Something Sacred

My kids are doing SSR right now. The room is pin drop quiet. They are totally lost in the books. I’m amazed at what reading is, what it can do. I do think it’s better than stories, more effective, in TPRS. I sense the truth that the kids really welcome not having to interact with others to start the class, because their days are ones of rather intense interaction with others ALL DAY. So this SSR break is really good for them on many levels. There is something sacred about reading.

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39 thoughts on “Something Sacred”

  1. I really like the idea of beginning class with reading. I know I learned a lot of my French vocabulary from it. The challenge for me when my school hopefully adds French back to the world languages curriculum will be finding suitable reading material for young middle school students just starting out in French. They begin a language course so hopeful and excited about communicating in another language. I think being able to real “real books” in French will especially please our faster students.

  2. I’d like to add that I know the books will need to be simple at first, but I’m sure I can get some.

    One idea I have is to get simple children’s books on numbers, colors, etc. for beginners and then give some vocabulary introduction by using comptines. I use grammar jingles when teaching English grammar to my ELA classes. Kids love these and when they read about clauses, adjectives, and the like later on, they know the vocab. from having sung the jingles with actions.
    The comptines might help jumpstart vocabulary used in the books. Just an idea…

  3. Just a thought. Maybe your advanced students in upper grades could make easy readers based on class stories? Someone suggested this a while ago. Books on colors/numbers are often not compelling.

    1. I don’t/can’t teach numbers and colors and the alphabet unless they are integrated into my TPRS lesson. I suck at teaching them separately. It’s just not compelling, like you say Catharina. My kids make story books based on the stories they did that year, but in May when everybody is desperate for a project. May is project (making the books) month and also WCTG month in my classroom, along with Poetry Declamation Month. Between those three things:

      Making books of stories for each class
      WCTG
      Poetry Contests

      I make it without pressure through into the summer, through the merry month of May which is far from merry in America for kids.

  4. I did an experiment last semester with 10 min. SSR before class for 2 weeks. There was a wide range of response. Many students say that they hate reading with a fiery passion. one student came 10 minutes late almost every day because he felt that he could not sit still (well, that’s what he claimed) and was nervous about disturbing others. I was uncomfortable a lot of the time because so many of them looked so miserable, but that’s one of my growing edges…remaining firm and in charge with the miserable kids. A minority seemed to enjoy the quiet. Others said that the quiet made them really unsettled. While reading Mike Peto’s blog I think he recommends to just stick with the program and sometimes students actually come around, just from doing the practice long enough to actually get engaged with a story. I’d love to hear more about how people have overcome resistance to SSR. Maybe I’ll give it another try next semester.

    1. When I used to do journaling with my ELA students, I would play soft classical music in the background. I wonder if that would work with reading or if it would distract.

      1. Nick said:

        … I would play soft classical music in the background. I wonder if that would work with reading or if it would distract….

        Nick I have a chapter on that in my latest book and some perfect music is available on this site. Here is a post from the blog relating to that:

        https://benslavic.com/blog/using-calming-music-in-fvr/

        But hold the phone! One class recently told me it distracts them. Hmmm. Still checking this out, but yeah that entire class wanted their SSR session sans sounds. Go figure.

    2. Last year, I started in level 3 with FVR, and provided level 1 & 2 reading material. This year, I’ve done occasional FVR in level 2, and once or twice in level 1.

      I started with 5 minutes of time. I quietly play instrumental Chinese music, and I have been reading a Chinese translation of Calvin & Hobbes (“Something Under the Bed Is Drooling”). We stop when time is up, students write a sentence about what they read & note title & page (so they can pick up where they left off next time). It’s also ok if they switch books. I glance over the sentences but there is no grade.

  5. I think SSR success depends a great deal on what the students’ perception of reading in L1 is to begin with, also time of day, time of year and other environmental factors. But still I think the L1 reading perception is key. I’m guessing all of us here are reading while the kids are. If not, I see that as a barrier to them catching the reading bug.

    My Span 2 class this year has read more than any class I’ve ever had. Average of 6 books per kid. I think it would’ve been impossible to accomplish this without the reader mentality students in this class have (unless I resorted to rewarding/punishing based on # of books read, which would have made the quality of the experience go down as well as the chances of them continuing reading in L2 after the class was over.)

    If we all had more time and energy we could lobby the powers-that-be to include more FVR for L1 and ditch literacy behaviorism. This might do more than anything to give us success in L2 SSR, IMO.

    1. Jim said:

      …I’m guessing all of us here are reading while the kids are….

      I’m not. I know it’s best if I do read with them. But I gotta write the quiz. And relax. Gotta cut corners somewhere, because I need those 50 extra minutes each day so I can watch two and not one episode of Breaking Bad in the evenings.

      1. “because I need those 50 extra minutes each day so I can watch two and not one episode of Breaking Bad in the evenings.”

        I totally laughed at this Ben because I was totally hooked on that series too.

        The point is here is self-care. Teachers need to un-wind in order to face the next day with a smile. For me it’s playing music.

      2. You’re situation is a bit different so I understand that you’re not reading the book with them. When I do SSR they are rarely reading the same book. And we’re reading for at least 20 min at a time in Span 2. Me not reading would be a mistake I think. Plus, for me it’s relaxing and enjoyable, and I can continue my mission to read all the novels in my classroom (getting closer each year).

        1. Jim I am rapidly gravitating to this myself. I find that between writing stories up and writing quizzes as I described here last week, which is a great way to hold their feet to the fire, it takes up too much of my time. I like it when they all pick up a different book, but NOT those kids’ story books like Asterix and such that are published in France and contain really complex grammar structures – I think reading those books is a waste of time. I just lay out about four copies of each of the Ray/Gaab books and they pick. It really works.

          1. When they’re reading their own books, I think they all feel more free, in terms of selection of course, but also speed at which they read. I often think of how a slower processor, or a re-reader of paragraphs (like myself) will feel when their peers are reading the same thing and the pervasive competition element enters their psyche and then they start to feel like they’re not reading fast enough or they won’t get done in time instead of getting lost in the story or even just enjoying that quiet time with us.

            About everyone in the TCI world that I’ve read/heard has recommended we read WITH the kids during SSR. I do this and many others do. But Daniel Willingham, the guy who writes for the NEA periodical and has authored among other books “Why Kids Don’t Like School”, wrote this summer (June?) about building readers. It was a great article. But the one point where he lost me was when he said there is research that suggests we should be teaching and walking around while kids are reading. I do not get this. He’s the only person I’ve ever heard suggest this. I did not investigate primary source but I have a feeling that when done, the setting(s) in which the studies were conducted won’t resemble those of our classrooms.

          2. In my first year of FVR, in which I spent most time reading along, I caught a (higher proficiency) student who faked reading for an entire semester! Got me wondering how many students were doing the same thing. So when I tried FVR the following year, I spent way more time circulating the room: checking in with kids about their books, reading a paragraph with them, discussing something happening in their book, etc. Along with modeling reading, individual meetings such as these are recommended during FVR. Also, by doing this, I didn’t need any other measure of accountability. Just short, informal, individualized discussions.

            I’ve done way less FVR this year, opting for more aural CI. I still do novel read-alouds and reader’s theater with grades 5-7. And 8th graders were in book clubs. After every chapter or two, the groups had a short 5-10 minute activity based on what they had just read. In fact, just had a (non-studious) 8th grader request we do book clubs again, because he thought they were fun 😉

  6. Not to brag friends but SILENT READING IS ABSOLUTELY SACRED for lil kids (in my school, at least). Their regular classroom Ts do a fabulous job with D.E.A.R time (Drop Everything and Read)-so it’s sacredness extends into my classroom, too. Freaking Awesome, I know – and I take no credit for it whatsoever.
    You could hear a pin drop for the few minutes that I infrequently offer FVR. My awesome T/CI French colleague, Carla, has re-dubbed it FVP – Free Voluntary Perusal for the wee ones – they are scanning the illustrations – maybe some are reading a sentence here or there, but it’s a reading muscle and confidence builder and great when the room energy is low. I May pull it out with my first graders this afternoon (yes I see 3 1st grade classes on Fri afternoons- last 3 classes of the week).

    1. Alisa, would you agree that the older the kids get, and the more they are rewarded (e.g. grade, pizza hut coupon, etc) for reading, the less excited they get about it?

      1. And by the way, we did DEAR school-wide for several years and admin shut it down a couple years ago to put in an-of-day program meant to get kids caught up with homework and other admin needs. It sucked IMO. The librarian and I protested, we got most teachers on our side, and this year we have it back, 45 min per week over the course of 3 different days a week, rotating schedule so that the same class doesn’t get time lost each week.

        We lost a lot of momentum with kids reading for pleasure in those 2 years. Kids wouldn’t keep library books in their lockers, and the excitement for pleasure reading was way down.

        I have a one-page document I made for faculty and admin in support of DEAR which I think helped change course on that. It’s downloadable on my website under Misc Downloads. Any school not doing DEAR or some other

          1. just click on my name here to go to my site.

            I was going to say (thought I did) …”FVR program is missing some quality time for students in classrooms.”

          2. OK that blew my mind. All we have to do to get to a person’s site is click on their name on the comment. How fast and cool is that? We all need to remember this! Thanks Jim.

  7. We have this (not called DEAR, but same thing). Every Mon-Wed in the 30 min before lunch everyone is supposed to be reading. It’s during our advisory time. They put these (IMO bogus) restrictions though. Has to be a book. Magazine, newspaper, graphic novels “don’t count”…and the kicker “has to be ‘at their level’ which is a euphemism for “it better be challenging” Oh and the best part (choking a bit here) is that they have to write a book report. Ick.

    I have a group of juniors. I am their 3rd advisor. There is zero buy in. One student reads. I get it. They have not had the opportunity to associate reading with pleasure and relaxation. We think “reading” and we imagine kicking back on a couch or a beach. They think “reading” and they visualize painful decoding and not being able to do it fast enough and failing a test and someone pointing out a deficit.

    I am not following the rules. I am trying read alouds, projecting short articles from the internet and such…just to read something WITH them and to make it fun. Not requiring a report (esp. when one kid told me that the last advisor let him write a report on a book he read last year). I would rather try to keep engaging the kid in reading, than read a report from something in the past. I encourage picture books, etc. I feel like there are probably lots of kids “classics” that they may not have read…if they have never been read to and struggle to read they will associate “reading” with judgement, insecurity, grades and torture. When really it is all about the story and the companionship in the sharing of it, and later the solace or escape or expansion of perspective that a good book provides.

    Long digression, but this all carries over into my classes, where fortunately I have been way more successful in getting kids to read. It’s fun and relaxing! There are still complainers, but a lot of that is them carrying their insecurity. All this to remind myself “easy reading” needs to be easy and I don’t get to tell someone what is and is not easy!

    1. I see such growth in you this year jen. You went into a very difficult building and each month got stronger on everything. I can’t wait to hear about how things go next year, because those “new building blues” seem to be lifting rapidly off of you. Congratulations!

    2. I think you are on course with Read-Aloud, Jen. Like all good things it takes time for it to take. They need something that will interest them. They need to know that Read-Aloud is not just for kids. It is for anyone who likes to hear stories (or poems, or anything else, for that matter). I remember reading about a team of cigar makers. These grown men would work faster at making the cigars so that one of them could read aloud while the others kept up enough production to cover the reader’s quota.

      The Revelation/Apocalypse to John on Patmos, begins with a blessing: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear. Reading was not an individual activity. It was a community endeavor. There was one reader and multiple listeners.
      My wife and I have been reading aloud Robert Frost poems. I think poetry is meant to be read aloud.

      Read-Aloud is the most important way for non-readers to connect reading and pleasure. I polled my Sp 3 Level 1 classes: Do you like to read, that is, do you read when you do not have to? Less than 25% consider themselves readers.

      We are mediators between the painful printed word and the non-reader. We are also mediators between the spoke L2 and the written L2 when we do our various activities to engage students with the text. It is enjoyable in and of itself. But it is also a steppingstone to independently getting CI. With L1 Read Aloud, we mediate the connection between the book and the non-reader not only for itself, but knowing that we are creating a non-mediated, i.e., an im-mediate connection between books and book-haters.

      Btw, you may be interested in “The Great Fiction/Nonfiction Debate” by SK as sdkrashen.com:
      http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/2015_krashen_the_great_fiction_nonfiction_debate_pdf.pdf

    3. That sounds bad Jen. I hope you can input some reason. You’ve certainly identified the problems and worked to find a solution. That “at your own level” piece is ridiculous for many reasons, least of which is that kids are going to acquire vocab/grammar from nearly anything written in their language. The point of the program should not be to build skills though, but rather to build habits. Very few lifetime readers find it necessary to select material based upon a set level of difficulty, and even fewer write book reports about what they read.

      Our change a couple years ago from DEAR to “Ready to Learn”, which was an advisory type programs, made DEAR feel more mandatory and therefore engagement plummeted with the kids I had. They saw the reading as punishment, or maybe rather just something unpleasant they had to do instead of finishing their homework (also latently encouraging teachers to assign more homework) or playing a game. It was a rotating schedule. Plus, it happened at the very end of the day.

      When DEAR happens during class the kids see it more as a break and gift. They aren’t dropping their homework or a game, they’re dropping class time work, which few teenagers will hesitate to do. And they are getting in the habit of carrying their book/magazine/newspaper with them because DEAR will be happening sometime during one of their classes on most days.

  8. Have you heard of “The Rights of a Reader” by Daniel Pennac? Here is a link to a poster of his 10 Rights of a Reader. Warning: this will open a pdf onto your computer rather than a new web page.

    www2.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/Connections_72_poster.pd

    You might adapt this for your situation.

  9. Ha! Diane, because of you I read “The Book Whisperer” and am currently reading “The Read Aloud Handbook” and also the second book by Donalyn Miller!

    Needless to say, early in “The Book Whisperer” when she quotes Krashen, I yelped out loud!

    Thank you!!!

    As I am still feeling my way through in this school, I sense that the “free reading regulations” are not that set in stone. There are way too many bigger brush fires in this community, so it seems we are more free than it says on paper for certain things. I have the curriculum director in my camp, and she is a big advocate of “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Such an interesting place.

  10. Another great book for us about reading is You Gotta Be The Book by Wilhelm. I highly recommend it.
    Yes, I see that FVR or whatever it’s called in your upper schools has been hijacked. But at the elementary level the Common Core (I think) talks about “eyes on text time” so teachers/elem schools can defend it with that language.
    BTW, I listen to (mostly fantasy fiction) books on tape every day to and from work with my 12-year-old (who I drop off on my way). What a magical time for us – and what wonderful discussions and private jokes, references, comparisons and critiques have come of it over the years! Right now we’re reading a fabulous book called Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – about a bookbinder who accidentally ‘reads’ characters out of storybooks…great stuff!!
    How sad that high school students don’t have the skills or dispositions to read independently. We are doing an incredible service to turn them on to reading. Both the discreet skills of how to read, and also how to comprehend, infer, predict and appreciate….We are building stamina so that reading seems less of a chore…more of a joy!!

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