I want to again put into writing my thoughts on the novels:
The main thing that all level 1 CI teachers must know is that it is almost impossible to develop readers that can be read at a level that is commensurate with a level one students’ ability to read them. In other words, level 1 novels are too hard to write.
For over twenty years now teachers have handed what are effectively level 2 readers to level 1 students. Level 1 kids’ time should not be wasted trying to read novels they can’t read. The activities in A Natural Approach to the Year and also in the Invisibles are what level 1 kids should be reading – not the novels.
Think of it. Blaine and Carol wanted to sell novels when they first saw – in 2002 or so – how much money could be made from them (millions), so they put all their focus on them and all of a sudden, money, not the research, became the principle motivating factor in developing CI. The entire movement became wrongly focused around the novels, with these results:
1. As mentioned above, since nobody can write a true level 1 novel since it can’t be done, books that were really level 2 books started being marketed and used as level 1 books. Blaine and Carol didn’t mind, of course, but many low and midlevel kids had their reading confidence shredded, and the result was the current general failure of CI in language classrooms, even after 25 years of it trying now to take over the field of foreign language instruction. Level 1 CI classes should not be about reading anymore than curriculum models for elementary language classes should be modeled around reading.
2. Teachers who couldn’t teach well using CI for lack of training (and in my opinion because they didn’t have the Invisibles) ended up wasting class time that could have been used far more efficiently in trying to get kids to read things that they could read (esp. readings based on tableaux and stories based on drawings as per the Star Sequence).
This caused frustration:
(1) The faster kids, those few in the class who could read well, got slowed down by the slower readers.
(2) The slower ones dropped out or didn’t re-enroll the next year because they couldn’t keep up, resulting in lower enrollments for that teacher just when they were trying to build their CI program.
(3) Because of the two points above, classes got split, usually down racial and socio-economic lines, which goes against my entire philosophy of CI, that kids can’t really succeed at CI unless the teacher makes her class into a cohesive community filled with kids who know and like each other, as per the Invisibles.
(4) The entire class was unable to get excited about what they were reading because the novels were too hard for most of them. Those little books were also boring.
These imbalances in reading are all easily fixed by simply having the kids in level 1 read texts created only from their drawings and other activities found in the Star Sequence Curriculum.
This is invaluable information to know in the huge “CI Novel” slice of the “CI Pie” game. People who write those novels (the correct term should be “readers”) should produce ones that are at the right level for the real capacities of the students. Thus, sell books similar to those that Blaine and Carol sell as level 1 readers, but sell them as level 2 and above readers.
Doing this will lead to a breakthrough in how the novels in CI classroom are viewed and used. When people who buy your readers, because they are properly leveled and labeled, see the results in their classes (that ALL their kids will be able to happily read the reader), it will clean up the current greed-driven mess in CI around the novels and there will be a proper balance between the students’ actual abilities to read and what they are reading.