Go Deep! (Patricia va a California, Chapter 3, Part I)

Here is some stuff about reading from Bryce Hedstrom. This the first of four parts:
A few years ago, when I was more blissfully over-confident in my skills, I would push through all four of Blaine Ray’s level I novels in Spanish I.  If it worked, I could get those poor 8th and 9th graders to plow through all of the novels and do reasonably well on big tests over the books.  I was proud that I could get students to do that.  But now as I look back, I’m not so sure that all of those students enjoyed it or learned as much as I thought they had learned.  
As I have had to coordinate with other teachers, and especially as I have worked with student teachers from the university, I have had to cut back to three novels in Spanish I.  And that may still be too much.  This year we may still get in three, but if we don’t, it’s OK.  Two will be fine.  We just started Patricia va a California.  Years ago I would have forced it at the end of first semester, or at least by the beginning of second semester. 
But this year we are going slower and deeper.  I am consciously spending more time just chatting in Spanish.  The goal is, as Ben said, “CI bell to bell”.  I don’t always make it, but I shoot for the 95%+ comprehensible Spanish mark each day.  Actually it is Krashen’s “i + 1” level I am aiming at, but during the daily voyage there are lulls to “i-1” (real easy Spanish stuff, that is old hat and cake to everyone) and there are occasional gusts to “i+2” and beyond (when I forget the level for a moment and bluster off into vocabulary that is too tough for almost everybody).
As we work our way through the novels, we are enjoying each chapter and savoring each situation.  We are building parallel stories and back stories and off-shoot stories (I will explain what I mean by those later).  We are comparing Patricia’s school and family and town and life to our own.  We talk about right and wrong and wisdom and foolishness (Philosophy?  In Spanish I?).  We are talking more.  We are enjoying it more.
One pleasant outcome of this slower, deeper pace showed up in registration numbers.  This year we have six Spanish I classes, next year we have… six Spanish II classes.  All but five students have signed up for the next level.  This is largely due to the influence of my new colleague, Amy Martinson, who teaches four of the Spanish I classes this year.  She was my student teacher last year and had observed for two years before that.   She teaches with TPRS and she is good at it.  I realize that some students are taking Spanish for the college entrance requirement credit and would have signed up for the second level classes anyway, but most are not.  I teach in a small working class town that has become a bedroom community.  The majority of students in our school traditionally have not been college bound.



23 thoughts on “Go Deep! (Patricia va a California, Chapter 3, Part I)”

  1. Hi guys,
    Can someone explain what i+1 means? I’m sorry to say that I don’t know and want to understand what you all are talking about when you use this acronym/abbreviation.

  2. Hi Ruth!
    It’s used to express the idea that we acquire language when we are exposed to
    input (that’s the i part) that’s one step (+1) beyond what we have already acquired. If I am at stage i, then I need Comprehensible Input at level i+1 to progress.
    Obviously, in a room of 35 or more students there are 35 or more different levels. A key weakness to a grammar-driven program is the assumption that all students acquire language at the same rate and in precisely the order used by the textbook. In a Comprehensible Input classroom the teacher is giving the whole language, and students are truly hearing the aspects of the language for which they are ready. Talk about “differentiated instruction”! This is part of what Susie Gross is talking about when she says, “Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.”
    Hope this helps. (And sorry for answering more than you asked.)

  3. Robert what you said there is worth saying again:
    A key weakness to a grammar-driven program is the assumption that all students acquire language at the same rate and in precisely the order used by the textbook.
    They don’t. It is more than a serious error in calculation by the textbook companies. However, they can learn when, as per Robert:

    the teacher is giving the whole language, and students are truly hearing the aspects of the language for which they are ready.

    In this auditory model, students are always, in some way, on the edge of new learning, grasping most of what is being said, but not all (i +1), so that their minds are constantly active, moving into deeper and deeper grammar (the real kind, which is properly spoken language), and vocabulary is added into the grammar naturally, and not from lists.
    Then, reading is another form of i + 1, where the same model sees the students reading just beyond the level of acquisition that they have currently achieved, on the edge and moving deeper into the new structures that present themselves in the reading text. So that listening to and reading the language first become these vastly powerful input mechanisms that lead to effortless output – writing and speaking – later. It is like a vast and continuous unfoldment of new, graspable, knowledge. I don’t know if Krashen said that i +1 pertains to reading, but I am just saying it and ready to be corrected.
    The artful part for us when we provide listening to our students is finding a pace of language, the right sense of SLOW, that the students are constantly moving to new levels of grammar – grammar as defined above – and doing so without being aware of it. And, of course, the artful part in reading is finding that text that is a true i + 1 text for them.
    Putting grammar instruction into the analytical part of brain and talking ABOUT it is my big beef with traditional teachers and textbook companies. They’re failure to acknowledge
    1. the natural ability of the human mind to acquire languages effortlessly, and
    2. the role of input as described above
    is a legitimate concern that they would rather we not address.

  4. I really like how you responded to this post, Ben. Makes me want to chew on this stuff a lot.
    I am wondering about the “reading”, too. You say, “Then, reading is another form of i + 1, where the same model sees the students reading just beyond the level of acquisition that they have currently achieved, on the edge and moving deeper into the new structures that present themselves in the reading text.”
    Jody says, “Reading comprehension, like listening comprehension, are perhaps points on the road of growing acquisition, but are only partial indicators of actual acquisition. My students’ listening comprehension and reading comprehension are miles ahead of their true “acquisition” as reflected by their (unmonitored) speech and (monitored) writing. I would not say that my students have acquired what they can hear and read. I would say that they can understand what they hear and read–that they are in the process of acquiring (if we believe that production is the evidence of acquisition).
    Might we say “just beyond the level of understanding” as differentiated from acquisition when describing i+1?
    To conclude: Am I understanding you correctly? Do you understand me?
    Grasping at meaning, as I continue to demystify this stuff for myself. Jody

  5. Ben, you said, “the artful part in reading is finding that text that is a true i + 1 text for them.”
    I know that Krashen emphasizes the importance of “Free Voluntary Reading” and is passionate about advocating reading and libraries as key to academic success, especially with regard to language ability. I think that Free Voluntary Reading may be the best way to find that “text that is a true i + 1.”
    I think that students who voluntarily read material, when given enough diverse options to choose from, will most likely choose what is full of appropriate i + 1 for them. Reading material that is too easy will bore them. Material that is too hard will be avoided because of its difficulty.
    When I taught English as a foreign language, I told my students to choose books that they found interesting and that did not require the use of a Spanish/English dictionary. I told them that if their progress in the book was too slow to keep their interest, or if they couldn’t understand the main idea without looking up more than a few words in a dictionary, the book was too hard.
    I rarely found my English students reading books that were too easy. I think that they did sometimes choose material that was too difficult because they had bought the myth that language learning should be tedious and difficult. They were often surprised and relieved when I told them to choose something easier.
    I enjoy doing reading activities with my classes using Blaine’s readers like Pobre Ana and Mi Propio Auto. These books are great when used as springboards for circling and PQA. But I think that reading material that is self selected would probably be much more effective when students are doing personal reading. It’s the best way to assure that the material is meeting the needs of each individual student.
    Yet, my library is grossly lacking in level appropriate, interesting Spanish reading materials. For me to be able to practice what I am preaching here, I’ve got to expand my library. Besides Blaine’s books, does anyone have any suggested reading materials for early Spanish language learners (levels 1-3)?

  6. Jody yes. I firmly agree with you that

    …production is the evidence of acquisition…

    That acquisition is the result of massive input, is my point above, and I know that you agree. Teachers who think that output is the result of output might also expect their computers to work without any prior programming.
    Thanks for the clarification.
    And Stephen – self selected reading material as the key to finding the right stuff for them to read is so right on. Such a great point. For years, all my teachers, especially Susan Gross and Bryce Hedstrom, have hammered and hammered that point. It remains for all of us to put together fine classroom libraries for our students by hook or by crook. One of the things that many of us resist with this new paradigm is the effortlessness of real language learning. We don’t want it to be that way because it wasn’t that way for us. For some reason, we have to make it complex and difficult, and we have to see some of our kids fail for some reason. We meet with parents and have serious looks on our faces and lie to them and the child that they are not cut out for language study. I am so tired of my colleagues’ glib tone when they do that. I love my kids so much, those who have had FAILURE written on their foreheads by other teachers. I want to see them have one class that they succeed in. Not because of some altruistic motive, but because the fact is that they can learn a language effortlessly if I just do my job right. So much, so much, is on the line with our daily treatment of these kids. That is where my intensity (criticized by a colleague last week) originates. Look how I digress. I don’t care. But back to the point you made – FVR, and I would add fun CI, all of those things that are the most effective, happen to also require the least effort. We all need to get that idea and relax. FVR as you describe it, where the kid finds the right book for him or her, is a divine thing – it honors those whom God made, and it does not tear them down with work that they don’t feel happy doing.

  7. Oh, yes. Massive input. I so agree.
    Stephen, I am going into work tomorrow (vacation-head needs examining) and I am going to write down the books (titles and publishers) that I have that the kids really like. Since I teach the rock bottom beginners, that’s what you’ll get from me. Three kinds of books seem to work well for beginners: ones they recognize from childhood (translated, not authentic, who cares?), highly predictable and repetitive, and bilingual (side-by-side page translations). These are the ones they stick with for more than 30 seconds.
    It’s funny. My books were all a mess, unorganized, unlabeled–so I asked my fifth graders to look at all of them (about 120) and put them into beg/int/adv piles. Amazingly accurate. The next class reviewed their work and concurred with only a few revisions. Darn those kids, they’re smart!

  8. I got to this party late!
    Jody, I love the idea of kids sorting the levels. I have done the sorting for years, but getting their input would be valuable (and less work for me, which I am always interested in).
    I have my Free reading books and magazines sorted by Novice/Intermediate/Advanced levels and each level is also sub0divided into Low/Medium/High as per ACFLT’s descriptors.
    Stephen, as far a books kids like to read, I have a list, but it is a bit longish to post here. I could send it as an attachment if you email me at: hedstroms@aol.com.
    Robert, Good explanation of C.I.
    Ben, way to make us all think about this more deeply. Mil gracias.

  9. I have hesitated to use side-by-side translations because of the concern that students will read the English rather than the German. Could Jody or someone else who uses them comment on this? Thanks!
    I also really like the idea of having students sort the books. I have a few students who have finished a project early – just might have them start sorting tomorrow.
    I mentioned this in another post some time ago, but I have found that the readers a “level” below the class level often get chosen for FVR (e.g. Blaine’s or Michael Miller’s level 1 readers get picked up by my German 2 students). That makes it tough to get FVR material for German 1, but I think it illustrates the incremental nature of acquisition. In German 1 we can work through the books together; in German 2 they can handle those German 1 books on their own; in German 3 they can start to write their own German 1 readers. (That’s an output assessment I do at the end of German 3. Students write a fairy tale or children’s story. I remind them to use only vocabulary they know because students in lower classes are the target audience. If they start looking words up it will be far too hard for their readers.) My goal is to gather a good collection of student-produced books, each about 10 pages long, that other students can read.

  10. I’ve found great success with the student-produced children’s books. It usually takes about a week of class time, but it is worth it I think. I am happy to share info and/or past experiences from this if anyone is interested, but I’m pretty sure I got this idea from someone on this site.
    Regardless, you can contact me at trippatmail2jimdotcom and I will send you what I have. Thomas has been playing around with this idea, but with digital books. Lots of interest from students when they know the author!
    Also, I have been compiling the stories that we have done in any given class over the semester/year. Since I always type up the stories we create in class, I have a copy saved to my computer. At the end of the semester/year (or whenever, it has been different every time so far) I have students illustrate the stories on a nice piece of paper with colors.
    So far I have 2 binders full of funny, familiar stories for students to read, complete with illustrations. Again, an idea I got from someone on this site, Michele maybe??
    After 2 years my student-produced section of the library already outnumbers the other stuff, mostly because it was free.

  11. We must have been on the same wavelength there Robert… I just read your comment!
    And I also struggle with the side by side translations. Any comforting thoughts that the kids aren’t just picking them up to read the L1?

  12. I have never used side-by-side page translations either, mainly because they have not been available so I am not familiar with the pros and cons. Ben, could you explain why you are big on using them?
    The approach we have used for some time is to allow students to write words they do not know in English in the novels. The rationale being that if one student does not know word, the next one may not either. They may write as many words as they need to help them understand the text when they read it again on their own. Some kids over do it and translate half the words on a page, but that gets old rather quickly and most end up just writing 2-3 words per page.
    Then if I get truly inspired, I can check to see which words I need to focus on a bit before the next crop of kids read the book next year and weave those into my instruction. That usually doesn’t happen though. 😉

  13. Thoughts on dual language texts and a bunch of other free-reading angst stuff: (Please put aside, for a moment, the highly-motivated foreign language learners in your classes who are good readers.)
    Some realities (from my point of view), having observed FVR with beginners (Levels 1 and 2) in my and other’s classes:
    • Some students are not reading at all. (Some are poor readers in English and don’t like to read anyway. Now they have to do it in a foreign language!) They often pretend to read or just look at the pictures.
    • Some are looking for opportunities to socialize (even just with their eyes) since the time is not structured. In addition, if teachers are across the room, not reading with the students (I mean sitting right with them), or are using the time to meet with kids individually about other things, I believe the purpose of fvr is watered down–the message unclear. It becomes more like free time at the start of class.
    • It looks good to administrators and parents. We are differentiating by having kids read at “their own level”. Do we really have any idea that kids are really reading at their level when they are doing FVR? What would that level be when students are reading authentic texts written for native speakers? This one smells bad to me.
    • Books for beginners (Levels 1 and 2) are hardly ever “independent reading” level–not really, if we use 90% comprehensible as the litmus test. Even your highest students are being ultra challenged during FVR. Not likely a good acquisition scenario.
    • If the books are truly at a 90% comprehensibility level, beginning students are often challenged by the utter boringness of the text. However, they are likely acquiring. Catch-22.
    • When the books are not at 90% comprehensibility level, readers become distracted very easily and bored by the tediousness of thethe task of unlocking meaning (not what I want). If one is not a very good reader in first language, they are less of a reader in the target language. I am talking reading skills here-decoding, fluency, making meaning, using context, etc.
    The above realities are the reasons I like dual-language books (I didn’t used to–as an immersion teacher, they were anathema to me).
    • If the meaning is written right there, there is “a chance” that less able reader or slower FL processor may actually look at the FL side. No guarantees. However, there are no guarantees that they are really reading anyway.
    • Students may be less intimidated by the task when they know that they can refer to the English side.
    All of the above commentary is why I find FVR very difficult at the beginning levels–I have very beginning and young students (up to age 12/13). I understand why reading is so important to language acquisition. I understand why free-choice reading is so important to becoming a better reader. However, from what I see, the research on these things is NOT based on beginning foreign language students doing free reading for 5 or 10 minutes every day.
    I am always a little trepidatious about quoting the efficacy of what we do and basing it on research which does not really correlate with our population or circumstances.
    The most interesting research I have seen was about beginning young ESL learners involved a twelve-week study in Korea. The kids were guided by the teacher for 40 minute periods once a week through the Clifford series of books, reading, discussing, writing in a journal, etc. They made language gains. No control group. NARROW AND DEEP. This is NOT 5-10 minutes of FVR. It was much more like intensive Kinder Day once a week.
    So, what am I saying?
    • I like FVR as a concept for beginners–but in very limited doses–maybe once a week.
    • I much more like the concept of “narrow and deep” advocated by Dr. Krashen. At intermediate levels, he cites the example of the ESL adult students who read through the Sweet Valley series books and made impressive gains.
    My personal feeling is that fvr at the beginning levels is likely more of “a training” for real reading in the future and, also, an implicit message from the teacher about the importance of reading. I am not convinced that these small amounts of reading have any true effect on acquisition. They do likely affect a student’s belief in their FL knowledge and perhaps motivate them to do more and get better. (Or maybe it just turns them off even more to reading, especially in a foreign language.)
    Things I believe impact language acquisition during FVR:
    • Re-reading novels that were previously translated/worked through in the classroom. YES. (There won’t be that many since it takes a very long time to do these well.)
    • Re-reading books we have already translated for Kinder Day. This really works.
    • Reading typed up class stories. YES.
    • Reading illustrated class stories. YES.
    Doing FVR intensively. (lots of research on this, but it ain’t no 5-10 minutes a day).
    I feel that I am taking a HUGE risk putting these thoughts out there. Don’t try to kill me. I have never felt comfortable about FVR time. I know that is NOT the case with many of you and that your experiences have been very different than mine.
    Reading, I get. FVR for beginning language students Lev 1/2 (believing that FVR causes great language gains), I don’t. Perhaps, it is because our program is 4-8 grade (they start meeting every day in 7/8).
    For me, it all boils down to use of time. How much comprehensible input is really happening in each puny period with these guys? We have so little time with them. Are we wasting it? (I know I waste too much.)
    Colleague, looking for answers, who loves books and believes that kids should look at them and read them and enjoy them 🙂

  14. You know, Jody, I mentioned above about encouraging the students (adults) in my English institute to read. What I didn’t mention was that I didn’t encourage them to read until they were about halfway through our program (advanced intermediate level). Before this, I would plead with them to watch sitcoms in English at home. These were readily available through Buenos Aires cable.
    I too have felt that FVR is difficult for early second language learners because of the boredom issue. It is difficult to find reading material that is both level appropriate and interesting. You have some good points. Definitely have me thinking.

  15. I can come out of the closet now, since Jody did. I rarely do FVR. So there. Intuitively, it doesn’t speak to me in my level one classes. Too much chance for wasting time that could be devoted to CI. I just love choral reading, however. Maybe, when I have more experience with FVR at higher levels, I will figure some stuff out about that. Thank you Jody for helping me feel not so much like a jerk because I don’t do much FVR in my French 1 classes.
    Bryce re: the parallel L1/L2 texts, I only say that because I remember how much it helped me personally in college. But, yes, I was motivated, so I need to rethink that statement. Maybe side by side translation done at home by motivated learners is best. You’re the boss on reading, anyway.
    Hey, I’m getting a lot of spam here for some reason. Working on it, but meanwhile, please accept my apologies.

  16. We appreciate that you’re getting onto that quickly. Certainly not your fault that it’s happening. It’s spring break, so the “trolls” are out.

  17. Jody, it’s going to take me a week to digest all of your great comments on reading. Mil gracias.
    One little adjustment I have made with FVR is that I no longer call it that. Now it is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). They still pick their materials, so it is “free” , but they have to read, so in that sense it is not voluntary. I found that controlling it a bit more encourages the reluctant readers. with structure they find that they really can read and they can even grow to enjoy it.
    It works best when I simply sit and model reading as they also read. It also works better when we schedule our reading time and stick to the schedule–the security and stability of the routine particularly helps the tentative and discouraged readers.

  18. Did you know that you can search for language subtitles (I typed in “Russian with subtitles”) on YouTube and you’ll get a bunch of things that are subtitled??? In Russian, there are a bunch of Disney songs that someone has subtitled in both the Russian and the English. I’m going to start showing them to my kids this week. I think they’ll really like being able to see how the words are spelled and what they mean. That’s not exactly SSR or FVR, but it’s reading support for the lower levels.

  19. Thank you Jody for articulating what I also have felt about FVR/SSR in the lower levels. I think I should separate my reading material into 2 separate categories, one for student/class produced material, another for commercially produced stuff, the former getting more game-time in the lower levels.
    Also, I think the aspect of building a nice library of easy readers, written by upper level students, is a great idea (whosever it was). Better get started soon!
    And re-reading novels is good too, I think. But what do we do to get kids to want to read them… AGAIN!?

  20. Jody, I loved what you said:
    “I am always a little trepidatious about quoting the efficacy of what we do and basing it on research which does not really correlate with our population or circumstances.” It really doesn’t help out cause when we make such sweeping statements.
    I have felt the same as you about FVR. Hearing that this was a vital aspect of teaching, I tried using FVR in my Spanish 1 & 2 classes, but felt very few students got any benefit. It really did just seem like free time and a waste of those precious minutes. So now my little library is gathering dust. But–whew!–Ben is out of the closet now, so I won’t feel quite as guilty when I look at those books…

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