Bread and Butter

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18 thoughts on “Bread and Butter”

  1. Speaking of FVR in level I, the well known challenges for reading Chinese characters make it impossible to introduce any reading in Chinese even before Chinese III. What I offer my students to read is a wild range of travel books, Chinese classics, arts, holidays, other cultural related topics in English. Hope to at least inspire some interests related to China and Chinese.
    Please don’t get me wrong that I don’t keep any reading in the target language, I do. I have cartoons, novels, poems, illustrations, fables, survival phrases guide, menus, business card, etc in Chinese. But I don’t push my students to only read in Chinese. As Susie said: “Nothing motivates better than success”. I want them to feel successful and their feels and opinions are valued. Some students after exploring certain topics in English, they naturally want to learn about them in Chinese. It could serve as a hook.

    1. Hi Haiyun! I have a set of very basic, little kid books that I’ve used for the equivalent of FVR with 5th-8th graders. The books show pinyin over “new” characters, and there’s an English translation on the back of the front cover. I’ve found that 5th through 8th graders, once they understand these are meant for little kids, actually get a kick out of it. They find the books easy even with new words because the books have that little kid predictable structure to them.

      Don’t know if that kind of thing would work for high schoolers. Maybe occasionally? Admittedly I’ve only used them 2 or 3 times in a free reading format.

  2. I am glad to read this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about what Jody said in the parts that you re-posted here.

    Last year in my zeal to jump start everything in April, I went straight to FVR as one of the “backbones” of the class, blindly citing Krashen’s research without thinking about the fact that it was based on English Language Learners, and most importantly without considering the adaptations I needed to make for the particular groups I was working with.

    My own experience corroborates everything Ben and Jody say. The level 1 classes struggle too much to read because they have not had enough aural input. But last year, when I began this journey I just bought one copy of each of the Blaine Ray novels for my classroom library. I also had a few copies of old scholastic magazines and some children’s books / picture dictionaries. I also had a class set of “Pauvre Anne, that we read together.

    I really had no idea what I was doing, so I did about 5-7 mins of “FVR” at the beginning of the period. Several students “read” novels like “Pirates” or “Fama” or the one about the bird sanctuary in Cameroun. They got enough out if it to want to keep reading. Other kids read in Pauvre Anne or familiar stories like Goldilocks, etc. In their end of year feedback, most said they were proud that they read an entire book in French. Some read two.

    The problem came when I had the same group this year, and I was trying to pick an appropriate level novel for a class reading, because the kids who had read more complained that “I already read that book.” So I let myself get backed into a corner. I own that. So the result of my wimpiness is that we have not read a whole novel this year. We got through most of one, and about half of another one. But I gave up. For the first one, I sort of rescued it by just typing up a synopsis of the last 4 chapters.

    The lessons for me are 1) the books were too hard for them at the time we tried to read them. 2) I allowed myself to be bullied by a few vocal kids complaints. 3) If I am going to have novels in the classroom library the kids need to know that they might be reading them again.

    The “boring” factor of the novels (even if they are the right level) has not usually been an issue for me. Even in my past life as an eclectic teacher, I used “Mi Propio Auto” in my Spanish 2 classes for several years. I always made it clear to the kids that this was not “literature” and that it was written specifically for people learning Spanish. It was always really fun, because I was basically using it as just something to talk about. I made this clear to the kids. The fact that there were these oversimplified characters was great, because you couldn’t not react to it…that was the point! Kids would always complain (lightheartedly) and say stuff like “Mindy es tonta” or whatever, but that was the point! They could complain / “critique” because they understood the story! I’d always over-exaggerate everything and in some classes we’d act it out, all kinds of great CI was happening even before I knew it was CI!!!

    Anyway, I am not going to berate myself for my failure to make the novels work this year, because there is so much that I am trying to learn. But I do like the idea of “forced involuntary reading!” I did a bit of that when I was still trying to get through a book. I like that idea a lot, because kids get to read at their own pace, and then you can have discussions, etc. after they have read on their own. Next year after my badass norming month of all-aural personalized CI focusing on the interpersonal skills, things will be different!

    I understand the value of having more compelling reading material, but honestly I don’t think it is so critical in levels 1-2, because I can create a compelling atmosphere with my group. I definitely allowed myself to get sucked into some negative energy this year, between those vocal kids, and also my dept head who complained about every single novel (no exaggeration…I have a copy of all of them, and she hates them all). So there’s that. Next year I am not going to listen to that negativity. If I am excited about something cheesy, oh well.

    1. …the lessons for me are 1) the books were too hard for them at the time we tried to read them. 2) I allowed myself to be bullied by a few vocal kids complaints. 3) If I am going to have novels in the classroom library the kids need to know that they might be reading them again….

      You are so transparent, so honest. This would be my own experience had we in DPS not been given that $450,000 to buy basically a gazillion books so I could avoid that problem you describe.

      What you say about kids’ pride in reading translates into my classroom in the following way: Fast readers finish PA, go to Fama, then throw in Pirates, then work their way through the ubiquitous Blaine novels all over the room. This is during the “FRV” sessions where many high achievers just went with the Blaine novels instead of the baby books. Over a few months, I noted that a competition had developed to see who had read the most. This was among the top five kids. They eyed each other and made sure that I knew that they “needed another book”. And so I had to find the next one in the series.

      This discussion has been so helpful to me. I just don’t like reading novels in class when I could be doing stories (and the readings from them). I felt guilty but now I say what the hell. This idea of using the first ten minutes for the silent sustained reading of novels and not FVR really resonates with me and I am going to do it even if Diana and Susie threaten me with ex-communication.

      jen the big point you make is this –

      …the books were too hard for them at the time we tried to read them….

      That’s a biggie.

  3. I’ve sort of held back on this comment since the FVR/SSR discussion seems to be going in the opposite direction, but my kids write books at the end of the year, and these books are a big part of my classroom library. They use the vocab and structures that we’ve worked on every year, and almost all of them would be a worthy story to tell in class. We have stories about waffles that chase kids, bananas that eat kids, purple ladybugs that have no friends b/c they’re not red, girls who meet a boy vampire and become girl vampires….all in comprehensible French. Along with Scholastic mags, these are the “go-to” books that kids read in FVR/SSR. They do acquire language, it is compelling b/c it’s from the perspective of a middle schooler, and they often know the author. I never publish the books until the language is perfect, so no worries about books laden with errors. It doesn’t solve the Chinese character problem, but for me, it’s the best answer for SSR. I’ve even had kids look for the Peter and the Waffle book and hide it so they get it during SSR.

    Just my deux centimes…

    1. I think it is great that you have created your own classroom library and that your kids like it and find it useful. This is one of those very personal and professional decisions that teachers make about their own time use and that of their students, and I believe it is a valid one.

      Perhaps, it is because I have been doing this so long, that I have 3 preps and six classes, and/or that I have an extreme aversion to re-writing kids’ work for presentation purposes, that I cannot justify the amount of time it takes to do this the way I used to. (If I tell the truth, I did this to look good with parents, admin, and other staff, not to create a living student library.) It always took longer than I planned. If I taught higher levels, I might be more drawn to it as a presentation/assessment piece.

      1. Yeah, I hear ya on the 3 preps and six classes–and one of mine is a world cultures class in English, so a completely different type of prep. Makes things crazy to deal with 170+ kids a year….

        I also have an aversion to rewriting kids’ work, but what I’ve done is sit and have a conference with them as per Susie Gross’s 3 error correction approaches. So I might say, “What sounds better: il ne content pas or il n’est pas content?” They almost always know what is right, and then can quickly fix it. Sometimes it’s more of the monitor hypothesis: “You made John feminine. What do you do to fix that?” And then they giggle and fix it. It’s a good way for me to see what they know and can do (and I do give them a grade for it) and it’s a really nice one-on-one that I rarely get to do and I enjoy. But it does take 4-5 days, so the time investment is a factor. It’s also the only project-type activity I do.
        Next year I plan to keep their 10-minute writes as possible rough drafts for their stories so that they have some story lines to choose from.

        It’s now a tradition at my school, like our crepe party and the movie Brice de Nice at the end of 8th grade, so I’m stuck with it. But really, I do it for selfish reasons: I get an (almost) free classroom library that is comprehensible pretty soon in 7th grade. Not for everyone, definitely. But my “real” books are almost never touched, nor are the A-Z books, but the Sierra books are like magic.

  4. Ditto that. Annick Chen has been in her classroom until 6:00 p.m. this past week making books and such. I sit and talk with her to learn about CI from her. She says she wants to be an art teacher.

    But the effect of your work overall Dori is felt up here and if I was younger I would probably be really getting into exactly what you describe. Alas, I am too old and too lazy and too pressed for time and not an artistic type. I have to say the Peter the Waffle thing is just killer. Peter the Waffle. Who woulda thunk it?

    By the way, there is a teacher at Lincoln, or someone (I can’t remember who it is) whose daughter is in your class and the message when I see them is always how happy the child is to be in your class. If I think of who the parent is, I’ll let you know. (Dori is in Parker just down the road from Denver, y’all, to explain that).

    1. Thank you, Ben! This is great to hear at this time of year. The only teacher from Lincoln that I know is Bill? Thomas, your ESL teacher. He’s been super supportive in parent-teacher conferences, and he has alluded to conversations the two of you have had about the method. His daughter is absolutely wonderful–I’m sure I’m happier having her in class than she is to be there. Anyway, so good to hear….you always know what to say, Ben….

      1. Yes it’s Bill. Wild Bill Hiccup. He leaves Lincoln this year. It was an amazing thing. Here is a guy whom you would see walking around Oxford’s campus with one of those robes on and he spends part of his career teaching Shakespeare to Latino kids who don’t have the privilege of the suburban educations and whom most teachers of his calibre would eschew for other venues.

        Lincoln is a great school and very representative of real America, not the fictitious suburban we are superior to you bullshit schools. The story I heard at graduation from a student whose family was deported systematically between 2009 and 2011 and she stayed here and worked to support herself, was #2 in her class and is going to the elite Denver University in the fall on a full scholarship, just made the faculty weep. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as they say. I had to go through five other schools for over three decades to get here. No wonder Obama came here to speak last November.

        That Bill respects your work with his daughter is significant. It is these kinds of little contacts set in motion in the way Ben Lev has done, really in the way we all are doing, working locally and thinking globally, that will bring the change. I hear a rumble on the plains.

  5. We also do one book per year in Levels 1,2 and 3. As Dori said, it is now a tradition. It does eat up time, but if you choose the time of year carefully, it really helps. There are just days/weeks in which input is not as effective. These are great times to do the books. Also, as Dori says, it takes a good 4-5 days of class time.

    We also take care to organize the output so that the structures and vocabulary are sheltered. All writing takes place in class and it does fulfill some of those cooperative groups, technology (for typing up the rough draft/using images etc.) boxes that some folks have to fill in.

    We also allow them to create a PowerPoint instead of a book in some cases, which has created a “screen library” that we can use with our classes or in the computer lab.

    As a CI-based teacher, I do worry that I’m losing a week of input. However……..

    It adds a wonderful aspect of community to the class and ownership of the language for the students. It feeds the need of the “outputters” in a big way. It honors and recognizes the natural writers and artists.

    And this year, like other years, it brought success to one student in a huge way.

    I have a student this year who is highly capable but just doesn’t believe it. He has been encouraged and rewarded for two years, but just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, buy into the fact that he could do anything related to reading or writing. Our second year project requires a good chunk of sentences. They must have at least 25 different sentences and they must create a coherent story. This young man agreed to take it step by step as we laid it out in the outline…for at least 5 sentences.

    Turns out it was his time to “click”. By using the pattern that we had laid out for him, using language that he really had acquired, and by really being able to see the picture in his head, because he was creating the picture…he finished a writing piece for the first time ever in two years. And it is a 10 page children’s book.

    Winner, winner chicken dinner!!!! Whoo hoooo!!

    Later in the school year + later in the process + clear outline to follow +sheltered structures and vocabulary + support =success (and a great option when various field trips and activities kept us from having an entire week of having students in class every day)

    with love,

    1. Laurie, could you share your pattern(s) with us?

      I’ve had mixed success with writing more than one big classroom book. We have a system now where one kid comes up with the outline of a “novel,” and then kids work in groups to write chapters based on the outline. We tried out the CYOA book from Nathan’s plans, and that seemed to work too, but we ran out of time getting it together. I will put it together as a finished product over the summer.

      It would be fun to have a shorter project, especially for those weeks when kids are coming and going so much.

  6. I’ve been struggling with this concept of FVR all year. I have a lot of Scholastic Mags, children’s books, class stories & embedded readings, and many TPRS novels (although never more than 4 copies of the same novel). My kids had a half year of CI last year. It was immediately obvious that 5th and 6th graders could not handle FVR for 10 minutes at the start of the class. A few kids were vocal about it: “I can’t read Spanish.” My 7th and 8th graders are not vocal, but that may be because they enjoy the 10 minutes of “free” time and may be faking the reading. On most days I still do SSR (only with TPRS novels) with the 7th and 8th graders, with minimal to zero accountability. It is probably still true that the texts don’t meet that 85-95% comprehensibility mark in order for them ALL to be successful readers.

    But I still like the peace it gives me at the beginning of a period. Maybe I will limit the reading to previously done class stories, either projected on the front screen or in folders. But when I give the option between a novel and a class story, the kids always prefer the novels. I have applied for 2 grants to purchase multiple copies of the same TPRS novels in order for the entire class to do SSR/FIR of the same books. Fingers crossed!

    I’ve started to hear moaning from the 8th graders when they are asked to do 10 minutes of SSR and today I asked them why. They told me that the 8th grade ELA teacher has made them “hate” reading!!! And our ELA teacher is gung-ho on the reading. The ELA teacher tells me that she has resisted the pressure this year to have her kids writing, and is instead having kids doing more reading. Her professional development goal is to get the kids reading more. She has charts of how much the kids read, they have reading logs, and there are class competitions with rewards to incentivize reading. Yet, her kids hate reading. Apparently, she barks at them to read, then sometimes talks during their reading time or doesn’t give them enough time to read. Whatever the exact cause of the student aversion to reading, it is now spilling over into my classroom. BUT, last year’s 8th grade class scored #1 in the state on the standardized ELA tests!!!

    Reading is reading. Or is it? HOW IMPORTANT IS THE “F” (free) and the “V” (voluntary)? If kids are reading, even if it is forced and involuntary, they will still reap the benefits, right? What may happen is that the kids develop negative attitudes and the forced and involuntary may not turn them into independent readers. But we teachers still get our higher test scores. . .

  7. Alas the experience of school is neither free nor voluntary so there is a total disconnect there with FVR. Interest in schools is manufactured extrinsically. With stories, we trick the kids into forgetting that they are in school, thus our success. Of course kids who are being trained for tests will not become independent readers. So SSR works for me but what I do Eric is move from the ten minutes of SSR, where one student may be on p. 20 of the common chapter book and another on p. 4, and begin class after the SSR ten minute period by simply starting on the page we are all on as a group, p. 6 perhaps, and doing R & D for as long as it holds their interest, sometimes spinning parallel scenes (Anne meets Olivier in an airport but our Jenny meets some celebrity at Lincoln, to get reps on the verb meets) and sometimes we end up going all period with that R & D from the SSR, but on other days the mojo is not there so we quickly go into a story, sometimes skipping the R & D altogether. It is so nice not to have a lesson plan always trying to force me away from where the flow of energy wants to go in my comprehension based classroom. In this way the water can flow down the mountain where it wants to flow and I need not worry about doing anything but following that flow myself. One might say that simply flowing with the CI marks the end of teaching as we know it and the beginning of delightful sharing, where the group, and not one dominant individual in it, gets to create language together as per the French “Art of Conversation”. See the category for more on that idea at:

    At the end of each class, we will have done R & D and/or a story, thus the meat and potatoes, the main course of this method, gets our full attention.

    Eric I am so sorry to hear about that ELA teacher. Choosing reading over writing is a good thing, and in line with the research, because as we know input always trumps output in CI classes, but the barking, that’s just unfortunate.

  8. Lightbulb! I will R&D class stories to start the class. I usually ask the same story with all class sections of the same grade. That gives me different versions of a story with the same structures.
    I try to type up at least 1 of these class stories from each grade, print it and make copies, and add to folders. I also add all MovieTalk readings to the folders. At this point in the year, my folders are getting thicker.
    I plan to tell my classes we are going to discuss “x” reading. Take a few minutes to read it silently. If you finish early, then read something else in the folder. When I notice my slowest kid has finished, then I’ll try and do some R&D for 10+ minutes.
    This could be a way to get some R&D on stories from different sections and even different grades, meaning I could introduce some new structures via R&D.
    This would be an easy way to start a class and I imagine more effective than SSR’ing TPRS novels with beginners. This could free me up to let kids take books home from my small library and even assign some light novel reading. I could also do this with the beginner kids of any age, so long as the younger grades are reading a story with structures they already spent time on.

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