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.
I am a person of action. When I learn something meaningful, I am compelled to process and act upon it. It's a moral thing - why would I continue doing something when there is significant evidence that something else is better? To wait to act or fail to act would be a wast of my time, time that I (and my students) will never get back. There is no sense in regretting doing something different before; I was doing the best I could with the knowledge, skills, and resources I had. And, of course, there is no sense in jumping on every bit of new information and evidence before it has substantial support and sound reasoning behind it. But there is also no sense in postponing action when the knowledge, skills, and resources are all at my disposal. For me, not doing something better when I could have done something better is the only thing I could regret.
Thus, thanks to an email I received at 11pm last night, I am revising my instructional practices yet again. I think my students are getting to know the drill now... "Don't believe anything that Profa says for too long because she's probably going to change her mind. But, it's all because she loves us and cares that we're happy and learning." I sincerely hope they're getting that second part - they haven't revolted against me yet, so I think they are. Last time I made a major adjustment, I told them I could wait until next year to make the changes, but I really, really didn't want to waste their time this year. And I don't have to. So why should I?
I know reading is important for language learning. However, it's not always easy to transfer that knowledge into action. I started the year by doing in-class reading of our class stories. Sometimes there were activities we did to get kids engaged. Other times, they just read and translated individually, as pairs, or chorally. I didn't assign much homework, but I did offer reading as extra credit at 1/4 point per page read. I figured that students who were earning lots of extra credit would already have A's anyway, so the only significant difference it would make would be in their learning - which is exactly the difference we want to make. I figured correctly.
Then, in October, I listened to a presentation from Dr. Beniko Mason about Story Listening and Free Voluntary Reading, or FVR. At that point, the Story Listening didn't stick, but I did come away with a mission to get my kids reading. I assigned 30 minutes of reading per week and made a variety of resources available to my kids of all different levels, subject matters, and formats. It wasn't voluntary, but students were free to read what they wanted and they only had to submit a form that told me what they read during that time (completed in English).
But... it still isn't good enough. Sure, I can compel them to read through assigning and grading it. And sure, it's helping students learn. But, is this the most effective way? And, is it possible that it might actually be doing harm for some students? According to research, the answers to these questions are no and yes, respectively (Cho, 2016).
The most effective way for students to learn from reading is for it to truly be voluntary and motivated intrinsically. Psychology research backs this up - external motivation (in this case, assignments and grades) actually decreases enjoyment and motivation for an activity. Even worse, it can create resistance to an activity that might have otherwise been enjoyed. Think about something you enjoy doing simply because it's pleasurable to you - what would happen if you were required to do it? Chances are that you might enjoy it for a while, but eventually the joy is likely to get sucked out of the activity. Personally, I've experienced this in a number of areas. For example, horseback riding is a genuine passion of mine. However, running a horse-related business made my passion feel like a job (because it was) and I eventually only did the things I had to because I had to, and I stopped doing the things I actually enjoyed doing. They were no longer enjoyable. They were a chore. Once I separated horses from anything work-related, my passion returned. I still have to be careful about taking lessons - as soon as I feel like I have "homework" to work on with my horse, it's very hard to find motivation to ride my horse at all. I venture to guess that pleasure is sucked from activities even faster when people only start doing them because they have to, not because they want to. Eventually, we may even be harming kids by building up frustration and resentment for reading that they feel they have to do, but don't actually want to do and don't find meaning and pleasure through the reading. Perhaps the information isn't interesting? Perhaps it is difficult? Perhaps the students just don't see reading as meaningful and necessary for them, so it's a waste of time? In any of these circumstances, forcing students to read might ruin any chances we have at getting them to ever enjoy reading and any gains we might get by are likely reduced.
(Side note: Whatever happened to reading in L1? When I subbed, I often walked into elementary classes where students LOVED reading and did so for fun all of the time. They couldn't wait to go get their book and jump back in. Then, I walked into a high school English class where the teacher asked students about attitudes about reading, and the majority of them hated it. As college students, you'll see lots of reading happening, but hardly any of it is for pleasure. Finally, as adults, very few of us read voluntarily. I would venture to guess that sometime in late elementary school and middle school, children hit a critical point where they are forced to read so much that they simply begin to hate reading - even worse, they're forced to read things they often do not care about, enjoy, or even understand. That effect increases into adulthood until we've managed to stomp the love of reading books for pleasure out of all but the most determined bibliophiles. Even I, a product of the Harry Potter Generation, rarely read for fun. Sure, I voluntarily read books related to my profession, but it's often because I pressure myself to be the best educator I can possibly be and sometimes I just ache for a book that I enjoy and love. However, I'm simply tired of reading - so I don't. This is ironic because I'm the kid who got grounded from books so that I would get up and take care of the things I needed to do, like eat.)
Anyway, back to my original statement: I am a person of action. That means, with this new knowledge that what I am doing is not the best thing for my kids, I need to change it. My goal is to get students reading, and Drs. Cho and Krashen just published an article with five hypotheses addressing the question, "What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit?" (2016). They hypothesize that students will develop a habit of long-term pleasure reading (my goal!) when the following conditions are met:
So, here is the new FVR program within the context of an overall curriculum, which will begin tomorrow:
Yet again, I have renewed energy to walk into my classroom tomorrow. I cannot wait to see my students learn and grow into Spanish-reading bibliophiles, hopefully or life!
Cho, K. S. & Krashen, S. (2016). What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit? Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 1(1), 1–9.
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