Last year, I began to implement leveled readers and novels in some of my novice/intermediate low classes. I had always used stories in my classes, but I saved a lot of reading for upper level classes. One of my colleagues and I were able to get my supervisor to order some novels from Fluency Matters. We chose ‘Esperanza’ and ‘Felipe Alou Desde las valles a las montañas’ by Carol Gaab and started out with a class set of books for each novel and shared them with each other (passing small plastic bins between classes). At that point we did not have the Teacher’s Resource Guide (which I highly recommend you buy before teaching one of these novels). We scoured the internet for some ideas. Some of our favorite blogs/sites for ideas are The Comprehensible Classroom, Mis Clases Locas and El mundo de Birch.
Along with the ideas from those sites, we created some of our own resources, such as Kahoot, and really focused on getting the students to enjoy reading the novel. The fact that both of these novels tell the true stories of the struggles of different people who immigrated to the U.S. made them compelling reads. Since they were comprehensible, my students were able to get through the novels with relative ease. They were so proud to have read an ‘entire book’ in Spanish, something that they had never done before. I enjoyed having meaningful conversations with my students about topics that were relevant, including immigration and discrimination. I think they even surprised themselves with what they were able to talk about. The novel gave them the vocabulary to be able to talk about these issues. Because they were written with language acquisition in mind, they would see new vocabulary often enough to actually acquire it. The fact that they were able to use these words months after we finished reading proves that. Many times, long vocabulary lists are memorized for the ‘quiz’ and then quickly forgotten. We were so happy with using the novels, that we asked to buy more of them for the next school year. We chose novels for a variety of different courses that we offer and had our supervisor purchase the Teacher’s Guides.
Upon some reflection, I think we went a bit too quickly finishing each novel in roughly two weeks the first time we taught them. This year, having the Teacher’s Guides (which are full of additional resources in addition to readings that are comprehensible for students), I am spending more time when reading a novel as a class. This year, rather than start the school year with a ‘review’ unit, my ninth graders began with ‘Esperanza‘. We worked with the novel (and its resource rich Teacher’s Guide) from mid-September through early November. My students are interested, and more importantly, they are acquiring language without even realizing it. What is the most striking about this is that most students don’t even see it as ‘learning Spanish’. Yet, they are using structures and tenses that would not be used until much later in a traditional textbook curriculum. If they were used to just being taught about language, this is very different than what they were used to. But the gains, in terms of acquisition, speak for themselves.
I highly recommend trying these novels out. I feel like they have transformed my teaching.
Kristine Keefe has been teaching Spanish in Edison, NJ since 2001. She studied Spanish, Linguistics & Education at New York University and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at Kean University. Kristine is a self-professed technology junkie (and a Google Certified Educator Level 1). She is committed to teaching with CI and sharing how teaching with comprehensible input has changed her teaching. A lover of language, culture and travel, Kristine strives to share her enthusiasm with her students. She shares her musings on teaching on her blog La profe alta.