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Students need to browse

Wrapping my mind around the shift from required reading to desirable reading

Some tweaks are “good to implement if you can”. Other tweaks carry the urgency of “absolutely change how you do this right now”. This may not be maximum urgency, but if you have a pleasure reading program then creating a browsing wall with book covers facing outward will noticeably increase the circulation of your books.

When assigning a required reading to a class the main concern of the teacher will inevitably be to assure that the reading is comprehensible to all students. A pleasure reading program introduces a slightly different dynamic: the teacher becomes concerned with connecting each student to the right book, which is both comprehensible and targeted to the interests of the student. If you scoff at the idea that this is even possible in a world language classroom, you need to check out the amazing diversity of well-written, limited vocabulary fiction books now available for language learners!

I estimate that my classroom library has between 1500-2000 books written for beginning language learners all the way through to YA fiction for heritage learners. Last school year, when all of the books were contained beautifully within a few bookcases, I had a hard time getting students to browse the books. Each shelf was labeled according to the topic of the books, but students rarely explored. Despite the book talks and gentle nudging, I rarely managed to get a student to take the time to pull out books and find their dream book.

This year I created a “Books of the week” wall display from which students choose a book for independent reading in class. I rotate a portion of the books each week so that students eventually see the front covers of my entire library. Rather than merely relying on my own knowledge of each student to connect them with an interesting book I have found a way to discretely suggest new genres to all students. This really hit home when one of my stand-offish heritage learner students recently lunged to claim my Spanish edition of the graphic novel Maus. I would have never guessed that he had an interest in WWII.

library-1

On Fridays students place books that are being actively read on a cart so that I am sure to have them available the following week. I still encourage students to browse my bookshelves, but for those students who have not yet learned the pleasure of browsing this is a nice, structured way to introduce them to one of the essential skills of a real reader.

How did I create my little book ledges?

I am lucky that the interior walls of my classroom are made of a material much like a bulletin board. I managed to staple a hand-crafted ledge made of laminated paper sentence strips which you can buy in a teachers supply store. Behind each book is a velcro strip positioned exactly four inches above the ledge, and each book has the opposite side of the velcro strip (again, four inches up). Finally a student in each class has the job of “King/Queen of Books”. Students return the books to that one person who is responsible for placing them on the wall in such a way that they slightly overlap (see the photo below). That way none of the books splay outward, ruining their binding.

If you are just starting a pleasure reading library and are looking for where to find these specialized, limited vocabulary books then check out the following websites: Bryce Hedstrom, TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, One Good Story, CI Reading, TPRS Books, Fluency Fast, Spanish Cuentos

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

el que diran I LOVE the Orca Soundings in Spanish series! Originally created for reluctant readers in English, this series has been beautifully translated to Spanish with a limited vocabulary that nicely bridges between TPRS readers and so-called “authentic” literature. I originally was skeptical because there is nothing particularly latino about these books. Whatever fears I may have had have long been thrown out the window; the themes in these books are so universal to adolescents that they are extremely relevant to my own students. The stories move quickly and the teen problems are realistic. Thus far I have read three of these books and they have all been gripping in their own ways. If you have heritage speakers in your classes who are engaged in an FVR program, include some of these books. I suspect that, like me, you will be back to buy the entire series.
You can find the whole series at the website of Orca Book Publishers.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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Deskless and organized

For those of you who are going deskless, here are a few photos of my classroom to share what I do to prevent those chairs from migrating around the room. Especially if you have a big room you will see that it is hard to keep the chairs tidy without a little organization.

At the beginning of the year I organize my chairs in a large horseshoe (with a small section in the middle because I need to fit 40 chairs into a room made for 28). You can click on this photo to get a closer look:
big view

Each group of 6 chairs is inside a colored rectangle. Students place their bags against the wall and notebooks beneath their chair. They are allowed to have their feet outside of the rectangle, but all chairs remain inside the rectangle:
yellow group

tapeI use two different tapes; I start with colored masking tape and really ground it into the carpet with my shoes. Then I covered that with clear packaging tape, which has superior resistance to all of the scuffing that kids will do. For seven groups I used two rolls of clear packaging tape ($2 each at Staples for each 800 inch roll of tape) and 7 rolls of colored masking tape ($3 each, but I have left over to use on future projects).

After two weeks it still looks beautiful and everything is nice and tidy. Here is a close-up of the worst damage, where a student has pressed down while pushing his chair back repeatedly. Most of the time chairs glide right over the clear tape, so he must have tried extra hard to leave his mark:
damage

Ultimately going deskless has given me more control over my classroom, but if I let my desks wander around the room it would have driven me crazy!

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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Letter to parents about a deskless classroom

letterhomeA teacher who is going deskless next school year recently asked me to repost this letter that I sent home to parents when I first went deskless. I think that this letter is gold; it places the deskless classroom within the context of solid teaching practices and describes why this change is an improvement. My administrators and parents were happy once the change was explained, and even students recognized that desks often are used to hide phones or homework for other classes.

I have left the letter as an editable .docx file so that you can change names to fit your teaching situation. The first year that I went deskless I left one desk in the back for students whose parents insisted that they “need a desk in order to learn”. Within a day or two of using the desk I always found the student using the desk to hide non-class activities. EVERY SINGLE TIME. However, leaving a desk or two in the classroom may be helpful for a student feeling anxiety about the change. I still would not let them take notes during the class, but that is a paradigm shift that many parents (and teachers) may not understand. This letter is a good way to open that conversation.

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The Advantages of Posting High Frequency Verbs

Lately I have been becoming more conscious of how much I use the high frequency verbs posted on my wall.

word walls

I originally posted them for students, and some of my students still do occasionally glance over at the wall. This is especially true during quick writes when someone is looking for inspiration, but it happens also while I am speaking if I point to the wall while speaking slowly.

More importantly, however, I use the posters while circling to keep my questions fresh and interesting while maintaining comprehensibility. For example the other day we were working on two phrases, pide una coca-cola and le ofrecen un pepsi. There was a guy who could not drink Pepsi because he was allergic to the secret ingredient in Pepsi, but the employees kept trying to give him a Pepsi instead of a Coke because there was no Coke in the store. As I was circling these phrases I went through the list of high-frequency verbs:

¿Puede beber un pepsi el hombre? No, no puede beber pepsi, por eso pide una coca-cola. ¿Los empleados salen para comprar coca-cola? No, le ofrecen un pepsi porque no quieren salir. ¿Por qué no quieren salir? Porque quieren ver su programa favorito en la tele. Entonces, ¿qué ve el hombre en las manos de los empleados? El ve latas de pepsi, pero no ve una lata de coca-cola. ¿Le ofrecen una lata de coca-cola? ¡Qué va! ¡Le ofrecen una lata de pepsi! ¿El hombre pone el pepsi en la boca? ¡Claro que no! Él puede morir si bebe Pepsi. El hombre pide una coca-cola. ¿Los empleados saben que el hombre quiere coca-cola? Sí, ellos saben. Saben muy bien, pero son flojos y quieren ver la tele…

I know that the strength of circling comes from the repetition of new structures, but circling gets very old very quickly if the teacher limits him or herself to just the new structures. Once those high frequency verbs have been acquired there is no reason to not continually sow them into your circling. For me, the posters really help me come up with questions during the heat of the moment, unscripted but perfectly comprehensible.

Here are my full basic verbs that my Spanish 1 students master by the end of first semester:

super72

sweet16