The Idea of Novels is Fading

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15 thoughts on “The Idea of Novels is Fading”

  1. Laura Avila says this on the above topic:
    …I think this is really good. No novels in level one. I’ve been delaying novels more and more at this level and find that reading comes better and better the later they start. So, I might try no novel in level one bc it makes sense. However, if I go big time reading in level 4, a small school with small numbers at the advanced levels, competing with “exploring foods” pos, I would stand to lose 5/10 students. So, I don’t think I’ll go that route at level 4 even if it makes sense to me. I need to keep my “customers” happy….

    1. I agree with Laura. We have to keep our classes and for that we need students. At the senior level they will be attracted by what is perceived as enjoyable. Seniors are not only looking for something on the light side, many are doing so because they are overloaded with AP courses. The variety that we can offer in level 4 can be a time of academic relief and brain break for seniors who want a place for social interaction and fun in the language.

  2. Anne Matava says this on the above topic:
    …I can not make my students read most of those novels. Houdini is the only one I’ve had any success with. One year I had a class hide a whole classroom set of whatever it was I was trying to make them read. I mean they took all 20 copies and put them somewhere in the school where I couldn’t find them. This was 10 years ago, before we had movie talk and all of this other cool stuff to do. I had to write my own weird short story series, just so we’d have something to read. My hat is off to all of you who can get through an entire novel with your classes. I don’t have the strength of will to push through that much collective resistance….

  3. Brigitte Kahn has said, on this topic:
    …reading a novel as a whole class has been tough for me as well. Half of the class always hates whatever the story is – no matter how hard I try to make it compelling, personalized, etc. So, this year, I am trying FVR the “Mike Peto Way” (thx!!!) with my level 4s. Maybe when they get to choose what they want to read (no grading, no accountability such as book reports, etc.), we will have better results. Of course, I am still planning on having volunteers share what they read and encourage discussion. My hope is, of course, that this way more kids will get interested in reading more of a variety of texts. We’ll see how it goes….

  4. I don’t think I’m willing to give up EVER reading a novel as a class even in year 1 or 2. I think the key is whether or not the novel is both compelling and comprehensible for the entire class which so FEW of the novels truly fit. In year one, Tumba, Agentes, Brandon Brown Wants a Dog and Yucatan all have worked (better in small classes…and I am hellbent on writing a novel appropriate for my h.s. kids so we don’t have to read Brandon Brown) and for Spanish 2, Esperanza, Fiesta Fatal and Houdini worked well for me. I wouldn’t say reading as a group was the best use of our CI time ALL the time, but after several weeks/months of stories, it was a reprieve in which we can just enjoy the input as a group. That said, thanks t0 you all, I have invested a lot of time and money into making FVR an opportunity for my students. Last year I tried it with Spanish 2 and 3. Students in Spanish 3 really enjoyed it while I about half of the kids in Spanish 2 had enough material to keep them going. The other half struggled to find anything to read that was at their level. Alicia Shapiro’s sessions at iFLT and NTPRS last year helped me with ideas for those kids (1 page versions of class stories, 1 page stories from movies or tv shows, re-written picture books, etc).
    Step 3 continues to be a struggle for me. I still type up their stories and we read them together…but reading chorally is rarely engaging for them and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a video or participated in a Step 3 that was engaging. Can ANYONE disagree with me? If so, please point me in the direction of a powerful Step 3…I’ll do my best to tape our class this year doing so…and I’d appreciate feedback. I remember wanting to gouge my eyes out several times during Step 3 at trainings.

  5. Brian try this:
    These Reading Options are a gold mine of reading and spin off activities. There are two versions, a short version and a long version.
    Short List of Reading Options
    Because of time limitations, I normally use a shortened version of only five of the activities, which are all described in detail later in this chapter:
    1. Choral Translation with the Reader Leader (Step 4) combined with Discussion of the Grammar (Step 5)
    2. Reading from the Back of the Room (Step 6) combined with Readers Theatre (Step 7)
    3. Dictée (Step 13)
    Complete Reading Options
    There is not enough time in one class period to do all of twenty-one activities in a single day. You can choose just some to do on each reading day.
    1. Teacher Writes the Story in L2 – The instructor has the L1 version from the story writer. She projects a blank Word file and sentence by sentence types the text in while the students observe the creation of the written story. The students learn to write in this way. They can see words that up until now they have only heard. They see them being spelled correctly, with each accent being added in. It is an amazing thing to see a group of students sitting silently, reading attentively with a certain visible pride while their story comes to life on the screen in front of them. When doing this, try to embed about 10%-15% new vocabulary to keep the kids on their toes and expand their vocabularies. Sometimes I change facts while writing for the same reason.
    Note: You may not be able to do this activity if your class is too big or too rowdy. If the class cannot sit still for this writing process, come in with the reading already done in advance and just move on to Option 2, below.
    2. Teacher Reads in L2 – Simply read the projected text aloud to the class. Just read, do not ask questions, just read with feeling and emotion, to let the sounds of the language sink into the students’ minds.
    3. Pair Work – The students translate together. I only do this if being observed, to get the box checked.
    4. Choral Translation – Use the laser pointer or put your hand on the words as they read in English with loud voices. The Reader Leader can guide the class along with a strong and measured voice. If there is no student doing that job, the teacher leads the class.
    5. Discussion of Grammar in L1 – Finally, this is when closet grammar teachers get their jollies. Point out spellings on verb endings. Share your favorite grammar points with the two kids in the classroom who also love grammar. Ask students what certain words mean. Point out adjective agreement and even spelling changes in boot verbs! Go for the grammar! Explain possessive adjectives! Use English! Just keep the grammar explanations down to under four seconds and never mention the actual grammar terms – most kids intensely dislike grammar terminology and get all itchy at the mention of an adverb. Kids just want to know what it means. Just point things out, as they observe. Don’t test them on it. Over time, they will see patterns. This is true acquisition of grammar, not the fake kind which doesn’t bring any long-term gains.
    6. Reading from the Back of the Classroom – Each reading option has significant pedagogical value. But this step has the most bang for our buck. Keep the story projected but turn the kids away from it, facing you in the back of the classroom. Then start an in-depth repetition of the first paragraph, circling intensely with very clear and slow yes/no questioning of individual students. Stop at the end of each paragraph to let them turn and face the text for a moment to read and get ready for the coming work on the next paragraph.
    This process piles repetition upon repetition. We can play with each line in many ways, asking direct content questions about the text but also bringing in discussion of how a student in our class may compare or not with the characters in the story. Slowly we work our way through the text.
    This is big work. I feel that when I am doing this step, I am doing the best possible job of teaching language. The students look at me providing answers to some very sophisticated questions in the TL. I hold each kid accountable and maintain super contact with my barometers. Bam!
    There is an entirely different dynamic when they face you and not the projected text. When they can’t see the text, they simply interact with you verbally in the language. This is real conversation in the TL, set up beautifully by all the narrow and deep reps gotten up to this point in the story creation and reading options. When they face you and discuss the text that is right behind them, it is the real deal. You’re teaching for output, and it feels thrilling!
    7. Reader’s Theatre – During Step 6, you could simply bring up a student actor or two, sit them on a stool, and direct them to read their lines in dramatic ways. It will make you glad you are a teacher, as you watch the kids trying to outdo each other with their lines. So if Marc has a line where he says, “You’re fired! Leave this place. NOW!”, tell them, just like a director of a play would, to say their line in different ways – angrily, quickly, holding one hand out, in a quiet voice. After a student delivers a line, see if anyone else can say the line with more gusto, more romantically, more quietly, more to the left, more to the right, more with one foot off the ground. Even the shiest kids want in on this and it can be marvelously entertaining. I have a list (included below, in Step 21, Student Retells) on my wall above the projected text to refer to when doing this work.
    8. Jump into the Space! – This technique encourages speech output without force and can be lots of fun – if the class tendency to blurt is fully controlled by you in a kind yet aggressive and complete way.
    With the story up, as you are proceeding along with Steps 6 and 7 above, instead of accepting one word answers (which currently in TPRS is largely the rule), invite the students to answer in fuller sentences, as they wish. Ask them to respond with L2 sentences that mimic the words in the text.
    Teacher: Class, does Ann have a very small light blue castle in Italy, in the suburbs of Rome??
    Student: (Knowing that in the text we are reading the castle is indeed in Italy) No! The castle is in France!?
    Teacher: You think it’s in France??
    Student: Yes!?
    Another student: It’s in Germany!?
    Teacher: You think it’s in Germany! It says here (pointing to Italy in the text) that it’s in Italy!?
    Of course, the kids know that the castle is in Italy, but you have trained them to say made-up things in a spirit of play.
    How to invite such interaction? I use the expression, said in English, “Jump into the space!” and hold out my hands to the common open space in front of me there in class and invite them to fill it and then I wait.
    Don’t forget to wait, sometimes for up to ten seconds or more because the kids need time to formulate what they are going to say.
    Some play, some don’t. Those who do often rock the house. Far from thinking about accent or proper construction of the language, they just try to communicate for meaning. I encourage them to put style and swagger into their sentences and feel as if they are French and make that pout thing with their mouth and spit R’s from the back of their throats all over the place.
    The kids like it because they finally see the payoff of all the listening and because kids have a natural desire and inclination to express themselves in class. With no forced output and lots of fun, there is no harm and plenty of benefit, on the very important affective level.
    9. Running Dictation – This activity is an excellent physical break from all the sitting and listening that goes on in our classrooms. Take five sentences from the completed story and cut them into strips, putting each L2 sentence up around the room in random places on the walls. The font should be fairly large to make them easy to read.
    Pair up the students. The students take turns – one writes and one runs. The runner finds a sentence on the wall and runs back to tell the writer what the sentence is, who then writes it in L2.
    Once the students have found and recorded all the sentences, they try to arrange them in the proper order. This activity is usually best suited for second-year classes or above.
    10. Work On Accent – Just read to the kids and let them repeat word chunks. This can be a very special time as we finally are able to hear, after a lot of input and relatively little verbal output, how our students’ brains have organized the language in the now emergent output. It is too early to expect anything exact in terms of their accents, but they love reading a text that they already know aloud in the TL so that is enough reason to do it. Be sure to not make this feel like a forced activity. They love to read out loud in this way.
    11. 5 Minute Write – Students write for five minutes to answer the questions: title, who, where, what happens, what is the problem. I give them the following template in the TL to fill in each time:?
    This is the ________ story (fourth, tenth, etc. – teaches them to write ordinal numbers). The name of the story is ________. The main character is ________. The story takes place ________. What happens in this story? ______________________________. At the end of the story, ________________.
    12. Process the work of the class artist – This does not require much time. We pretty much just enjoy the drawings and I use this time to get more reps on the structures, but in a different context. Fun!
    13. Dictée – Dictée is a powerful metacognition tool that helps students match up the sounds of the language with their written forms.
    Each chunk of language takes three lines on a blank piece of paper.
    On line 1, as students work in absolute silence (very important), I read chunks of sentences and give the students time to write each chunk. I read each sentence chunk three times. The first time I read at a normal pace and they listen. The second time I read very, very slowly as they write. The third time I read at a normal pace while they check what they have written. I do not read it a fourth time. You will learn how to pace this. I simply do not allow a student to ask for a repetition of anything at any time. This teaches them to focus and listen.
    Next, I show the students the correct version of the text, phrase by phrase, or chunk by chunk, and not sentence by sentence, which is too complex. They look at it and make their corrections on line 2 as I successively reveal each new correctly written chunk on the screen.
    I have my students bring down onto line 2 any corrections of the text only if any are needed, but you may want to require that they copy the entire correct text on the second line. I grade both lines, whatever is correct from line 1 as well as any corrections made on line 2. In this way, the students are graded on what is correct, and not on what is wrong. They are graded on how well they can copy!??
    Line 3 is just a line space to make everything clearer and easier to read, but another option is to have them write the English translation there. The dictated sentences don’t have to align perfectly with the story passage. In fact, small changes force deeper thinking by the students, and allow you to perhaps introduce a bit of new vocabulary.
    14. Textivate – Download this program for $40 from – it’s well worth it – to work more deeply with the written story. You import the text right in from Word and you can fill up lots of class minutes with all the cute activities Textivate offers.
    15. Sacred Reading – After all the opportunities they have had to both listen to and now read the same basic text, the students know the material. This is a most special time with your students in class. Read the story to them slowly with meaning, dramatic tone, and artistry, in a quiet, sacred kind of setting, as if you are gently reciting poetry. I was told by one teacher that one day she read with such drama and emotion that her students told her that she should have been an actor! I generally do this without the text in front of the students, so that they can just focus on listening. The students are really pleased when they can understand a foreign language read to them in this way. They enjoy it so much.
    16. Translation Quiz – Pick any paragraph from the reading and have the students translate it into English for a quick and easy grade.
    17. Content Quiz – Ask ten yes/no questions prepared before class. I no longer employ quiz writers. They just couldn’t make good enough quizzes.
    18. Free Write – Students write for ten minutes as per the Free Write Rules posted on my website. They enjoy making up their own stories based on the structures and plot of the story just completed.
    19. Retell the Artist’s Work. – Go back and do some Listen and Discuss with the artist’s work and then, the big celebration is when one or more kids are able to retell the entire story as they look at the artwork.
    20. Process the Work of the L2 Story Writer – If there is a native or advanced speaker in your class, you can employ them as the L2 Story Writer in addition to the L1 Story Writer. Project their work up and see how fast the class can fix the grammar, having done all the steps above.
    21. Student Retells – Students can retell the story individually (to their hand), in pairs or to the class. You can direct the students to speak using the list of Director’s Cues provided earlier in this book in the section on TPR.

    1. Thanks Ben for putting all these in one space! Lots of options. I would say I am familiar with most of them except 6. This idea is very fascinating. I am trying to picture why it works…I will go back in the blog and research a little. I guess it’s just a way for them to focus on the reading in chunks while retelling the story rather than just seeing the text and decoding/discussing/dramatizing the whole thing at once. Does anyone have a demo of 6?
      14 is increasingly becoming more useful for my kids the more Martin adds features like the speaking part so kids can hear their story being told (albeit a computer). There are a lot more ways to make reading novel with Textivate.
      I will definitely give these a try! Thanks Ben!

      1. I really enjoy that Brian can offer a dissenting opinion and nobody jumps all over his case demanding that he explain himself! Like: “Hey Brian where’s the research that tells you you can just keep using novels!!!”

  6. I too have given up on reading novels as a class. It is way too boring and I would prefer to let the kids read what they want. In level 2 we take a day to pass around all of the different books and they make a reading list. They start with their favorite and go from there. At any point they can get a new one and absolutely no grade is attached. We do this reading 2-3 times per week for 10-15 minutes. I too read a book that interests me. My attitude is those that are interested in Spanish will read and those that do not get a nice 10-15 minute break from their crazy school day. It is also a nice break for me since I have 6 classes and 170 students.

  7. I still like the novels *a lot*.
    I read them as part of a larger unit. For example, the novel “La hija del sastre” in conjunction with the movie Laberinto del Fauno, a study of cubism and Picasso’s powerful Guernika.
    Susie Gross said read ’em lickety split, so I shoot for 3 weeks (6 class session). One chapter in class, one chapter for homework.
    I don’t pound it into the ground with the teacher’s guides, handouts and worksheets.
    We act it out a lot and make it come alive. I’d recommend the book “YOU GOTTA BE THE BOOK” for strategies about how to make books work for kids.
    Biographies are awesome. We read Frida Kahlo, studied 57 of her her self portraits and did our own self-portraits, really fun. Happy to share my materials.
    I wrote a novel with my kids, gonna publish it, also tons -o fun.
    We read about 3 novels a year. During FVR they can re-read any novel we’ve read so far, even the easy ones.
    Ben, in northern CA, where our Golden Delicious apples are just reaching the max height of their special sweetness.

    1. Ben, would you be willing to post some of your novel materials to look at? I’m hoping to go through one or two this year with my level 2’s, including Brandon Brown Quiere, Agentes Secretos, y/o Esperanza.
      Tim in Michigan where the peaches are great, tomatoes and peppers are awesome, and apples are just about to their primetime 🙂

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