Some of my Spanish III students are upset about their Light Reading assignments (available on the Free Stuff page of this website at: http://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/LIGHT-READING-BOOK-REPORTS.pdf). It seems to me that their objections go to the core of the Acquisition/Learning issue, so I want to address them carefully. The biggest problem seems to be that students think they should be reading hard stuff, but they don’t–the assignment is to read a novel in Spanish (pretty much any novel) that is understandable and appealing to them.
All students in Spanish III classes are required to choose one novel to read outside of class every month. The novel must be in Spanish and they need to discuss their choices with me, but those are about the only parameters. I repeat over and over that they can pick what they want, but it needs to be both interesting and comprehensible to them. Most students are doing well with the reading–they are enjoying the freedom of reading novels of their own choosing. But now that they see that the grade for this assignment is an important factor in their overall grade, some students are beginning to voice their concerns more forcefully. Here are some comments:
“I need to have things spelled out like teacher X does, not just read.”
“I learn better with conjugation charts and vocabulary lists that I can just memorize.”
”I can’t understand anything that I read in Spanish on my own.”
“I don’t like ANY of the books you have in your classroom, señor.”
Convincing these students is going to be a challenge. I want them to willingly get into reading in Spanish and enjoy it, but I fear that they may have be deeply infected with the ”school boy virus.” This is the infection that is spread by causal contact with repeated high stakes tests to students whose immune systems have been compromised by teachers that teach just the facts. These student victims have been convinced that school is about short term memorization for tests. To the infected, education has become a veneer of paint rather than substance; formulas and lists rather than understanding. ”Is this going to be on the test?” is their battle call.
Here are the short answers that I have come up with so far, but I think I am going to need better ones to really convince the skeptics:
OBJECTION #1: “I need to have things spelled out like teacher X does, not just read.”
I say: “We aren’t only reading in this class, and you know that. Yes, this Light Reading assignment is a part of the class, but you know that we do a lot of talking and listening in here. When we do Academic Reading we take our time; we talk about it and we relate it to both our lives and the world at large. You are reading for meaning here. You are reading for the enjoyment of a good story for this assignment.”
OBJECTION #2: “I learn better with conjugation charts and vocabulary lists that I can just memorize.”
I say: “We don’t do that here because those things mainly just help students to pass grammar and vocabulary tests. Our goal is a bit different. We want you to be able to speak and understand the language and that happens by listening and reading in Spanish”
OBJECTION #3: ”I can’t understand anything that I read in Spanish on my own.”
This is a big one, but it may be the easiest objection to solve.
I say: “I bet you are choosing materials that are above your light reading level right now.”
This is important to address because it strikes at the pride of high achieving kids. They are accustomed to being advanced, so they keep choosing books that are too much for them. They are choosing books that they think they should be reading, not books that they can read and that they actually like. When they have to go down the food chain and pick books that are labeled level II or level I, they feel dumb.
I say: ”This is Light Reading. It is reading that you can do on your own and feel good about. It is not reading for content or memorization. It is reading for pleasure, and that kind of reading is different. You have to pick something that you can read and that you like. Don’t sweat the level because you can pick up language from almost any level of material as long as you actually read it with the intent to understand. Let me help you find a book that will work for you.”
OBJECTION #4: “I don’t like ANY of the books you have in your classroom, señor.”
Some students claim that they have read many of the available novels in previous classes, so they don’t want to read them again.
I tell them: ”You are not limited to the books in our classroom. As I have pointed out often, the school library, our public library and the libraries in larger nearby towns are also good options. If you like, you can also buy a book at the big chain book store in the nearby shopping center or online at Amazon.com or other online sources.”