Last spring I began researching how to best implement free reading in the classroom. And like a good researcher, I read about best practice for reading. I got most of my inspiration from the work of Stephen Krashen and Bryce Hedstrom. I also talked to many colleagues about the topic. I also purchased Lidia Barbosa's reader's response bookmarks which provided some great ideas for questions. (Great resource for ready to use response sheets in Spanish too.)
The need for simplicity with accountability
One thing that stuck with me was the idea that we can kill the love of reading with too many forms, comprehension questions, etc. when we try and figure out a way to hold them accountable. (Obviously, there is a time and a place for comprehension questions.) We know that reading is so important in developing vocabulary and for being a model for writing. So I resisted the urge to ask lots of questions of students after they read. In the end, I opted for simple. I needed books and a simple form for students to show they were reading. I also needed a set of meaningful questions. For books, I was able to purchase 5 copies each of 26 different TPRS novels so students have a variety of books to choose from at their level. Lastly, I needed to figure out the logistics: how much and when students would read.
Excited to have students begin reading independently, I had kids in Spanish 1B (the second half of my level one class that spans 7th and 8th grade and meets for 70 minutes 2-3 times a week) start independent reading on day 2 of class after they created a list of books they wanted to read. I collected the descriptions of the books from the covers and created a document for students to look over as homework and select their top 3-5 choices so class time would not be lost in selecting. I also gave them a copy of a place to write their list with a section for goal setting for reading to fill out with their choices.
Students come in and pick up their book and their response sheet which can last for 4 sessions of independent reading. Students started reading for 10 minutes. Over time the plan is to build up to longer period of time. Some students have started to request more time already. Once the time is up, students respond to the question that is posted on the board in a Google Presentation. I have a variety of questions to choose from and based on where students seem to be in the book or what type of response I am looking for I can easily change the questions. The response is in English and is 3-5 sentences long. I always offer a secondary option of providing a summary of what they read or a reaction to the reading if they can't connect well or don't have the information they need in the novel for that day. My favorite question so far has been: What is your reaction to this part of the novel? It has also given me insights into student thinking and allow for some beginning dialogue between us that I didn't expect to see in such a short response. I have been scoring the responses on a scale of 4-1, as shown below, as that is our district's grading scale. I tried hard to keep it simple.
It has just been a couple weeks, but it has become the beginning part of the class routine and I love it! I am sure that it will morph as the year goes on, but it is by far one of my favorite ways to start off class.
I hope to have 7th grade working on independent novels by November. I have started them out by reading to them twice a week. I pick out focus structures to tell the story of the pictures more than anything and engage them in comprehensible input. My current favorite is Buenas noches, gorila. Not a lot of text, but a lot of possibilities for narration.
Other Sources for Reading Materials
While I am finding that I am partial to the TPRS novels, there are other resources to consider. They could also be used for other reading stations, Kindergarten reading time, etc.
- children's stories
- magazines from the target culture
- leveled magazines like ¿Qué tal? intended for beginning language learners and beyond
- Reading A-Z (Spanish and French) leveled readers intended for elementary level. Many come with activity sheets and discussion questions. You can get a free trial to check it out. Also, inquire to see if your school has a subscription already.
- Free Voluntary Web Surfing- Krashen describes this in more detail here. Students can set their browser to one of your target language countries. From there they can start with the name of a celebrity, hobby, place they'd like to go, etc. Then, they surf. I would suggest it as a timed activity to start in class. It could make a good homework activity.
- Check with your librarian to see if you can add a Spanish collection. Check them out for your classroom or have students check out to take home
- Talk to your building principal. Explain how choice reading can support literacy initiatives at your school. Have a budget/plan in mind for various options. You could get started with a small library. You could at least start a library that would include 2-5 copies of enough books so each student in your class would have one to read. Make sure you have varied levels available as you select. TPRS publishing has a wide variety of novels with glossaries and highly repetitive structures to help with acquisitions. They are typically $6 each, unless purchased in 25+ quantities. Most of the books can be also be found for $5-$6 typically on Amazon with free shipping in most cases over $35. If you are buying single copies it may be more advantageous to purchase from them. You could realistically get a small library started for between $150-$180.
- See if you can share a collection with a colleague and rotate your choice reading days.
- Try a Wish List on Amazon that you share with parents or supporters of your program/school
- Purchase them yourself and take a tax write off if applicable.
See rubric below for scoring ideas. It has been working quite well for me thus far.
How do you approach "free" reading?