Students in my Spanish 3 classes are required to select and read a book every two weeks. The only criteria are that the book be interesting and comprehensible to them. After reading they write a reaction, usually in the form of a Light Reading Book Report ( http://www.brycehedstrom.com/…/LIGHT-READING-BOOK-REPORTS3.… ). This week the contrast between two students in one class could not have been greater. I will explain below, but first these questions:
• How could two novels with extremely different reading levels both be the right books for two students in the same class?
• Could a teacher justify giving both students full credit for reading such different books?
• How do we convince students that easy reading is OK, that they are acquiring language even if they do not feel like it?
One student chose a book that appeared to be too hard for free voluntary reading even in level 4, a book that I might ordinarily read with a class in a level 4 class because the reading level and content might be too challenging for the average student. It seemed too much.
The other Spanish 3 student chose a book that was labeled as a level 1 book, a book that some of my Spanish 1 students have read on their own already this year. It seemed too easy.
Both of these students were non-native students that are relatively new to extensive reading in Spanish, both having come from programs were they read very little on their own in previous Spanish 1 and 2 classes.
How could two bright students that are both doing well in the class choose two novels with such different reading levels and both have chosen the right book?
They wrote about their reading experiences in Spanish. Here are translations of their reading reactions and my comments:
#1 En busca del monstruo by Pablo Ortega López and Patricia Verano
“I liked this book more than the other books that I read for my Spanish class. It was more difficult and more interesting. I liked it because it had a lot of surprises. It was a book of adventure and romance and mystery. I also liked it because I learned a lot of words in Spanish like: apuestas, fogata, averiguar, equipaje, jamás, digno and many more words. Moreover, I liked the protagonist, Sarah Sheffield. She is an adventurer with a lot of persistence. She never gave up on her dream of going to Patagonia in Argentina and looking for Nahuelito like her great grandfather Martin Sheffield. My favorite things about En busca del mostruo are the plots twists in the story. The best part, in my opinion, was when David tried to kiss Sarah but a boy hit him on the head with a soccer ball by accident. The only thing that I didn’t like about the book was that the book is very sappy. I think that the story of En busca del monstruo is like sappy Hallmark movies.”
My Comments: A fiercely intelligent but quiet girl chose this book labeled level 4 for free reading this week. She said that she wanted to read it because it seemed interesting. The criteria for this light reading assignment were that the book be interesting and comprehensible. This student obviously understood the book and she said that she liked it. The reading level was higher than anything she had read before but the story and the setting captured her imagination and she enjoyed the book.
#2 Casi se muere by Blaine Ray
“This was an easy book to read. The story in the book was good. It was entertaining and interesting when the girl returned to Chile and she learned a lot about it. This part of the book was more interesting because we begin to learn about another culture. I also liked that the characters in this book wrote letters to one another. The letters showed a different point of view for the other characters. This book did not use a big variety of vocabulary. The content of this book was not hard to understand. I haven’t gotten anything from this book that might help me to improve as a student. This book was fun to read, but I didn’t learn much.”
My Comments: This novel may seem too easy for a Spanish 3 student, but the clues that it was a winning choice for this type of light reading assignment were the phrases, “This book was not hard to understand” and “This book was fun to read, but I didn’t learn much.” I believe the student’s comments line up with Dr. Stephen Krashen’s thinking on free voluntary reading. Regarding easy reading Krashen has said (private correspondence):
“I think we don’t do nearly enough ‘very easy’ reading. It may look easy and seem easy to understand, but there is lots of acquisition going on. More complete acquisition of word meanings, grammatical properties of words…. I suspect that lots of i+1 moves into i with lots of easy reading. My impression is that we feel the urge to include too much ‘new stuff’ all the time in reading, forcing it in.”
Even though Student #2 seemed disappointed in her choice, writing this phrase at the end of her reaction, “I haven’t gotten anything from this book that might help me to improve as a student,” I believe she was on the right track for long term language acquisition and I applauded her choice.