Susan Gross Was Right

Blaine came up to me some years ago – I think it was NTPRS 2009 in TX – and asked what I thought about Susie saying that the kids should “snow plow” through the book or if perhaps (his) Read and Discuss was better. I remember that the topic was “up” at that time.
I told him I did R and D because I liked the idea that kids were able to use what they read as a basis for class discussion in L2, paragraph by paragraph. I thought it was silly to just plow through the book and would probably bore the kids, even though Susie always said that reading should be like “a movie in [students’] minds” when they were reading.
(In 2009 all we had was Blaine’s books; it was very hard to get those clunkers looking like a movie in the kids’ minds because clunk is clunk.)
So I never really tried the snowplow thing, never gave it a chance, thought it would be too boring. But now I am looking at it again, probably because of the better books. I’m not even now sure Read and Discuss is a good thing, after touting it here for so long.
R and D might just be too “busy”, switching kids around in their brains, with some L1 always sneaking into the Discuss part of it, when really the class should be about reading, where the BIG gains come from, more so than from stories.
The fact is that R and D does not create the movie thing described by Susie and why did I not do exactly everything as Susie said? I can see now that the “movie” is what reading input should really look like. Why? Because as has been stated here countless times over the years, it directly involves bypassing the conscious faculty, which is where languages are acquired.
So, in the same way that when we do stories the kids aren’t aware of the language but of its meaning, so also should that be the case when we do reading So in my opinion Susie was right. The exception for me is using the 18 pt. ROA strategy when reading stories, which for me is the cat’s ass, but different from reading novels.
A major ingredient in this discussion that we didn’t know six years ago on this blog is that readings should be below the kids’ levels, that texts that are too challenging activate the kids’ conscious analytical faculties as they try to “figure it out”, and that’s not how we learn languages.
This thinking was all prompted by something Jim said a few weeks ago about how his kids like it when he just reads to them and they just follow along (although he may have meant that he reads to them in L2). All I know is that in a class just now I read straight through some Brandon Brown chapters i L1 in a gentle voice and the kids just loved it.
At the end of each chapter they asked some questions about grammar things they had noticed while I was reading like why his could both be sa and son in French. (This made me very happy and I ran to the board for a marker so the true me could come out as I explained those lovely and pesky little possessive adjectives.)
When I asked my students about the “discuss” part – the way we had been doing it all year up until now when reading a novel, a few of the more honest ones said that, whereas they indeed like discussing readings of stories that they create, they don’t like discussing novels, for the reason that they are generally boring.



29 thoughts on “Susan Gross Was Right”

  1. “A major ingredient in this discussion that we didn’t know six years ago on this blog is that readings should be below the kids’ levels, that texts that are too challenging activate the kids’ conscious analytical faculties as they try to “figure it out”, and that’s not how we learn languages.”
    I’m seeing this too, in a new way. I think I have chosen some books that are too difficult for 2 of the classes I teach. (Some of the problem is limited resources.) We rarely read from a novel anyway – two days with the book all semester with different activities. But the things we’re reading in level 1 & level 4 really work well for them, and it’s because it’s easy enough. It feels like real i+1 to me.
    Can we define i+1 like that? The point at which kids are making a movie in their minds about what they hear/read? They still have plenty of growth in language from it, so there’s +1 for sure. But it’s got a flow. It’s so nice.

    1. Exactly what I was going to quote Diane.
      “A major ingredient in this discussion that we didn’t know six years ago on this blog is that readings should be below the kids’ levels, that texts that are too challenging activate the kids’ conscious analytical faculties as they try to “figure it out”, and that’s not how we learn languages.”
      Ben or anyone else here. Are there studies to this? I need the armor for admin (or colleagues) who want advocate for “rigor” when they don’t even know what the damn word means.

      1. Steven re studies on how reading should be easy and effortless for the kids, I would refer you to Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading. It’s been years since I read it and there may not be specific information there, but that is where I would look first.
        But are you really in a defensive position of finding research on Rigor? Just give them Robert’s primer above. Keep remembering that they have no case against you and it is all intimidation. Ignore them. You have work to do, more important work than back peddling every time a clown walks into your room.

    2. Exactly what I was going to quote Diane.
      “A major ingredient in this discussion that we didn’t know six years ago on this blog is that readings should be below the kids’ levels, that texts that are too challenging activate the kids’ conscious analytical faculties as they try to “figure it out”, and that’s not how we learn languages.”
      Ben or anyone else here, Are there studies to this? I need the armor for admin (or colleagues) who want advocate for “rigor” when they don’t even know what the damn word means.

      1. I think anything about “extensive reading” would be the topic to search. How about this? I bookmarked it a while ago – looks promising:
        Here’s a really nice slideshare that gives you a feeling for just what 98% known feels like with English plus a handful of nonsense words added as the unknowns. This would be the fun, easy-to-share way to explain it:
        I think it was Haiyun Lu who shared that somewhere online.

        1. This is great Diane, I just shared it with colleagues at my school since we have been discussing a book called Visible Learning (Hattie). Students are encouraged “to go into the pit” as in “struggle and get out”. I think I agree that’s sometimes a positive thing with learning “Good learners go into the pit”, but I offered the adage to follow, “Good acquirers avoid the pit”.

      2. Jim Trelease has been advocating pleasure reading and read-aloud for some 30 years. Check his website.
        Rigor has to do with higher levels of thinking skills and deeper levels of study in a single topic, author, character, theme, etc.
        Reading fluency in L1 comes from easy/pleasure reading. The search for research is sometimes a side-stepping of common sense. Which students move to higher thinking skills? Readers or non-readers? Higher vocabulary control? Readers or vocabulary memorizers? Deeper sense of language structure? Readers or grammar memorizers? Keener sense of expression in writing? Readers or non-rereaders? People with access to books or people who have no books? People who have heard others read aloud to them or people who were made to figure it all out on their own? Reading is a form of sustained focus that leads to higher levels of thinking. And we do need people like Trelease, because, after 30 years, we are still looking for the magical alternative to enjoying good books together and discussing them, or just enjoying good books on our own.

  2. Agreed. Reading a novel straight through (with some Reader’s Theater or other fun activities) is great. It has to be easily understood, and an interesting story, but it’s a fun way to end a grading quarter. All the other teachers are “prepping” students for finals, taking practice tests, reviewing chapters, blah boring blah.
    Meanwhile in Spanish we are laughing about Nathaniel Baker going into the women’s restroom because he can’t understand MUJERES on the door. I love my job.

      1. I had good fun listening to my kids read the dialogues in a Brandon Brown book while I read the rest aloud. They weren’t that funny but my kids made them funny. Reading dialogues is like simple Reader’s Theatre. I am so happy to know that RT is not something I prepare. It just happens. I’m right there with you Jim and David. Everybody else is running around testing in the building and I’m sitting in a chair reading L1 translations of the novel while my kids read in L2. But my question never got answered. Is that OK – to read aloud L1 while they read in L2? It’s fun, whether it’s supported by the research or not. But I would like to know. I know Krashen has addressed this but I can’t remember what he said.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! My students are reading quietly and rather than beat the novel to death, they are simply answering 3-4 questions about the major themes of the book. They read for 15 minutes, write for 10 and then I have photos to supplement the cultural stuff that comes up throughout the book. Everyone is relaxed and happy and settling down before finals.
    I also asked them to tell me about a past experience that has changed them for the better. I told them they could respond in English to this question if they wanted, as I really just like to find out some cool stuff about the kids. However, I am pleasantly surprised at how many level 2 Spanish kids are attempting to write in Spanish about a past life experience and how it has changed them. Never before would this have happened and I just love hearing all of their stories.

  4. I keep having the same ah hah experience, because like Diane, I have limited resources. And like anyone, I have a wide spread of abilities, except mine are labeled level 2, level 4, HL IB…all in the same class period.
    My level 2 kids are reading _Poor Anna_ while others are in more interesting books. I keep forgetting that in Russian, PA is really a level 3-4 book, so it’s too hard to snowplow through. (Snowplow is slow though…maybe a poor word choice.) The highest level is reading a book that is somewhat challenging for them, a Russian short story.
    I took out New Houdini for the group to practice our Robert-Harrell-inspired Readers’ Theater (for exams) and one of the advanced kids, who officially reads at Intermediate Mid, asked whether his group could read that next! I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t diss it. He opened it up and it was fun, not a pain. He and that group want to read it next, so that they have something to just read, not think. It’s i+nothing for them, and they want that.
    In the meantime, let me laud Robert. His ACTFL Readers’ Theater demo gave me an idea for the spoken part of our finals, and it’s making the kids scan, read and search their books for more details and ways to extend what they’re saying. I love it! Next semester, I can’t wait to do at least a couple of whole-group readers’ theater plans. Robert said to guard them, so I am.
    Robert, maybe you have a video of how you do the RT. It’s powerful.

    1. “in Russian, PA is really a level 3-4 book” Me too! In Chinese I used that for some of level 3 last year but still not a good fit for them. Skipped some, glossed some, got the general story and a few sections in detail. Then we made up our own ending instead of reading any of the last chapter. Anna had fallen in love with a Taiwanese triad guy who had posed in previous chapters as devout Buddhist farmers’ son. Her love, sadly, was unrequited. Her parents wouldn’t take her back in the US, so she ended up working for the triad and pining away.
      I feel like that book was written with an aim to use textbook vocabulary. It uses many words that are low-frequency and yet themed: rooms & furniture, entertainment, transportation, some greetings & names. That’s not entirely a complaint, but I prefer other books that feel more based on a story (that’s at least somewhat interesting).

    2. Hi Michele,
      You briefly mentioned you have students in an IB program. Is that right? I am currently in a wall-to-wall IB school. The IB coordinators here are very nice but are scoring my IB units as unsatisfactory. Maybe you can help me. Do you write IB DP or MYP units? If so, I would love to see them.
      I’m also going to try to contact you at your email address.
      Much appreciated!

  5. Yes, a video of RT would be amazing. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around it. Whenever I attempt it, the (actor) kids get so carried away that they end up doing their own thing rather than following the director’s instructions. The focus seems to be more on who can get the most rise out of the audience instead of doing a particular scene justice. Obviously, it must be my poor way of implementing it. So, I would love to take a look at someone who is doing it expertly. Btw, talking about a compelling book – we’re reading Robert’s book “Ritter von heute”. The kids are completely enthralled!!!! That one is definitely a smash hit so far.

    1. Robert we need to know more about your novels. They’re getting by too many people. Are they yet in other languages? What is going on? We need links and information.
      Brigitte when I saw Jason Fritze do RT at different conferences over the years, his unique flair and dynamism made me think I couldn’t do it. Who could do that? One would need a background in theatre to direct such a scene, I thought. Not true at all. Now I have learned to keep things really simple with RT:
      1. Don’t pick out the scene in advance. Just wait for a scene that has energy if a few kids got up and acted it out.
      2. I have my Director’s Cues posted above the board.
      3. I look up and direct while the kids read.
      4. We do tons of reps on one phrase, real din creators. The kids compete intensely to deliver the funniest line. Quiet kids turn into bright actors.
      5. It there is no energy, if the scene loses interest, we just applaud the actors and get back to reading.
      It’s so easy! I thought it was so complicated because Jason is such an master of theatre*.
      I have also discovered that when they do RT on scenes in stories that they created vs. novels, it is better. Although the novels work really well to.
      *TPRS is not about dynamism. If you are too dynamic, you run out of energy. Too many teachers have rejected TPRS because they didn’t think that they had a lot of flair. We don’t need flair. We each get to be ourselves.

      1. I have the knight book published in German only. There is a Spanish version finished, but I am still trying to get the illustrations done. This summer I will be doing research in France and England for French and English versions respectively.
        The pirate book is published in German, French, and Spanish. I have an English version for ESL that is not yet published.
        Currently, you can get the books through me or Carol Gaab. I am working on getting a PayPal account set up, being able to take credit cards, and getting my website up and running. When I have PayPal done, I’ll let Ben know and try to set up something so they are available through Ben’s site.
        I have a third reader started in German; it’s set in German East Africa during World War I, but it may be a while before it gets finished.
        I’m also working on a couple of non-fiction books. One will be about my Virtual Vienna project and how to do it. After next school year (2016-2017) I hope to be able to add the Middle Ages unit to it and have this be my book about “The Realm”. After that, who knows?
        In addition, I want to do some sub-unit plans to go along with some of these – heraldry, knights and castles, medieval village life, medieval thought, art and architecture, North Sea ecology, etc.
        Being able to work consistently with Jason Fritze when he is not in full-blown presenter mode has taught me several things. Among them is that the energy in the room really comes from the students and their interaction with the material. I become the stage manager / director and disappear to a large extent, intruding when there needs to be a boost of some sort. If students are engaged with the text, I can coast. If it’s first period and students are somnambulant, I need to do something to catch their attention / wake them up. If it’s sixth period and students are scatter-brained, I need to help them find a focus, but those are class management issues and have nothing to do with personality.
        Jason makes a distinction between Readers Theatre and acting out a story that the class has created or is in the process of creating. Both of them are designed to help students run the movie in their minds and thus understand the narration better, but the amount of teacher preparation is different. I think having name tags, minimal “costumes” (pirate hat, bling), and props (cardboard axe, soccer ball for head) definitely improves the acting. Since I am not able to have those kinds of things ready in my room at all times, having a story bag with all of the materials in it is quite helpful. I can pull it out when we are getting ready to do the Störtebeker story.
        I agree with Jason that teachers would benefit from some theater training. You don’t have to have a degree, but some training (either in class or actual performance) is helpful. As I talked with my student teacher and colleagues last week, I realized how well my theater training has served me. A teacher needs to be able to
        1. Read the audience
        2. Take possession of the space (the room)
        3. Project both visually and orally
        4. Support and sustain speech from the diaphragm
        5. Have a presence that demands attention (closely aligned to possessing the space)
        I may work on a presentation about some of these things; they are definitely things they don’t teach you in teacher preparation courses.

  6. Great discussion. I decided to use Blaine’s Fido reading. It is about the boy who wanted to compete in the Olympics for dogs. We are starting the Avancemos lesson on sports and wanted to take advantage of some Blaine’s relevant* readings because I feel like a 1st year teacher (after 25 years) and feel like I am getting nowhere. The problem is that Blaine has so much HF vocabulary (which students from a grammar-based textbook experience don’t know) that I feel like that the students are not ready for the amount of fluency his stuff would have led to by now. This discussion has given me direction: 1) Plow Now and 2) Go back to Real Easy and 3) Try a read-aloud approach with the kids following along. Thanks again.
    *Relevant to the sports/competition vocab and in the past.

  7. I would not read novels with kids unless they understand 99% of the text. What makes it fun, is that they have put in the work with their own stories and readings for a year plus, and now we can sit and enjoy something someone else has written for a week.
    I would never do a novel in Spanish 1.
    My students love to make fun of the plastic dialogue of Pobre Anna. No one talks the way Anna does. “Help me brother. Help me look for my yellow book.”
    But how stunning is it that they can see that in Spanish!

    1. “What makes it fun, is that they have put in the work with their own stories and readings for a year plus, and now we can sit and enjoy something someone else has written for a week.”
      Hear Hear! Keeping energy and input flowing with interviews and stories during Spanish 1 can be exhausting sometimes (often in a good way) but it all leads to that celebration of Spanish 2 and up where we can be much more flexible in where we go with communication, and we’re able to depend on the kids to supply more and more (still a pretty small fraction though) of the input.

  8. This is an epic discussion. Here are my thoughts on R&D…
    *Reading reps, especially in novels, occur naturally from encountering the same high frequency words in context. The highest frequency words show up constantly throughout any novel. Thus, it might not be necessary to try and force extra reps through discussion or a ton of follow up activities.
    *Stories are interesting when we treat them like stories. Stories are boring when we treat them like language acquisition tools. Let them celebrate their language gains through enjoying a fun story written by someone else, and then leave them alone.
    *All reading needs to be excruciatingly easy to understand for all students.

    1. The teacher thinks “the reading is excruciatingly easy to understand for all students.”
      The average student thinks “This is somewhat easy to understand”
      I am trying to shoot for 100% comp, and will always inevitably hit an average closer to 90 or 95%, if I’m lucky.

      1. Jim this is too true, and a HUGE point to make:
        The teacher thinks, “The reading is excruciatingly easy to understand for all students.”
        The average student thinks, “This is somewhat easy to understand.”

  9. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    We did Brandon Brown in 3rd and 4th grade (our elementary program starts in 1st grade – 3x week = 90 minutes total) in the spring and they were in the “somewhat easy” if not “totally easy” category. It felt to me like a total payoff, and much needed break in providing tons of auditory input. We did very little chapter work other than dramatizing the fun parts (the fort, the pee n poop, going in/out the window, sneaking cereal for the dog, etc). Those who finished reading a chapter before others silently answered the comp questions which I left projected onscreen. (Differentiation!!! Ding-ding-ding!!!) We did backwards plan the novel to insure hi-comprehensibility and those tier 2 verbs and connectors. I felt more proud than they did – they were just lovin’ the story (and the break from listening)!!!

    1. …those who finished reading a chapter before others silently answered the comp questions which I left projected onscreen….
      Good idea! It keeps them together while accounting for different reading speeds.

  10. BTW – No accountability for doing the T/F or comprehension questions onscreen – not written – just read the Qs and answer to/for yourself. No ‘extra’ work for finishing ‘early.’

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