I’ve been using comprehension-based readers in my classroom for a long time now. I’ve even written some! Each time we do a whole class novel study, I get the opportunity to dig deep into a topic I’m passionate about with my students. I love that experience… but I couldn’t do it without the teacher’s resource guide.
The passing years have been good to world language teachers in terms of both the quantity and quality of available reading and supplementary materials. At Fluency Matters, we believe in Maya Angelou’s philosophy, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Our comprehension based readers get better and better at telling an engaging story with a tighter vocabulary, making them a great way to build reading skills and confidence in even our weakest readers.
The same learning curve is true of our teacher’s guide materials. When we began creating teacher’s guides, many teachers were using them in conjunction with a textbook based curriculum. These readers were a first step into CI but the curriculum didn’t allow much room to explore the topic so they wanted to see a chapter quiz, comprehension questions, a few slideshows, and a few cultural readings. Today, teachers are digging into cultural units with the comprehension-based reader at the core AS the curriculum. We have tried to respond by filling our newest guides with activities that go far beyond the comprehension question and inspire higher order thinking.
For me, the teacher’s resource guide does three things for my reader-based unit: It gives me cultural insight, it allows me to differentiate, and it keeps me from reinventing the wheel.
Cultural Insight: When I read Frida Kahlo for the first time, I loved the story but felt unprepared to teach it. I didn’t know much about Frida and I didn’t know where to begin searching. How could I teach my students about the artist when I didn’t know any more than they did?
This is where working on the teacher’s guide with Kristy Placido came in handy. Kristy guided me toward her favorite aspects of the artist’s life and as I learned from her, I found myself ready to teach the story to my own students. I’m on a mission to make it to every Spanish speaking country and to learn about every topic of relevance… but until I do, I will lean on those who are experts to see me through!
Sometimes, I am the one with the cultural background and it is up to ME to make the experience I had accessible to other teachers. For example, I wrote my newest reader, 48 horas, after a visit to the Galápagos Islands. As I write the teacher’s guide, I am trying to take other teachers to the places that left an impact on me and introduce them to the current conservation efforts in the islands and the history of the islands’ value to scientific research.
Differentiation: Whether it is chapter by chapter or reader by reader, the variety of materials in each teacher’s guide allows me to reach students who learn at different paces and in different ways. In one chapter, I can use an activity that uses art to demonstrate comprehension and in the next I can use their reading skills to tackle a related cultural reading. The variety keeps the reading from becoming stale and ensures that every student can feel successful because his or her learning style has been addressed.
Last year was a tough year for me. My level 2 students were a rowdy bunch and I felt like it was one step forward, two steps backward every unit. I began to use the hands on, shake it up, activities from the teacher’s guide chapters to keep their hands and minds busy as we read our stories and it made a big difference. When they were physically involved, their focus was better. It was still a tough year because I had to work so, so hard to engage them but I leaned heavily on these pre-created resources to get me through as I was re-creating a lot of other wheels in my curriculum already.
Reinventing the Wheel: I am a big fan of creating content based units for my students. I use them as a vehicle to teach the language… but they drain me. Finding a resource and deciding how it will make the biggest impact in the classroom takes time! Reader based units have the benefit of being a complete unit. From supplementary readings to final assessments, I have everything I need for a comprehension-based reader study of 3-5 weeks at my fingertips. It is worth every penny to have the ability to choose the activity I want as the follow up for each chapter we read!
At Fluency Matters, we are teacher authors. The things we are creating for our guides are the same things we are using in our own classrooms. As we learn better we are trying to do better so you’ll be seeing some big reveals in the next few months! From updated versions of early guides to new guides that are authored by several Fluency Matters teacher-authors, we are using our strengths to build the best supplements for our readers that we possibly can.
Carrie Toth is a Spanish teacher from Illinois with over 20 years of teaching experience. She was the 2014 Central States Teacher of the Year and 2015 finalist for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. Carrie has authored La Calaca Alegre, La hija del sastre, Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, and Vector. Her newest comprehension-based reader, 48 horas will be available in December! She blogs at somewheretoshare.com and can be found on Twitter @senoraCMT.
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