An Advanced CI Class, part 2

Last week I wrote about how complex language emerges in a CI environment. This week I’d like to continue the conversation about advanced classes and describe how I build a reading program. The reading program is an essential foundation of a language class. In my classes, I seek to create a place where we all talk about books, rather than a class where we talk about the one book that we are forced to read.

If you are a fan of the whole class novel, we can still be friends!! I have ideas about how to do that better too: check out the reading module, especially the essays titled (1) Why whole class reading?, (2) Reading Superburguesas with a whole class and (3) Reading Meche y las ballenas with a whole class. Whole class reading does have a significant place in my language classes, but paired with a pleasure reading program for very important reasons.

I still maintain the basic structure of the “2 conversation lesson plan” in the upper levels that I describe in the CI Master Class but, as I outlined in the last newsletter, the depth of conversation is different depending upon the students in the classroom. This is key for teachers who are transitioning to CI because the abilities of their students are going to change as new cohorts who were exposed to more complex input rise into the upper levels. However, you’ll always have kids coming in from other districts, or perhaps you’ll have another teacher who has not provided as good CI in other classes, so you’ll always be adjusting the conversation to the exact students in the room.

Another difference between lower levels and upper levels is that the reading program emerges as one of the major sources of input. In the lower levels I sometimes spend the first half of the year doing book talks and other activities that introduce the classroom library to students before allowing them to start investigating the library. Building up their anticipation and desire to become readers is huge. In the upper levels I cannot assume anything, but I start the pleasure reading program right away and it is a major component of the class.

Have you seen the CI readers that are published under a few publishing companies and some independent teacher authors? Companies like CPLI, Fluency Matters and TPRS Books, as well as the many books published by independent teacher-authors that are listed on ? I talk about using these books in the Master Class, but it is just one module because I cannot assume that every teacher has a classroom library. However, I think that developing a class library should be the obsession of every language teacher! It may be a multiple year project, but it will come together quicker than you think.

Many CI teachers buy class sets of novels and read one novel at a time with their classes. I think that is a mistake. Honestly, I have never read a novel with a whole class and not gotten to that point where it feels stale, where the kids are resisting, and everybody is flipping pages to see how many are left. Everyone, including the teacher. That doesn’t happen when students can choose their own novels.

A good midway position between whole class novels and pleasure reading is to offer lit groups where students choose one novel from a group of 5 or 6 and then read in small groups. But even better, I think, is to do whole class reading of one scene and let students choose which books they’ll continue reading in their pleasure reading sessions (pleasure reading is scheduled in my class to happen at the beginning of every class period). Many English teachers no longer read whole class novels for the same reason: students have their own interests and what we are trying to teach them is not that XXX book is a great piece of literature, but rather that reading in general opens doors to a much richer, enjoyable life. And yes, starting class with quiet reading is incredibly effective at settling down rowdy classes coming in from lunch.

The “one novel at a time that we all have to read whether we like it or not” approach teaches kids to hate reading, and unfortunately too many teachers fail to imagine otherwise. In fact, those teachers might not be readers themselves. Developing LOVE OF READING is what I am trying to do with my pleasure reading program. It is also, by the way, a more powerful way to develop language.

In class, during the 20-minute 2nd session in the “2 conversation” lesson plan, I like to present a scene, a single scene, from a different novel each time. I might just read in an animated voice if it is an easy read, or I might have student actors sit on stools to help dramatize the reading. I’ll write and draw on the board to scaffold the text. I may even quickly explain the context in L1 so that we can get straight to the action. I do this twice a week. That means that I’ll have time in a school year to present about 80 books. Last time I checked there were over 200 CI novels published in Spanish… we Spanish teachers are not lacking texts to read! French teachers have at least 75, which is enough to build a pleasure reading library.

Students never get bored of a class novel because we get a “taste” of it for a single period, and I get to touch upon many interests. For students who are interested in science fiction I can read a part of “Listos o no” by Adam Geidd without worrying about the 75% of my students who hate sci-fi. It’s 20 minutes of input, not 4 weeks of lesson plans. My own two novels appeal to very different audiences: Superburguesas is a screwball comedy and Meche y las ballenas is about environmental activism. There are books that appeal to all sorts of readers, but I am convinced that there is no ONE BOOK to please them all.

Students browse books in many ways (please read the “browsing strategies” essay in the reading module of the CI Master Class), but the twice weekly book talks that I have selected in class really is crucial to get students to look deeply into the class library for their pleasure reading sessions. Furthermore, when I am doing a read-aloud, I can scaffold the reading to my audience. Many teachers think of scaffolding as simplifying a reading for students, but I also love to use an easy reader to “scaffold up” the conversation. Adam Geidd’s novel is actually a level one novel, but we can take one scene and then I’ll talk about it at a level appropriate to the class so that the level 4 class is getting a lot of advanced input that I am making comprehensible, in the moment.

My experience is that it is perfectly fine for upper-level kids to read low level books, but there are also plenty of more advanced CI novels. Get a diversity of books. If you are just now building a new classroom library, start with simply book talking. This first year you might just talk about books and not have too many to actually get in the hands of students. Okay, you’ve got to start somewhere!

Start with the easiest to read and make your class conversations hit higher levels. But once you’ve got 50 books, you’ve got plenty of choices to start a pleasure reading program. I do the same process of book talks and presenting single scenes for my level 1 classes, but I focus on the easiest reads in my library so that level 1 students are ready to start pleasure reading in the second semester. There is a lot more advice about running a pleasure reading program in the CI Master class, but I think the crucial thing to aim for is to develop a class where you and your students talk about books, rather than a class where you are all forced to talk about “the one book”.