Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. We’re talking about reading today, from SSR and FVR to classroom libraries and corresponding activities. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
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In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency. If you go to KidWorldCitizen.org and click on podcasts in the upper righthand corner, you will find a complete listing of all of our episodes along with their thorough show notes, and all of the links that we mention here today.
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In this episode we are discussing the role of reading in the world language classroom: there are a myriad of benefits out students get from reading in the target language. We’ll look at how teachers are getting students to read for pleasure, reading topics of interest and books of their own choosing; learn about the power of reading as a necessary input activity in our students’ journey towards proficiency. Plus we’ll talk about classroom libraries, and engaging activities that can be done in tandem. Let’s first look at what the research says about the role of reading, and then I’ll interview A. C. Quintero, a high school Spanish teacher who has authored multiple books for language learners.
As we dive into the research, there are a few acronyms that I will be using. You may have heard of them before. SSR is Sustained Silent Reading, and is not exclusively used by world language teachers. There are many synonyms to this same idea of learning to read by reading consistently. During SSR, students are typically allowed to select their own books, and read them without a final assessment. SSR programs are sometimes referred to as “Sit Still and Read,” “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) or “Free Uninterrupted Reading (FUR), or “Free Voluntary Reading” (which we know as FVR). The final acronym used in research papers a lot ER, which stands for Extensive Reading.
The Role of Reading: Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)
A while back, Stephen Krashen, linguist and professor, wrote this fascinating book called “The Power of Reading” and then the newer edition is called “Free Voluntary Reading,” (FVR, that I just mentioned) I highly recommend this book.
The book starts out with a review of literature and research that sing the praises and describe the glorious benefits of reading in class. In a nutshell, students who participate in SSR, Sustained Silent Reading, do as well or better in studies on writing, writing fluency, spelling, reading speed, vocabulary, and grammar- and what’s exciting is that we find these benefits in students of all ages- and- this is of interest to world language teachers- students reap the benefits whether they are reading in the L1 or L2.
Krashen goes on to list other advantages gained from reading: it increases students’ knowledge about social studies, science, literature, practical knowledge, and cultural literacy. He even mentions that SSR changes students’ attitudes, and teachers that employ this in class note fewer discipline problems. But perhaps most importantly? It changes students, and helps to create lifelong readers.
Krashen argues that in order to raise reading scores, we should increase access to books. The reading program in your class will work better when compelling and comprehensible books are available for students to browse and ultimately choose- this works especially well when the class library is displayed. He also mentions teachers should be reading at the same time as their students, and that children read more when they have a quiet, comfortable place to read.
One of the characteristics of a successful program that I just mentioned is that students have access to a wide variety of appealing books. When reading is enjoyable, it reflects students’ interests, it is self-selected, it resembles L1 reading. Setting up a classroom library can be expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment. Don’t forget to shop at library sales and used book stores- especially in bigger cities that have of your target language speakers. I have gotten some great books in Spanish for a quarter!
If you are teaching middle school or older, it’s a challenge to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into FVR because you will need very simple books with content designed for their age, not their reading level[. Starting maybe 10 years ago, there was a surge in what some people call TPRS books (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) or some people refer to them “CI books”- CI, meaning Comprehensible Input (if you’ve listened Episode 9 of last season). These types of books are specifically written to be comprehensible for language learners. Our guest today is actually an author of these more comprehensible books, is going to give numerous examples during her interview of her favorite titles.
As you’re setting up your library, it’s best to include books of all genres that could be interesting to your students: fantasy, easy to read novels, graphic novels, biographies- especially of athletes, singers, or actors, books about animals, sports, encyclopedias for kids. I just bought my 11 year old daughter the National Geographic book of 5000 Weird but True Facts- in Spanish- and she cannot put it down. My own kids in 4th through 6th grade have enjoyed reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diary series, Captain Underpants, and Judy Moody in their 2nd language (Spanish). My older daughter in 8th grade has been reading books by Rainbow Rowell, like Fangirl, and Eleanore and Park.
These books would be more for heritage speakers, or advanced level students. Within a year of consistent reading time, the students will improve, even if they are not jumping to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Your students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the CI books or TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long.
Before plunging into FVR, some teachers I talked to read a short TPRS novel aloud. Research says that interactive read-alouds supports the development of reading skills and strategies in students. Fien found that that students benefit from “planned oral reading of a book or story in which the teacher builds background knowledge, explicitly teaches vocabulary, reviews text structure, and models comprehension strategies in text” (Fien et al., 2011, p. 308), all while using a text that is at an appropriate level of difficulty and that a student can relate to.
A recent review of the literature on read-alouds by Lennox suggests that well-planned, engaging, and interactive read-alouds are effective in developing students’ comprehension skills, and recommends that they be used even more frequently to support comprehension development for students at-risk (Lennox, 2013).
There is a lot of research supporting the idea that the more students read, the better they get at reading. Extensive reading (ER), is reading a lot of easy, enjoyable books. Reading slow might build specific skills, but reading fast builds fluency. And the benefits of reading a lot? Studies show that the more students read, the more motivated they are, the more vocabulary they have, and the better they become at speaking, listening, and spelling.
OK, back to Krashen. He offers many guidelines for SSR, and I encourage you to check out his book, “Free Voluntary Reading” that we’ve been discussing. It’s a fast and interesting read and would make an excellent book club choice for all teachers- not just world language teachers! In it, he recommends doing a little reading each day, and allowing students to choose their own reading materials, whether it’s novels, comic books, magazines, easy or hard books. And the studies he mentions suggest that teachers refrain from using rewards or tests. Instead, teachers can supplement SSR with activities that make the reading even more comprehensible and interesting.
In his own words, Dr Krashen says
Specifically, I am recommending a certain kind of reading- free voluntary reading. FVR means reading because you want to. For school-age children, FVR means no book report, no questions at the end of the chapter, and no looking up every vocabulary word. FVR means putting down a book you don’t like and choosing another one instead. It is the kind of reading highly literate people do all the time….FVR is also, I am convinced, the way to achieve advanced second language proficiency. It is one of the best things a second language acquirer can do to bridge the gap from the beginning level to truly advanced levels of second language proficiency.
~~~ Dr. Krashen, The Power of Reading
Let’s talk about the activities to be used in conjunction with FVR.
Dr Krashen mentions that the power of reading can be increased if we use supplemental activities that make the reading more comprehensible and interesting. Cain, another researcher, found that engaging in pre-reading activities that involve activating background knowledge and emphasizing text structure, helps enable students to predict both the content and the structure of a text, making it easier to understand.
Before reading, we can ask the students what they already know about the content, what genre of text it is (like is it a narrative or expository text, or is it a fictional story, written as a journal and told in the first person).
There are some simple strategies for language learners to use while reading: let them know to focus on the main points, and disregard less relevant information or distracting circumstances. Encourage students to make direct links between their first and second languages.
After reading, many teachers I know spend 4-5 minutes in small groups and have every student say something about what happened in their book today. As one teacher said “All students have an opportunity to share, and ask questions: there are no notes being taken and nothing turned in. But students are engaging with classmates as real readers do; real readers talk about their books with other readers.”
Finally, the nuts and bolts of a solid reading program. AnneMarie Chase from senorachase.com has some solid advice for teachers.
1) She says to set expectations that it will be totally silent during your free reading. It’s ok to change books if it is not interesting, or too hard.
2) She labels her books with the levels by using stickers on the front cover. This helps students choose books- but doesn’t limit them in any way. It’s just sort of a heads up for them.
3) Next, she made these ingenious sets of color-coded class bookmarks (see below). Students from one class are all one color, and they keep track of their place in books that might be read by other classes. I have included a picture of these awesome paperclip bookmarks, where each student wrote their names on the connected ribbons, with sharpies.
4) Last but not least, she has her students to YELP ratings- yelp!- to record which novels they’ve read, and so she can display the average yelp rating each novels get on posters! I am absolutely using this idea in my class. I have included links to Senorachase.com’s free yelp sheets in Spanish and French in the show notes on kidworldcitizen.org.
While Krashen absolutely does not advocate for any type of book report or assessment of any kind during FVR, there are some schools who do require activities, so that teachers can have a grade to put in the gradebook. I have asked around for some of my friends’ favorite light post-reading activities, and we came up with 6 of the common activities world language teachers use in class.
- Instant Book Report: I read a book called ____ by ___. It’s a (genre) about ____. The main characters are ____. In the story, there was a problem ___ . I liked/didn’t like it because ___.
- Picture Book Report: Students draw a picture of the book. Explain it out loud. Partners or group members get to ask 5 questions.
- Top 5: the teacher asks the class what are the best 5 books students read this year? Why?
- Movie Poster: Students think of a book you really enjoyed during the year, and imagine they are going to help to make it into a movie. They make a movie poster, including a headline that makes people want to see it. They get to decide who the actors would be (from famous people to students in class!). It’s great when kids can share the poster with the class, talking about the story, and why they chose the actors.
- Literature Circles: small groups of students gather together to discuss a novel that they have all read, in depth. I will tell you that sometimes at lower levels, this discussion vears from the target language!
- Readers’ Theatre: reading and acting out scenes from the book helps to promote fluency and builds reading confidence.
Interview with A.C. Quintero
I know that was a longer segment than usual! Without further adieu, let me introduce our guest today. A.C. Quintero has been teaching Spanish as a second language for approximately 14 years. She holds a double Master’s in Latin American/Afro-Caribbean Literature and Educational Leadership, which profoundly informs her curriculum writing processes. She aims to deliver a global, pedagogically sound and acquisition-rich curriculum. A.C. has authored several Comprehensible Input novellas for all levels of Spanish, which include La Clase de Confesiones Series, Las Apariencias Engañan Series, and El Escape. She recently teamed up with Voces Digital by Teacher’s Discovery to write El Último Viaje for their new comprehensible curriculum.
1) Tell me about yourself (your background or teaching experience, what you’re doing now)
2) Today we are talking about reading in the world language classroom. First, I’d like to know why reading is an important part of providing comprehensible input for students.
3) How do language teachers choose a novel or story for their students? What do they need to take into consideration?
4) I have heard teachers concerned about reading in the lower levels. Is it too hard for a Spanish 1 class for example to read a book?
5) What are the tips you would give for teachers who have never had their class do reading? A teacher for example who is just starting off on setting up their classroom library: what does it look like to incorporate free reading or a novel that the whole class reads?
6) What does assessment look like? Or what activities do you do with the stories?
7) Let’s talk about the positives. Tell me about what you have seen in your class that has worked, and what the results have looked like.
8) Where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more? (not sure if you have a twitter or web site for the school?)
Our Giveaway of 12 TPRS Novels HAS FINISHED!
As a gift to our listeners, A.C. has organized a raffle of 12 books in Spanish + Tina Hardagen’s book. One lucky listener will win an amazing set of level 1-2 books by going to our show notes on kidworldcitizen.org, clicking on podcasts, and find this episode on reading. We have a raffle, where you can enter your name, and in a week I will pick a lucky winner, from anywhere in the world!
Margarita Pérez Garcia: 1 Copy of “El anillo” (New)
PLUS Tina Hargaden’s NEW CI Book, A Natural Approach to the Year, where she explains step-by-step comprehensible input activities that can be used to for students to gain proficiency in any world language.
Here is a full list of novels by independent authors!
Additional Resources and Works Cited
Reading in a Foreign Language (online journal)
The Reading Matrix: an international, online journal focusing on second and foreign language reading an literacy
Extensive Reading Foundation, whose purpose is to support and promote extensive reading, especially in the English as a Foreign Language Classroom.
Benevides, Marco. J.F. Oberlin University, Tokyo. Extensive Reading: Benefits and Implementation. Presented at IATEFL 2015 in Manchester, UK.
Cain, K., Oakhill, J., & Bryant, P. (2004). Children’s reading comprehension ability: Concurrent prediction by working memory, verbal ability, and component skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 31-42.
Fien, H., Santoro, L., Baker, S. K., Park, Y., Chard, D. J., Williams, S., & Haria, P. (2011). Enhancing teacher read alouds with small-group vocabulary instruction for students with low vocabulary in first-grade classrooms. School Psychology Review, 40(2), 308-318.
Friesen, D.C., Haigh, C.A. (2018). How and Why Strategy Instruction Can Improve Second Language Reading Comprehension: A Review. The Reading Matrix: An International Outline Journal. v18, n1, April, 2018.
Krashen, Stephen. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011.
Lennox, S. (2013). Interactive read-alouds – an avenue for enhancing children’s language for thinking and understanding: A review of recent research. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41, 381-389.
Wang, Y-H. (2016). Reading strategy use and comprehension performance of more successful and less successful readers: A think-aloud study. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 16(5), 1789-1813.