Over the past couple of years independent reading in the world language classroom, or Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Free Choice Reading (FCR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), has become more prevalent as more teachers tap into the power of reading, and witness the fruitful results. Years ago, I learned the importance of Free Voluntary Reading from Mike Peto on his blog, My Generation of Polyglots. Mike made a compelling case for reading, in addition to providing teachers with tried-and-tested ideas and scaffolds. Likewise, Justin from Spanish plans is also a huge proponent of this acquisition-friendly practice. In addition to his stories that highlight targeted vocabulary, he has developed many strategies that keep his students focused. Justin has also influenced me a great deal in bringing FVR to my level 1 students in the first semester. I am so glad I followed his advice, and the fruits of his mentorship can be gleaned in this present post. You can listen to my interview about Free Voluntary Reading & Beyond on Inspired Proficiency Podcast by Ashley Uyaguari (Click here to listen to interview ).
Before we delve into Free Voluntary Reading activities that can GALVANIZE your class, I’d like to share the incredibly valuable benefits that this practice has afforded by students:
Differentiation & Personalized Learning
1. Free Voluntary Reading is both differentiated and personalized learning. Students get to choose books whose covers, topics, and/ or storylines interest them. They are also encouraged to choose books that are at their level, which is a segue to my next point: FVR is a confidence booster.
2. Reading time has been a huge confidence builder for my students. Most of my students who had been walking around with the “I am bad at Spanish” luggage, suddenly found a place in class. I saw their writing grow at the same rate as their confidence, and they really enjoyed the class.
3. Free Voluntary Reading also affords students to learn about different places, cultures, and the hardships of the people without direct instruction. My students learned about the effects of the hurricane María, from “La madre perfecta” by Rachel Emery. They learned about “La isla peligrosa” in Uruguay by John Sifert. They traveled to Argentina, and peered into the past with “Secretos” by Jennifer Degenhardt, while also learning about the plight of Transgender teens. They gained insights about aspects of Colombia culture & teen-friendly themes about relationships in “Papacito” by Craig Klein from Spanishcuentos.com and “Cómo salir de la zona de amigos” by A.C. Quintero.
Free Voluntary Reading Social: Making Reading Enjoyable
This year when I introduced Free Voluntary Reading into my level 1 class, I was reluctant to do so for the following reasons:
- Had we done enough reading for them to be able to handle a novel? We had not read our first novel, which is usually, La clase de confesiones that ties into our School & Relationships unit, then followed by Agentes secretos, a book about Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece: Guernica. I felt that students needed to read both novels as a class first prior to “reading on their own.” Justin from Spanishplans.org was quick to point out my “logical fallacy.” He demanded I do it and do it fast. So I obliged.
How I Got Started
Once I got my library going for my level 1 students, we dove right into FVR! If you don’t have the budget to get novels, consider getting short stories from a variety of sources online. Many teachers have really affordable stories (self-included) in their TPT stores. I have included some of those links below:
First Time FVR-ing in level 1
Since my library is color-coded. I grabbed all the yellow-dotted books, that were conducive to level 1 in my class. I allowed students to browse the collection. Afterward, I did the following:
- Explained to them that we were going to be reading their chosen book during our “sesíon literaria.”
- I read the first two pages to them and then proceeded to ask questions. Since I had a lot of copies of “Brandon Brown Quiere Un Perro” by Carol Gabb, to give them an instant confidence boost (they understood everything). See Video below:
- I had them read in pairs; both students choose the same books and sat down to read.
How did they read in pairs?
I tried to give students space and different options. I also wanted to make sure that the reading was not stale, and that they had a chance to really talk about what they had read. We read for a total of 30 minutes (we have 90 block-periods, and I interspersed this time with activities).
Activities while reading:
1. Take turns reading aloud to your partner.
2. The partner then summarizes in English what was read (thy implemented this comprehension-checking strategy one paragraph at a time). MY NEWEST STRATEGY IS HAVING THEM SHARE OUT IN CLASS. IT IS PRETTY SIMPLE. THEY READ FOR 6-8 MINUTES, THEN SHARE SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY. MY RUBRIC IS A NO-BRAINER:
0- points for not sharing (students get multiple opportunities during class to share. They don’t have to share only during FVR)
1- point for sharing verbatim from the book
2- points for summarizing what you’ve read.
The sharing can be as simple as “Camden está en un avión y hay una explosión” – La isla más peligrosa by John Sifert.
4. Read for 10 additional minutes, and then tell the class about what you read (this was a whole class book talk).
During this time, I walked around the class and heard students making comments about the books:
“ I feel so smart, can’t believe I am reading in Spanish”
“I can literally understand everything”
“This book is crazy, they’re stuck on an island!”
After reading, we huddled up in a circle, and each person shared something from their book. I knew that the next time we did FVR, I wanted to ask students to share more, however, this first go was an exercise in getting their feet wet. When sharing as a class, I did notice that students were using new words they had just encountered in the book. One student talking about his book had told the class that “El padre muere.” I inquired further but did not think he was going to tell me the cause of death in Spanish, but he responded to my question saying, “El padre se muere de diabetes.” Another student commenting on a character in her book said: “Ella no tiene mucho dinero y no puede comer chocolate”, etc. I felt like my first FVR in level 1 was a resounding success!
Second Time Is A Charm!
The second time we did FVR, I taught them literary elements so they could talk about the characters, places, and general conflict/problem in the story. I have them do the same time as before:
- They had 10 minutes to read, and then they did “read & discuss.”
- The second 10 minutes they read and jotted down information to be shared in literature groups.
Students could be in groups of no more than 4 people. Each person had to share about their book:
- El personaje más importante es…
- el problema es…)
- El lugar de la acción
- El personaje secundario
We had actually practiced with our class novel, “El Jersey.” Check out the demo above. In the second part of the video, you will see the students actually asking each other questions.
After literature circles, we reconvene as a group, and students share out as a class.
Discussing books read for FVR could totally be a valid speaking assessment! However, I would not assess students the first few times, as they are getting to know the characters, and getting comfortable with the books. Once students have finished their novels, the teacher may wish to do a Conversation Circle, similar to the one we did in Spanish IV below. Or, this could be a time to read and talk. You decide! Now, let’s take a look at how my FVR looked this year in my upper-level courses!
A Unit Around Reading
Last year, was my first time implementing FVR in my Spanish IV classrooms. Because the class was small and very close-knit, I knew that I had to add some social components to the reading (this is where I got the idea for level 1). So, I broke up the reading into 4 segments:
- Choose a book- this was a very social time. They’d compare books and acted almost like an outlet for the more fidgety students.
- Sit in the hallway and read the book for 10 minutes- this was like going on a field trip. We have desks –parlimentary seating in our wing of the building so– so it was nice to change the scenery a bit.
- Talk to a partner about the book
- Read for 10-15 minutes/ share a passage from the book with another student.
I took a different path for my upper-level students with regards to FVR. Their language skills are more developed, they are more mature, and the discussion and writing are much deeper at the upper-level. I decided to make reading a book for FVR into a unit. In a nutshell, students chose a book, and they read it over 4-6 classes. I interspersed the readings with mini-discussions on the books (see packet questions), pop-up grammar lessons (imperfect subjunctive- connected to one of their questions). During each reading session, they respond to one of the questions.
My goals for implementing this unit were:
- Introduce students to literature that was comprehensible and at their level
- Develop a consistent habit of reading
- Encourage students to use more complex structures of the target language
- Be introduced to a variety of culture/teen perspectives
- Discuss stories using proper literary elements
This unit would be a precursor to our next few units as they delve into our upcoming film unit.
Here is how I planned the unit:
- I pre-determined the vocabulary words they’d need in order to discuss books/movies (plot, characters, twists, types of conflicts, etc).
- These words were taught both explicitly & implicitly as most of them are cognates.
- I provided them with a Quizlet list of the vocabulary words in Spanish and English. You can click on the list here: Quizlet vocabulary
- I created this detailed reading log that was integrated into all further lessons. The reading log has six sections. Each section corresponded to an aspect of the book, each built on each other in terms of complexity. Click here for the Word Version.
- I choose an interesting book to read to the class to kick off our session, and then read that one chapter as the opening act. Last year it was, “Superburguesas” by Mike Peto, and they loved it. This year, I read “El armario” by A.C. Quintero, mainly because the sequel, “Las sombras,” was on the horizon and we’d go right into that! See sample schedule below:
Day 1: Pick Out Your Book
- Read the chosen book to students. I have them listen and then summarize what they heard at the end with a partner.
- Allow time book browse. I placed books on my whiteboard ledge and new book rack. I gave them 10 minutes to look around, find a book, and then sit down with their packets.
- Write the title of the book and author.
- The first activity on the packet is to discuss the front cover of the book. The wrote why the choose the book, what caught their attention
- Optional: Students can share with others why they choose to book and make predictions
- Read the first chapter of the book.
Day 2: Associating Literary Vocabulary
- Review Quizlet set for 15 minutes
- Mi Media Naranja Activity (doc will be linked). This is a vocabulary activity that I developed to help students think about the words, collaborate on co-constructing a definition, and matching words.
- Read for approximately 15-20 minutes
- Complete the first question on the reading log (Describe the first few scenes of the book/exposition)
Day 3: Read, Draw & Discuss
- Campanada: Choose one character from your book and discuss with a partner.
- Read for 15-20 minutes
- Draw what happens in the first few scenes of the book
- Share in groups of 4
- Conversation Circle: Questions about setting & characters (emergent personality traits).
Day 4: Reading & Chat Stations
- Station 1: Read through the uses of the past subjunctive (presentation online), and take notes. Complete “Subjunctive” activity sheet as for practice. Click here for the teacher’s author’s resources from TPT:
- Station 2: Read selected novels for 10 minutes, responding to any pertinent questions
- Stations 3: Work on “Imperfect Subjunctive Forms”: Click here for the Teacher author’s resource:
- Station 4: Unit vocabulary- a matching game
- Station 5: Read book for 5 minutes, share for five minutes in a group
- Station 6: Aunque Tu no Sepas
Day 5: Character Analysis
- Read for 20-25 minutes and write about the point of view, narrative style, main characters (dynamic/flat), and how they propel the narrative forward.
- Exit slip: Describe your character, and what hurdles they have to overcome.
Day 6: Developing A Creative Hook For Writing
- Read & finish the packet. Respond to questions about the conclusion and what you would have done if presented with the same situation as your characters.
- Class lesson: How to develop a creative hook.
- Write hooks, share with classmates. Think about: How can I make this more engaging?
- Mock conversation circle
Day 7: Book Report: I did not allow students to use notes.
- Write about your book! Here is the guide I gave them: Writing Guide
Day 8: Conversation Circle (summative assessment)
- Talk about your book
Check out the new novels for Spanish class!
Click here: https://goo.gl/JsKwM7
Click here: http://bit.ly/2pAnP33