Over the last three weeks students in my Spanish I classes have been reading self-selected novellas a couple of days a week in class. They chose the books themselves and self-differentiated based on their reading ability and interests. Even though students self-select reading material in my class all of the time, enforcing the idea of choosing something based on comprehensibility and interest is a continual challenge because the idea of reading what you want seems odd for students in school. To support the idea of “comprehensible and interesting” I almost daily highlight the poster I made and posted above the classroom library the back of the room:

“You all have different interests and abilities, so you should be reading different books.”

The assignment was to read a novel of 6,000 or more words. They could also read two or three shorter novels totaling 6,000 words. The 6,000 word level was based on the length of Pobre Ana, which they had already read as a class. The volume of words idea being based on comments by Beniko Mason about studies of ELL’s in Japan whose English acquisition level was reliably predicted by the number of words they had read—although at this point my US high school level I students are reading far less than her Japanese students. The only criteria for choosing a novel were that the books be interesting and compressible. Students also wrote an occasional DUAL ENTRY JOURNAL (summary of page on one side and their reactions, comments or questions on the other side) to demonstrate that they understood what they were reading.

Almost all of them were proud of their ability and could see how they had grown since the last time we had done this. Here are the books that Spanish I students selected and read:

  • Pobre Ana bailó tango

This is labeled as a level 1 novel, but it is in the past tense and for many of my students it is a level 2 book. The students that read this one said they liked the tango because of Dancing with the Stars. Some of my level 2 students are reading this on their own now to help them acquire aspects of the past tenses more completely, but level I students motivated by prior knowledge and interest could read it.

  • El viaje de su vida

This is also labeled a level 1 novel, but I have often begun Spanish 2 courses reading this one with a class. It is a mystery and the students genuinely enjoyed and understood it. The student that read it is solid, but not a super-star, he had been to Chichén Itzá (a location in the book) and thought it was interesting.

  • Rebeldes de Tejas

This is a level 2 book that I doubted these students could read. They just sneered and said, “We like the Alamo, señor.” Based on their journals and report, they got read understood the book.  When I asked one student how he could understand the past tense when we hadn’t used it much, he said, “The words are basically the same, just the endings are different and if I couldn’t figure out a word, I just looked it up.”

  • Tumba

Many students chose this book because they had learned about Day of the Dead from the La Llorona embedded reading last semester. This book was shorter so they also had to read another short novel to complete the assignment.

  • Patricia va a California

We are scheduled to begin reading this book as a class in a couple of weeks. the students that have already read it can choose another book or join in and read it again with the extra enrichment provided. I have spent some time in Guatemala and I talk about it a lot in class, so students were primed to read a book about a girl from that country.

  • Casi se muere

We are supposed to read this book in level 1 as a class in May. Five students read this book on their own and they got most of it. I have the older edition without the glossary in the back, so they had to guess at many of the words and the sudden burst of new vocabulary in chapter 4 confused a couple of them for a while, but they took Dr. Krashen’s advice and simply ignored the words they did not know. Seemed to work.

  • Pobre Ana

Several students chose this book. We had already read it as a class, but some students chose to read it again, which is OK. There are several possibilities here: 1) They liked the book and sincerely wanted to read it again, 2) They lacked confidence and chose something they know they could understand, or 3) They were being lazy and wanted something they could read without too much effort. Regardless of the motivation, they were reading, as was evidenced by observation and writing in their Dual Entry Journals.

  • Agentes secretos y el mural de Picasso
  • Amigos detectives

Although labeled as level 1/C2, this book was harder for my students to read than Casi se muere, possibly due to vocabulary that we have not covered. The ones that read it liked the mystery aspect and the combining of art and science in it.

  • Piratas

Several students chose this book and it seems about right for independent reading at this time in level 1.

  • Rival

I mention the Reconquest of Spain from time to time and some students wanted to read a story with that in it, I suppose.

  • Isabela captura un congo

The girl that chose this book is one of the most fluent and serious students in her class. Based on the detail and reflection her journals, I believe she chose this book based on interest, which is what the assignment was. She also read Tumba.

  • El primer trabajo de Roberto
  • ¡Viva el toro!

I would not have believed that non-native level I students could read this book, but they surprise me all the time. When we turn them loose there is no telling what they can do.