Thus, thanks to an email I received at 11pm last night, I am revising my instructional practices yet again. I think my students are getting to know the drill now... "Don't believe anything that Profa says for too long because she's probably going to change her mind. But, it's all because she loves us and cares that we're happy and learning." I sincerely hope they're getting that second part - they haven't revolted against me yet, so I think they are. Last time I made a major adjustment, I told them I could wait until next year to make the changes, but I really, really didn't want to waste their time this year. And I don't have to. So why should I?
I know reading is important for language learning. However, it's not always easy to transfer that knowledge into action. I started the year by doing in-class reading of our class stories. Sometimes there were activities we did to get kids engaged. Other times, they just read and translated individually, as pairs, or chorally. I didn't assign much homework, but I did offer reading as extra credit at 1/4 point per page read. I figured that students who were earning lots of extra credit would already have A's anyway, so the only significant difference it would make would be in their learning - which is exactly the difference we want to make. I figured correctly.
Then, in October, I listened to a presentation from Dr. Beniko Mason about Story Listening and Free Voluntary Reading, or FVR. At that point, the Story Listening didn't stick, but I did come away with a mission to get my kids reading. I assigned 30 minutes of reading per week and made a variety of resources available to my kids of all different levels, subject matters, and formats. It wasn't voluntary, but students were free to read what they wanted and they only had to submit a form that told me what they read during that time (completed in English).
But... it still isn't good enough. Sure, I can compel them to read through assigning and grading it. And sure, it's helping students learn. But, is this the most effective way? And, is it possible that it might actually be doing harm for some students? According to research, the answers to these questions are no and yes, respectively (Cho, 2016).
The most effective way for students to learn from reading is for it to truly be voluntary and motivated intrinsically. Psychology research backs this up - external motivation (in this case, assignments and grades) actually decreases enjoyment and motivation for an activity. Even worse, it can create resistance to an activity that might have otherwise been enjoyed. Think about something you enjoy doing simply because it's pleasurable to you - what would happen if you were required to do it? Chances are that you might enjoy it for a while, but eventually the joy is likely to get sucked out of the activity. Personally, I've experienced this in a number of areas. For example, horseback riding is a genuine passion of mine. However, running a horse-related business made my passion feel like a job (because it was) and I eventually only did the things I had to because I had to, and I stopped doing the things I actually enjoyed doing. They were no longer enjoyable. They were a chore. Once I separated horses from anything work-related, my passion returned. I still have to be careful about taking lessons - as soon as I feel like I have "homework" to work on with my horse, it's very hard to find motivation to ride my horse at all. I venture to guess that pleasure is sucked from activities even faster when people only start doing them because they have to, not because they want to. Eventually, we may even be harming kids by building up frustration and resentment for reading that they feel they have to do, but don't actually want to do and don't find meaning and pleasure through the reading. Perhaps the information isn't interesting? Perhaps it is difficult? Perhaps the students just don't see reading as meaningful and necessary for them, so it's a waste of time? In any of these circumstances, forcing students to read might ruin any chances we have at getting them to ever enjoy reading and any gains we might get by are likely reduced.
(Side note: Whatever happened to reading in L1? When I subbed, I often walked into elementary classes where students LOVED reading and did so for fun all of the time. They couldn't wait to go get their book and jump back in. Then, I walked into a high school English class where the teacher asked students about attitudes about reading, and the majority of them hated it. As college students, you'll see lots of reading happening, but hardly any of it is for pleasure. Finally, as adults, very few of us read voluntarily. I would venture to guess that sometime in late elementary school and middle school, children hit a critical point where they are forced to read so much that they simply begin to hate reading - even worse, they're forced to read things they often do not care about, enjoy, or even understand. That effect increases into adulthood until we've managed to stomp the love of reading books for pleasure out of all but the most determined bibliophiles. Even I, a product of the Harry Potter Generation, rarely read for fun. Sure, I voluntarily read books related to my profession, but it's often because I pressure myself to be the best educator I can possibly be and sometimes I just ache for a book that I enjoy and love. However, I'm simply tired of reading - so I don't. This is ironic because I'm the kid who got grounded from books so that I would get up and take care of the things I needed to do, like eat.)
Anyway, back to my original statement: I am a person of action. That means, with this new knowledge that what I am doing is not the best thing for my kids, I need to change it. My goal is to get students reading, and Drs. Cho and Krashen just published an article with five hypotheses addressing the question, "What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit?" (2016). They hypothesize that students will develop a habit of long-term pleasure reading (my goal!) when the following conditions are met:
- Something stimulates the start of a pleasure reading habit. This could be a class, learning about the power of reading, or reading a "home run" book (Trelease, 2001) that stimulates more reading.
- Students have plenty of access to books.
- Students have a time and place to read regularly.
- Students are able to self-select reading material according to interest and difficulty. Moreover, they are free to read narrowly, sticking to certain authors or topics.
- There should be no tests, exercises, or rewards related to reading. Not only are they unhelpful, but they inhibit students' desire/ability to read for pleasure.
So, here is the new FVR program within the context of an overall curriculum, which will begin tomorrow:
- Setting students up for success for when they begin reading:
- Core instruction will come from auditory input, usually in the form of Story Listening. However, other activities may be used in order to provide some variety for students, such as music, creating stories together, PQA, etc.
- Providing the stimulus, access, time, place, and opportunities to self-select:
- I will continue to educate students on the power of reading as well as build our class library, both hard-copy and online. Students will also be invited to find their own reading materials that interest them. Instead of doing whole-class readings of our stories, students will engage in free reading (in L2) during class time (length of time TBD). They can read whatever they choose at whatever pace they choose (the class stories will be made available). As they read, I will monitor and make myself available as a resource for students, helping them find books that they enjoy and that are at an appropriate level for them, answering questions, and helping them comprehend.
- I had originally thought about having them discuss what they read with another student after they read. However, this takes away from the intrinsic motivation and enjoyment as students are felt they must be "accountable" in some way for their reading. Plus, they may not be comfortable sharing with another student for a variety of reasons, and this would again decrease the pleasure they derive from the reading in the first place.
- No tests, exercises, or rewards:
- There will be no homework.
- In-class reading grades will be based on on-task student behavior during the free reading time. I'm thinking about making a self-evaluation checklist for students to complete and turn in. Of course, I might decide that no grades at all should be attached. But, since I have to give grades for something, maybe I can play this up as the easiest grade they'll ever earn?
- I will, however, continue to encourage students to read outside of class and give students extra credit for extra voluntary reading since I set that as a standard and don't want to "take away" that opportunity. In reality, no one in my class really cares about extra credit (the students doing it already have excellent grades and grading is so easy in my class students don't need it) so it's fairly intrinsic anyway.
- I am eliminating make-up work. If students are gone, they're gone. They'll catch up next time. But, I'll encourage them to read if they really want to make up for missed learning time.
Yet again, I have renewed energy to walk into my classroom tomorrow. I cannot wait to see my students learn and grow into Spanish-reading bibliophiles, hopefully or life!
Cho, K. S. & Krashen, S. (2016). What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit? Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 1(1), 1–9.