Then, I said "go".
Yesterday, a future Spanish teacher was subbing in the room across from mine. Her kids were at lunch, so I invited her over to see what was happening in my room. The reading time was well under way. I asked her the most important question in education, "How do you know they're learning?"
She looked at them for a moment, and then said, "Because they're doing it?"
YES! It seemed so simple, too obvious to be the right answer. But, glancing around my room, I could see students demonstrating sustained focused on a page to read it, and then turning the pages when appropriate. Students were reading the books out loud to their partners. Students were laughing and reacting to the information in the books. Some students were switching from materials that were too hard or not interesting to materials that better fit their needs. Everywhere, it was very obvious that the kids were DOING IT. They were READING. So then I asked, "If I know they're learning, then do I need to give them a quiz, test, or some other form of assessment to know that they're learning?" NO! I already know that they are learning. Their behavior IS the assessment, and it doesn't take a trained teacher to know that some awesome learning was happening in there.
Oh yeah, and no fewer than 7 students asked to check out items from me this week, even though they have access to all of them online. In fact, I had a sub on Thursday, and on Friday two girls approached me with books in their hands. They apologized because they "accidentally" took the books home with them, but I could tell from their body language that they didn't want to give them back. So, I asked if they'd like to check them out, and they were so excited! My library is getting smaller and smaller.....
Here is how I structure reading in my classroom:
First, I explained to students the intention of the structured reading activity: I want to help them feel successful reading and find something they enjoy reading, so much that it inspires them to keep reading on their own simply because they want to, not because anyone is forcing them to. I also explained that this might take a while for them, so don't expect it to happen today or even this trimester. As they learn more language, they'll find it easier and easier to read and I will keep working to find something they enjoy. I posted Bryce Hedstrom's poster "How to choose reading material" and briefly went over it with them. I plan on educating them about effective reading for 2-3 minutes each time we do Free Reading.
I assigned some Reader Leaders ahead of time and gave them instructions on how to conduct a reading group and model effective reading and troubleshooting. These were students that already have high reading ability (based on my formative benchmark assessments, which I've created by adapting Eric Herman's speed readings) AND who I felt would be good leaders. I assigned each of them a three-chapter segment of Eric Herman's "Ataques de Hambre" - I chose this book because the students already know the fairy tales and three chapters to a story is less intimidating than a whole book, so it was like a "gateway" to novel reading.
I gave students the options of reading alone or in the groups led by my Reader Leaders. Most students chose to join a group - I found it was best to limit the groups to only 4-5 students (including the leader), smaller for groups that might have trouble focusing (which included, not coincidentally, my lowest readers). There are some students who are on my private "must read with a group" list, but nearly all students chose to read with a group anyway so I didn't have to ask them to do so.
For students not reading in the groups I gave them access to my extensive class library of Fluency Fast and TPRS novels (I only put out my Nov-Low and Nov-Intermediate novels, and then personally invited my advanced students to select from my higher-level novels if they would like to), embedded readings of stories they've already heard in class (one group of three ladies chose these), the "benchmark assessment" readings (Some REALLY wanted to keep passing off stories all period), and access to a Google Drive folder (no one used these - they all preferred hard copies since they were available) where I have more short stories for novice readers, "Mundo en tus Manos" from Martina Bex, and some other resources. I also introduced my highest readers to Newsela. I've reserved the computer lab for all of our future reading days so that students don't have to use their devices to access these materials. I plan to continue observing what students choose to read (including what they put down and pick up throughout the period) and tailoring my library according to their decisions.
After hearing Dr. Beniko Mason present last weekend, I knew I had to set up a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library. Before I can launch it (which I'm planning on doing next week), I have to answer two questions: What will my students read? and How will I hold them accountable for reading?
For the first question, I'm drawing on a number of resources with increasing difficulty. At the easiest level, I am making the stories my classes have co-created available on my student website along with embedded readings (and audio recordings) for them. It sounds like a lot of work, but if each class only has one story or so per week, the payoff is huge because I end up with four original stories of similar proficiency levels along with embedded readings. The students are doing all of the work to create our stories and the illustrations - I'm just organizing them and simplifying them for the easier levels! And, in future years, all of the past stories will be available for additional reading. Our class story library will be HUGE, at an appropriate level with increasing difficulty, interesting, and I don't have to pay a single penny to build it.
There are also a number of other resources available, such as some readings I have personal access to. For example, I do have a few students who are advanced enough to begin reading Martina Bex's weekly "Mundo en tus manos" Newsletter. I organized this along with other reading materials into a Google Drive folder. I also included in the folder Bryce Hedstrom's reading log information, including why we read, how to choose a book, and useful reading strategies (he also has novice-level handouts for free on his page!). Finally, they can check out novels from my class library.
For the second question about how to hold students accountable, I found another use for our Google Classroom! I set up a weekly assignment with the requirements to read 30 minutes per week (my students are novice 7th graders, so I felt this was a good place to start) along with a Google Form that they fill out to receive credit for their reading. They must include their name, the date, the title of what they read, the number of minutes they read (they can get 1/4 extra credit point for each extra minute they read), and a brief summary of what they read in English. Why in English? First, it makes the reading less painful. Second, it's backed up by research. Dr. Mason did a study where students summarized their reading in a cloze format, L2, and L1 - and the students who summarized their reading in L1 actually wrote better in L2 than either of the other two groups even though they'd never written in L2. It's also important to note that I'm merely holding the kids accountable for their behavior (reading something with the intent to understand), but not assessing their comprehension through artificial questions. The students don't need to prove that they gained any particular knowledge, but rather just show me that they are getting the input that they need.
I'm launching my reading program next week - I can't wait! I'm hoping that I've provided enough free choice so that students can find something at the i-1 reading level AND something that they find interesting. I will be sure to report back!
I'm working on building a library for my students to read from. With a focus on Comprehensible Input and minimizing frustration, I plan for students to select their free-choice reading material from my library or to purchase their own books (giving them even more choice and flexibility) from an extensive list of leveled reading resources. These resources I'm suggesting come from the novels popular with TPRS teachers, short stories (again from TPRS resources as well as my own), carefully selected popular novels that students should be able to read, and authentic resources that include embedded readings and context for students to understand them. I'll help guide students to what best fits their level and interests, allowing for considerable differentiation and flexibility in choice. Of course, if students have something they REALLY want to read, then their motivation can overcome the difficulty of the book and it's still valuable, but most students find that my recommendations are usually the most enjoyable since they feel more capable of reading them.
Below are "Amazon Wish Lists" of the books I plan on recommending to my students. These were compiled based on what's available through Blain Ray, TPRS Publishing, and Susan Gross's list of Spanish novels.
Middle School Spanish (Intro to Spanish)
Additionally, I am selecting authentic resources from NMSU's reading list for students in their Spanish Literature Master's degree list. Almost all of the items other than the books (they're formatted correctly, so books titles are all underlined) are in the public domain, so you can easily find them online. These can be very challenging, so I'm making these available to students to read if they want (there's some wonderful poetry and enlightening essays!). I will be teaching some of these to my Spanish III students separate from free-choice reading as well.
On a side note, I'm trying to raise funds to purchase many of these books so that students have more selection in my classroom. If you'd like to donate, please visit my GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/ba121w (I will love you forever if you do!)
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