Backwards Planning

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9 thoughts on “Backwards Planning”

  1. Ben, thank you for deciphering my question above. Yet another example of my, at times, not-so-clear writing. Your answer, on the other hand, was clear as always and exactly what I was looking for: no backward planning from novels. Just plow through those when the time comes. Stick to novels at their level. Stick more with class-created stories based on a few key structures that have been given a high number of reps in PQA. Got it. Perfect.

  2. Yeah and Brian there are a lot of naysayers to the “plow through the book” method. Blaine asked me in Texas which form of reading I thought was best, his (stories from scripts) or novels (Susie’s snow plow idea). I didn’t know. On the one hand, story scripts allow much “tighter” reading, with the embedding process a big plus, but then reading shorter novels gets the job done too. You would think that Blaine would want to sell more novels, anyway. The big drawback to the snowplow method is that it can lose kids within ten minutes if the teacher is not on the ball. Diana Noonan feels strongly about that. Although I embrace the snowplow as the only way to get through the novels, I accept that point from Diana. It’s just another example of how this stuff is evolving under our noses. Shorter classes are good for snowplowing. You can read a page or so, point out some grammar, and spin some CI discussion to get them in different parts of their brains for a bit during class, which is what I advocate for embedded readings from stories, as well. We’ll just have to keep figuring this out on a daily basis. But I am going to try to read four novels this year, for a total of 8 weeks of direct reading translation instruction. The biggest problem is that the available fare, nothing new here, is just not interesting. Some really creative teachers, knowing this, for about three years now, have created “parallel stories” in which Ana, for example, is compared with a kid in the class to make it much more personalized. But then it gets too much into spinning auditory reading and the pure reading that Krashen has shown is the real deal gets marginalized. Oh well. Some day this reading question will all be clear and we will know what to do. But the only way to get there is for each of us to keep doing the real work of going in and experimenting and seeing what works and what doesn’t and keep on learning from each other. That’s the ticket to real change.

  3. At our recent conference, Carol Gaab shared some examples of an excellent suggestion for novels: pre-reading discussions. She showed how, before teaching Houdini, you can talk about who Houdini was, what kind of family (etc) he had. Then you can talk about the main characters and what sorts of issues they have, so that the kids are familiar with characters and cultural references and have even discussed what their reactions or their families’ reactions might be to the sorts of things that happen in the book.
    A huge light came on for me. Carol is a proponent of your “snowplow” approach, once having done the pre-reading activities. Many likely discussions happen before the kids read the book, or the chapter, or the section (although obviously we need to leave ourselves open to those the kids want to hold when we’re reading). She said that her students were practically begging to read the book by the time she finally let them. It’s basically the same approach as the Australians’ Scaffolding Literacy, except that now I understand it better because Carol gave me the examples I needed. She reminded me that pictures, connection to self, and cultural orientation to the reading help kids fix the reading visually, personally and intellectually, and if they can do this in advance, they are much better able to drink in the reading.
    I have tried this in a limited way lately–by pre-acting out situations in a story–but I missed sharing some of the cultural references to Russian athletes and Russian circus performers. We had to do it on the fly while reading, and as Carol said, that interrupted the flow of the story we were reading.
    Up until now, I have done backward planning for a story, but only related to the HF structures that the kids would need, three at a time. Your suggestion is to use reading at their level, which would make that sort of backward planning unneccessary. Unfortunately for me, there are almost no books written at my kids’ level in Russian, so I have to use the 1800-word vocabulary ones. What I did was create embedded readings of a sort–by retyping each page with only the essential information they needed to understand the story. I wouldn’t have to do that if the stories were already at their level. But I propose to you that a lot of your kids are not able to visualize or respond personally and intellectually the way most teachers can as they read, so giving them visuals in advance and having discussions as a different kind of backward planning will make them read more efficiently than any of us could dream!
    Then, as Carol explained, we can still do Readers’ Theater with the parts that are either confusing or will lend themselves to great drama, and we can still have the interesting conversations about issues in the stories–but just a little bit of advance planning will put those discussions in front of the reading.
    I’m going to start trying it out this week with a little novel a Russian colleague wrote for me (at the kids’ level whoo hoo!). It will be against my free-flowing nature and deny me the usual easier lesson plan of pulling structures from the reading and going with those at the last moment, but I will let you know what happens.

  4. What a beautiful response that addresses just about all aspects of backwards planning. Yes, it’s the interruption of the flow that concerns me. Pre-reading discussions sound great, but my goal is simplicity this year. So it seems that one option is to wait until the good books to read are written (why doesn’t somebody do that?). I can’t ask my kids who live in poverty, for example, to get into a book about privileged kids in Virginia.
    As we wait for a resolution to the issue of reading, I will focus on the embedded readings*. Laurie has shown that they themselves, via layering, can become books in themselves.
    I will try the four books in level one, Houdini, Pauvre Anne, Pirates, and Isabelle if it ever gets out in French, but if they can’t fly with my Latino kids, I’ll just focus on the story generated texts and give up my goal of reading four novels with them this year.
    Michele, great post!
    *just a reminder that there are many blog posts here, thousands, that are not properly categorized. So if you want to read a few about embedded readings, for example, or any other topic, it is best to search the topic instead of relying on the categories. At this point after four years of blogging it would be impossible to go back and correctly update each category. I am even thinking of doing away with them and just having us rely on the dependable search function.

  5. What is “Isabelle?” I have not heard of this one. I also plan to try the 4 novel Susie plow-a-thon, but me being me, I cannot decide which books to read. I also picked Houdini, Pauvre Anne and Pirates but not in that order. I get too hung up on these things and I just need to make a decision and move on. Sometimes I have framed some of the plots in the novels as “like a soap opera / telenovela” so that the kids get right from the start that the story is purposely exaggerated. The fact that they react strongly is good (?) because it shows me they understand what they’re reading. When they react with comments like “that is so dumb, why didn’t he….? It makes for good “book club” discussion.
    I was also wondering about using some of the Blaine stories and extended stories as options for the kids for silent reading time. Any thoughts on that? I don’t have a ton of stuff for the level 1-2 kids and while I’m doing my best to type up whatever gets created in class, it’s unrealistic (and too complicated for my Ben-like Zen approach) that I will be able to provide the volume of readings that we need. I have a collection of books but most of them are too hard unless they are books that the kids “know by heart” from their childhood. I’m trying to give my students 30 mins/week of silent reading, typically it is in 10-min chunks. Not sure if this is ideal, but I’m trying it now with the idea that I can always shift it.

  6. Isabelle/isabela is part of a series by Karen Rowan. I think there are three or four books in the series.
    If you teach Spanish, Mira Canion has a book called Agentes Secretos. It’s got about 130 Spanish non-cognate (or challenging cognate) words and almost 200 cognates. I think it has the smallest vocabulary of any of the novels. This is going to be the first book I read with my students this year because it should be fairly easy for them.
    Thanks for the tip about Carol’s reading strategies, Michele. I just pulled out the teacher’s guide for Nuevo Houdini (which my classes and I didn’t get to last year), and it seems to give a lot of ideas for the kind of pre-reading discussions you are talking about. The things you wrote help to put the guide’s activities into perspective for me.

  7. I didn’t know what you guys are talking about with plow through the novel, so I just went to Susie’s site and read her Reading is Essential article, so now I think I have more of an idea.
    So, don’t bother Backward Planning a novel, just read it and translate it together and give them the definitions they are missing and hopefully the novel you choose is easy enough for them to read without needing to define too many words. Then you discuss it and go on?

    1. With lower level classes I don’t even discuss it. I just want them to have the experience of the snow plow reading. If that means fifteen minutes a day only, I’ll do that. Again, there are no rules. Just Susie’s suggestion that we read in this fashion through three or four novels a year. She is not against the story reading process at all, of course. This snow plow idea is just more icing on what should be a big fat cake of reading for the kids – at least 50% of our program towards fluency. That’s the way I understand it.

  8. If I can briefly thrown in here, I would very much agree with Michele that talking about the novel (chapter, story, etc.) before the reading makes a HUGE difference. Kids don’t like to feel stupid, and they understand you better than a book initially. Being the beginning of the year still, I’m working with much shorter texts: a newspaper article, short stories in a reader, etc. What I’ll do is describe the situation and what happened as a narrator–telling them the plot line, asking them what they would have done, just basically talking, circling, chatting and do that to cover about 85% of the reading. Then we’ll jump into the text, read it from the beginning and see how it ended. The big takeaway for me is that kids engage a text if you do them the favor of not allowing them to feel stupid that they aren’t getting it.
    I like what everybody is saying on the backwards planning vs. plow discussion and I think there are strong arguments for both. I think the big thing I’d add to that discussion though is making sure that the words you are focusing on are high frequency, and not just relevant to a given story or chapter. Last year I started really focusing more on creating quarterly vocab lists of very high frequency words, and I started finding that when we would hit stories or songs, they more often than not knew most of the words there already, and I’d just need to patch. The danger of straight backwards planning is that you might not be getting the most high frequency words for the entire language–just for that story–and thus limiting the payoff of what they learn moving forward. Again, I see nothing wrong in doing random scripts/stories or backwards planning and do both frequently. But, I’m starting to believe much more heavily in selecting high frequency words as the core of my curriculum at least for the first couple of years. You just get so many freebies that show up without you planning it that your life get much easier.

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