“I love that! Can we do more activities like that?” Those are expressions every teacher loves to hear. Yet, the struggle can be real. Being the sole Spanish educator in my district, students see my face and hear my voice year after year. While Spanish isn’t a requirement, they keep coming back each year making it more and more difficult to keep their attention, increase their proficiency and make them excited to come to school. At one point in my teaching career, I realized I was getting…boring. We were doing the same thing with different language and needless to say, I was losing students’ attention. I reflected and thought about language and what it is to “know” another language. I also attended the PSMLA fall conference that year and there I saw a booth in the exhibit hall that sparked my interest. On a book display, I noticed bright, colorful readers and some pretty enticing pictures and titles (and even better prices!) so I decided to take some home with me that weekend.
I never taught a reader before and had some hesitations initially—my students don’t want to read in English! Why would they want to read in Spanish? Would they understand the reader? How should I approach my instruction? Should I read first and then we decipher it? Should I teach vocabulary first? Should I buy the teacher’s guide? Should I teach these at all? What if they don’t like the story? What if I lose their attention or interest? I was completely nervous, but decided I needed to get out of my comfort zone if I were going to make any changes in the proficiency and motivation level of my students. Therefore, I decided to start with one reader, “Los Baker van a Perú,” and just take it one day at a time. I began with a lot of excitement and the students caught that. It was trial and error the first time I taught the reader, but it was definitely a career-changing experience. My students could not only understand the story, but because of the repetitive nature of the language and that we were working within a context, students were also producing much more language than they had in the past. They were talking! This is a world language teacher’s dream!
Since that initial decision to teach a reader, I have been using them faithfully in my classes in every level. One of my students dreaded coming to class each day. He took it because his parents made him. Therefore in class, I had to fight each day to get his attention and his buy-in. Each day I seemed to fail as he would indubitably be playing video games by the end of each class. This year, after changing my curriculum to incorporate readers in each level, I found a change in this student. After finishing “Los Baker van a Perú”, he told me that this book changed his whole attitude about class. The book was entertaining as the Baker family met Bob Barker, won a trip to Peru and had crazy adventures while in Peru. It also had a cultural context which allowed students to learn about Peru and he also felt confident for the first time in his language abilities. He even asked when we would be reading our next book!
Game changers, life savers: those readers I took home that weekend saved my teaching career and helped me help my students become more interested and engaged than ever before. My frequently absent students were showing up to school more and my relatively quiet students were talking. Through the Fluency Matters readers, my students have been able to learn culture and language AND can use their learning by performing through learning activities, projects and assessments. Plus, they are a great way to incorporate content-based instruction, supporting other class subjects. The teacher’s guides provide great activities for my students to practice and students ask to do extension projects using what they have learned. Their speaking abilities and desire to speak in class about the text encourages me to continue doing what I do and be the best teacher I can be to prepare them for using the language beyond the classroom. Since my first choice to start with “Los Baker van a Perú”, I have taught many other Fluency Matters readers: “Felipe Alou”, “Brandon Brown vs. Yucatán”, “La Guerra Sucia” and have many others that I will be teaching in the upcoming months. These readers are truly a great addition to any world language class and I encourage their use by any and all!
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