No Class Novels

A very sensitive area tied to equity is found in how many CI classes are made to read “class novels”. If thirty five kids have a wide range of reading ability, because of their background down to elementary school, availability of books throughout their childhoods, family wealth, etc. then many of them will be odd-man-out in classes that “challenge” the class, which is code for “only teach to the top kids in the class”. We don’t want that. So what we choose for reading materials is a big deal. We want everyone to be able to read, especially because it is input and input drives the CI train. Kids should never be made to feel behind in a reading class, and yet as we speak most do in classes that use classroom sets to try to read a novel “together”. That is why six years ago I went to the 10′ individual free choice of books – any level, the student chooses what they want to read – sessions to start class and why I condemn the reading of class novels during class time. Reading should be individual, not as a class. It also saves a lot of money since we only need to purchase 2 or 3 titles of each book instead of 35 classroom sets. The books offered to the individual readers should be easy. If those four kids out of the thirty five want to read “up”, fine. But don’t make the class do it.

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6 thoughts on “No Class Novels”

  1. Ben, I’m inclined to agree, but in schools where whole departments are transitioning to CI, novels are really the compromise position between the CI teachers and the more traditional teachers.
    I’m a firm believer in “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate”.
    It takes a special person to want to do the Invisibles, OWI, Matava Scripts or even TPRS, PQA, etc (activities where you actually need to speak the TL and interact with the students). Most teachers have been trained in “student-centered” learning (aka sending kids into groups to do stuff). The novels and the teachers guides lend themselves more to this. I’d rather having a teacher reading Brandon Brown with the class than doing Avancemos.
    I’m thinking of “Storylistening” a novel (chapter summaries via storylistening) this year to see how that works. This might be an option for those of us who are more oriented in the NT direction.

  2. Greg your point about class novels being a place where textbook teachers can meet CI teachers is reasonable. However, anything that perpetuates the status quo, intentionally or not, of dividing classes down social and economic lines is not something I can support. The reading of class novels is not a good thing for too many kids. When a kid is not engaged, just sitting there, acting like they are reading along but not getting it, playing the game of school, their confidence is taking hits on a daily basis. The non-gains that result are not much different from the non-gains that come when Avancemos is used. And the few get to win. Again.

  3. Hi Ben: What would you do about students who were in a traditional class level 1, levels 2-3 were in a CI class (year two was with me when I was doing TPRS, Special Chair, and the OWIs), and now in Spanish 4 have the perception that year 2 & 3 they “learned nothing”, but that year one was a “good foundation” They feel they are far behind the rest of the class in regard to the Timed Writes (This is their perception, I doubt it is the reality). I am finding out this info as department chair. Apparently this girl almost had a breakdown in the teachers room. (Our AP/Dual Credit and level 4 teacher who teaches with CI for 3 years now).
    As you may know I teach in a more or less affluent school where many kids like to be “challenged” and like “rigor” (the false sense of that term).
    What would you recommend to battle this idea that “we learned nothing”? I am thinking of doing Tina’s SLA days in level one.

  4. This is big stuff Greg.
    First, a reason they may feel that they are behind in Timed Writes (I call them Free Writes) is probably due to one vociferous kid who sees himself as smart (but is really a memorizer) who then counted words written by someone whom he considers intellectually inferior to him (bc memorizers are rewarded in schools) and drew the false conclusion as the leader of a little clique of renegades that they didn’t learn anything in levels 2 and 3 with CI.
    These kids have been fooled by their first year teacher and probably no small amount of parents around the dinner table. Parents acting as experts in a field they have no knowledge in! They wouldn’t do it with doctors, but hey, we’re just language teachers and they got A’s back in the day. We have had this discussion here for years, for over fifteen years! And STILL the beat goes on.
    The fact is that that first year of grammar was nothing like a “good foundation”. It was a waste of time that could have been devoted to input. Then the grammar could have been learned, ironically, in level 4, but only by those who wanted to learn it. But it’s too late for that now. Serious damage has been done, and your colleague has taken the brunt of it. I am most concerned for her, not those brats. They can make us feel crazy. Please print and send her the “Manifesto” post from today.
    It grieves me that she almost had a breakdown by only doing what is right according to the research and what is expected from her by the district in terms of the standards. Tell her not to have a breakdown. I have a lot of air miles and will fly up there and tell her myself if necessary. I can be in Chicago in just a few hours and I mean it. We have to help teachers like this through these moments.
    Most of all, we need to destroy the ugly archetype perpetuated by teachers who are so hubristically deranged that they are providing their students with a “good foundation”. They are NOT. It makes me want to sic Borat on them. He’s good at exposing hypocrisy.
    Yes I know about your school. I’ve always thought that the worst one was New Trier but you have plenty of them up there on that side of town. Ironically, one would think that it would be in the affluent schools leading the way into the real change.
    Oh well, let’s drop that discussion. nothing will change until we get our message out to more people, who will then bravely set out en masse to win the war if not these little battles that are happening in a lot more places than in the place of the recent 2016 World Champion Cubbies.
    Now… what to do? Yes, the SLA days is a good idea in future. Do it. But, as dep’t chair, can’t you decide who teaches level 1? Is that teacher gone?
    This raises a very important point – your teacher should not have been given kids who had had previous traditional textbook training. It set her up for the attack of the memorizers. Had she been allowed to train those kids from level 1, or you or someone else, this would never have happened.
    Here is the sad but in my opinion true part: those kids cannot be rehabilitated. They are covered in the goo. Seriously, I would stop with the CI in level four. I would give them the grammar (and freedom from having to work) that they crave. Maybe she could do a few minutes at the end of class, for fun once the “serious” work is done. I taught grammar for 24 years and I would love to do that bc it is so freaking easy. Why not?
    If I were her, I would be blunt when telling them, that unless they make an effort to really understand SLA, she won’t teach them with what she thinks professionally are best practices. That would open up a window for dialogue and the class might turn back, which is the goal here and why you brought this up in the comment field. But if their minds are not right about what they are doing, don’t try to use CI.
    The fact is that CI is MUCH HARDER TO DO at the upper levels but that is a subject for another day re: CALP and all that. Upper level CI is still only in its formative stages anyway.
    I am sure that the fact of how difficult CI is to teach at the upper levels attributed to your colleague’s stress. She needs to realize that she has tried something nearly impossible (my opinion anyway) in (a) teaching kids previously trained with the textbook and (b) trying to use CI at the upper levels when in spite of Tina’s cutting edge work in this area with CALP it remains an imperfect science, and (c) those few kids who are behind this are obviously spoiled and emotionally stinky.
    Anyway, back to the point: those kids are lost to the cause. I say that she now should give them grammar in spades. With tests in spades on the grammar. I’d make them wish they had never heard of grammar.
    I would not go back to the CI even under class majority pressure (there will be pushback on those few grammar jerks) until January. I would give them what they think they want and keep doing it until January or if it is working, until June, get them graduated, and in future never let a traditional teacher teach beginning students.
    No apologies for the rant. I do have a lot of travel miles and will come up there just to give this person a pep talk. I really mean it. This profession is hard enough without having to start a year like your colleague has. Those are darker times than anyone can know, that only teachers can know.
    I need to calm down. Maybe I’ll take my 16 year old boy out for some practice driving. That oughta do it.

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Hi Folks!
    Down here in elementary in my affluent district where there aren’t many socio-economic lines, the adminz love the idea that our 3rd & 4th Ss are reading the leveled novels. Since our Ss are within their first 200 hours of Spanish (+-50 hours/year starting in first – fourth grade) they can’t really read novels independently yet. We read class novels but there’s a ton of front-loading, dramatization and parallel scenes before any eyes on text. When the time is ripe for reading, year after year my Ss prefer to hold the book and have me read it to them aloud! Those who want to follow onscreen can.
    To me this means that they aren’t automatic/effortless with hearing the sounds of the words in their head. I do usually allow the Ss a few minutes to read a chapter or 2 independently. Early finishers can silently read and answer comprehension Qs from the T guide projected onto the screen. Everyone is eager to hear me read it. I compliment them for reading, and I firmly believe that hearing the test as they decode it helps their reading fluency. Some teachers buy the audio disc to spare their voice.

  6. Well, we will both agree that we have had this discussion in recent years and what you say in your first paragraph Alisa is definitely true in affluent schools and definitely not true in the urban 98% Latino school that was my last building before the American Embassy School in Delhi. I’m going to chalk the discrepancy up to that point. (However, affluent schools STILL – in my view only – mess with the heads of a good portion of the class because the few dominate in class novel reading settings.)
    This sentence you wrote is so important to me, and is at the key of the discussion:
    …to me this means that they aren’t automatic/effortless with hearing the sounds of the words in their head….
    To me this sentence is a 100% pure reflection of the research, that students need for it to be automatic/effortless when they read it, just like when they hear it, and if that is not the case then no amount of prep work (because input is processed UNCONSCIOUSLY by the brain and the prep work drags it up and into the realm of the conscious mind and analysis) can suffice to justify the class reading of the novel, which splits the class anyway and makes it into an academic competition as one would expect in afluent schools but can’t work in schools where poverty is there.
    I only agree that we can, and I have done so as well back in the day, prepare the soil, etc. but I don’t see it as fully aligned with the research. It’s school twisting Krashen, again, as with heavy circling and targeting and all the other things described in the “Hit List of 26” article.
    I think this is where we may have parted ways and why we haven’t heard from you much here lately, much to our loss. I just think it’s too boring to front load classes with questions from teachers guides, vocabulary lists from each chapter a la TPRS, etc. I find that I can get tremendously more interesting readings from stories the kids make up using the NTCI stuff generated since 2016. Then they can read beautifully in level four. That’s how I think it should happen.
    The terms “reading up” and “reading down” apply here and can be referenced here:
    https://benslavic.com/blog/hit-list-of-8/

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