There are two ways to create readings: (1) use the Story Writer, which I prefer and (2) using Write and Discuss, which Tina prefers. They are explained below:
The Story Writer
Next to the artists in Hub A is the Story Writer, whose job is simply to provide the teacher with a synopsis of the story— in L1—as it develops in class. Students who write the stories have to be superstars. They don’t have to write every single detail that occurs, but a fairly thorough version of the story is expected.
At the end of class the story writer hands the story to you on their way out of class and all you have to do sometime before the next class is write out the story in the target language, with limited embedding of new words. If you are short on time and still want to produce a text from the story, you could also write the story in class the next day.
The artist easel is to my right, and the story writer is close by at my desk on the computer. Lots of whispered conferring goes on during the creation of the story here in Hub A. Because of the challenging nature of the artists’ job, they depend, sometimes heavily, on the storywriter when confused about any details.
During a story, that part of the room resembles a workshop with happy and creative people providing a necessary service to the others in the classroom while listening to the target language and demonstrating their comprehension through their useful work.
An Option: Write and Discuss the Next Day in Class
Instead of writing the story out the night before for the reading, the instructor can choose to write the story out during the next class period. If there is a time crunch on the teacher, and there always is, this is a valuable option for preparing the reading.
When the story is written out in class, the students observe the recreation of the story. This is a co-creative process, as the students and the teacher share in the creation of the story as writing. The teacher simply leads the class through the story, line by line, questioning them on the details of the story, almost as if asking for their help in “refreshing the teacher’s memory.”
The students are invited to simply call out the one- or two- word answers as a group, to speed the process along and let them be more vocally involved, thus increasing their engagement.
Doing this runs the risk of the class losing some of its focus, as the writing-in-class process can be a bit slow. One way to encourage the class’s focus in the co-creation process is to inform them with good cheer and a supportive attitude that you will gladly write for them as long as they can listen and read along with good strong focus, as there is no real language acquisition need for them to write, only to read and listen and understand.
However, if they cannot focus in a pure way with 100% participation, you will have to get everyone to drag out paper and pencil and copy along with you as you write. For most classes, it only takes one time of your making good on your promise for them to get the message that listening and helping to reconstruct the story is much more enjoyable than copying.
Of course, if a class repeatedly fails at Write and Discuss, you will truly have no option but to type the story up ahead of time for that group of students. As in every aspect of teaching, the professional educator must decide which option works best for them. The Write and Discuss option takes a lot of prep work o the teacher and makes the Invisibles approach as close to a no-prep job as teaching can conceivably get.
Another advantage to writing the story out with the class on the day after the story is that the teacher, while looking at the notes provided by the storywriter the day before, can ri on the details, adding slightly bizarre or incorrect information, or asking the class to provide additional details that were not established in the story.
For a first-year class, these often take the form of “either- or” questions — “Was the Pop-Tart in Omaha, Nebraska, or Obama, Nebraska?” or one-word-answer questions — “What was the Pop-Tart’s brother’s name?” This has the effect of “catching” the attention of the students, as new or slightly different details focus their attention at a higher level.
An added benefit of processing readings in this way is that the students thereby learn to write. They can see words emerge on the screen 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 reading attentively with a certain visible pride while their ideas come to life in another language on the screen in front of them.
Of course, it must be said here that the best way to teach writing is to have the students read more. It’s not even close.