Last year I stepped up my FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) game. In the past I always had lots of children’s’ books available but it didn’t feel like a very good use of class time because they are too difficult to be comprehensible (and I suspect my little darlings were just looking at the pictures.) After attending NTPRS in Reno, I was convinced that free reading was the missing piece in my language instruction and I dove right in…and at the end of the year, I noticed that my students’ output was better than years past. Their timed writings were richer! They were writing in the past tense without any other input! I was finding words in their writing that I didn’t teach them! You guys, I didn’t do anything differently other than give my kiddos time to read and their Spanish got better! I didn’t do anything! In fact, I just sat on my stool and read too! Easy results! Score!!
Here are a few elements of my reading program that I feel like are helping my little darlings acquire Spanish and enjoy reading:
1. Expectations: I think 99% of kids will do what we want them to do, as long as they know what we want them to do! The first and most important element is setting up the program for success:
a. Students can select any book they want and read it for as long as they want. If it’s too hard to get into or not interesting, they should put it back and try another. There is no penalty for book shopping! I tell them that I’m happy to recommend books if they’re having trouble finding something good and it just tickles me pink when I pair them with a great book at their level.
b. We read at the beginning of most classes. It’s such a peaceful way to start class and get their Spanish brain activated. I have a “Vamos a leer” laminated sheet that I magnet to the board so students know to get their book on their way into the classroom. (The back of “Vamos a leer” is “Vamos a cantar” because we sing on the days we don’t start with reading).
c. They are to be totally silent during free reading. It’s sacred time and I don’t want any interruptions. And besides, I want to read too!
2. Rain gutter book shelves: It makes it easy to see the books covers and easy to find the book you’re looking for. I have 3 rain gutters that are organized by level:
3. I leveled my books with a sticker on the front cover. It is not a scientific method at all…I just read a few paragraphs and decided a letter: A is easiest and H is most difficult. There’s probably a formula for leveling books but I don’t know what it is. I just wanted them to be able to choose a book they can read easily, so if they started a book that was too hard, they could try a lower letter. I choose letters intentionally rather than numbers because I didn’t want students to feel like since they were in Spanish 2, they had to read a Level 2 book.
One of these days I’ll type up a document with all my book titles and their corresponding letter….but until then, here’s another picture. Here’s the list of my titles organized by level.
4. Bookmarks: I wanted an easy way for students to keep track of their place that would allow other students in another class to read the same book. Pintrest didn’t let me down and I made (ok, let’s get real here, I didn’t do it, I
made asked my TA make 185 book marks!) book marks with large paperclips and ribbons. Each class has a different color, and students wrote their names on the ribbon with a skinny sharpie. When students finish a book and are looking for another, they know not to choose a book that already has their colored bookmark in it, signifying that one of their classmates is reading that book. Students are careful to not disturb another student’s bookmark while they’re reading, but if it falls out, they’ve been trained to attach the paperclip to the front cover (rather than just putting it in randomly!). I also have a jar at the front of the classroom where students put their bookmark if they finish a book and haven’t yet started another and it’s where I put bookmarks that fall out and I find on the ground. It’s working out great and how cute are they?
5. Accountability: The experts agree, students get the most gains out of reading when it is enjoyable! And what do teachers do when it comes to reading? They think of ways to kill the reading joy: Make it an assignment! Book reports! Reading logs! Summaries! Reading comprehension quizzes! DON’T DO IT!!! My kiddos enjoy their reading because that’s all they have to do! There’s no grade attached…all I ask is that when they start a new novel they write down the title on their YELP SHEET and when they finish it, they give it a star rating. (Here’s the YELP SHEET in French, thanks to Nettie Sechrist!) That’s it. They record all the novels they’ve read and they turn it into me at the end of the semester. I look at their ratings (OK, let’s get real, I don’t, my TA does) and compile the results to hang in my classroom. In the picture below you can see a highlighter line that divides semester 1 from semester 2:
5a. What about kids who are not reading?: Well… I watch them, if I suspect a student is zoned out and not reading, I’ll walk by and snap them out of their trance. Usually they apologize and start reading. If I look at them again and suspect they’re just pretending to read, I’ll say quietly, “you can read now during class, or we can read together today at lunch.” That almost always works! Only once did I have to “invite” a little darling in for “mandatory” lunch reading…and guess what? We didn’t have any reading issues after that! In January I asked all my kiddos to give me some feedback on an anonymous survey. One my my questions was: “Are you really reading? Out of 180 kids, only 1 kid checked the option “I’m just pretending to read so Mrs. Chase won’t get mad at me.” The vast majority reported “I’m reading the entire time and working hard to stay focused”. I’ll take that…and I will make it my life’s mission to figure out who is that one kid who is pretending to read!
6. Yelp ratings: My wonderful and hardworking TA averaged the star ratings of every novel that my students read after 1st semester and created posters with the star average. These are hanging below my rain gutter book shelves and students are able to look at which books have good ratings and which don’t. I think it gives legitimacy to rating the books on their yelp sheet; they’re a reason why they rate them. I plan to update the posters each semester. (OK, who am I kidding? My TA will do it…)
Before I started FVRing I was skeptical that something this simple (give them books to read and time to read them!) would have such a big impact! I honestly feel like it’s the most worthwhile activities we do in class (and it gives me a break from talking for 90 minutes straight!)