What I’ve learned reading 20 student novels

Lots of reading over the summer break

This summer was spent on a hiatus from the blog and (mostly) from thinking about school. And while I didn’t really think a lot about school, I did take a chunk of my summer break to pre-read the readers in my classroom FVR Library.

Before the summer, I wrote about starting an FVR program. Thanks to Mike Peto’s book, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom, I have been inspired to start a program that get kids acquiring language through reading for pleasure (I will have a lot more to say about this as the year goes on!).

I spent a lot of time this summer reading each of the readers that I was able to purchase for my class. There are 20 different titles by several different authors. I liked all of them and loved a few and I know my students will feel the same way. I am hoping that between these books, stories created from OWI characters and madlib stories, and articles from Mundo en Tus Manons and Newsela will all provide enough varied content that all the students will be engaged with reading in Spanish.

My takeaway from reading so many CI novels

While I was reading the books for myself, I had one of my trademark epiphanies that I share so often here: Stories don’t have to be silly. I spend most of my time trying to have fun with my class: telling TPRS stories that venture into silliness, creating ridiculous characters through OWI and MadLib story activities, and generally acting in a preposterous way to keep the kids’ attention.

But that’s not the only way to reach the students and keep their attention. It’s always fun to be fun, but it can be worthwhile to be serious and talk about more serious topics.

El escape cubano and Fiesta Fatal by Mira Canion and La llorona de Mazatlán by Katie Baker all showed me that engaging CI stories don’t need to include ridiculous humor. The stories these books tell are not silly; they’re serious, they’re emotional, and they’re suspenseful. Humor is a great tool for engagement, but it’s not the only one. Part of what keeps me restless in my search for new things to do is the need to keep students engaged-they only see me 2 days a week and if any of that time is wasted because they are not interested in what I’m talking about, then there’s no point for them to be in the class in the first place.

I see it as my responsibility to not waste their time with boring or unnecessary or uninteresting input. As a teacher, the biggest lesson I have learned by trying to put together an FVR library is that there are so many more stories to tell than the ones my improvisational teaching style falls back on.

Even if nothing else about the FVR program works, this journey will have been worth it because of the lesson I’ve learned about engagement.

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