By Pu-mei Leng
I usually avoid typing on my phone. In response to an NTPRS 2018 Chinese teacher’s question of how to cultivate students’ interest in reading, I write this blog which has been long overdue.
Winnie’s question is specific to her students with Asian origins, particularly the ones whose families speak one of the dialects. As we all know Asian parents believe in reading for its educational value and effectiveness. Some students would work for grade and read the things will be included in the assessment. We all have them in second language classrooms because reading is one of the language skills they need to develop. We all know how many of them hate reading.
There is enough research out there to show the evidence of how reading enhances the language as a byproduct. Actually, in Dr. Krashen’s Pleasure of Reading, you can find cases of reading may be the only input one needs to produce a good language. I say byproduct because it is often not the purpose of reading. People want to read because they want to find out what is in the book.
In the Chinese classroom, they are conditioned to read books in Chinese because they are the only books available to them. Everything else is FREE. Free reading is a privilege they have only for 10 minutes every class. That is the tone I introduce FVR (free voluntary reading) or SSR (self-selected reading). They are free to choose any book in our library. They can change the book any time if they find the book is not interesting. There is no assessment related to their FVR reading.
For me, the best way to cultivate students’ interest in reading it to provide an environment for them to experience and find out the joy of reading on their own. Therefore, I will only focus on this direction and not to cover how to teach reading. Of course, oftentimes, students may be inspired to read if you teaching reading and the story happen to intrigue them and prompt them to read more.
10 minutes Free Voluntary Reading
Build a Library:
Find books that are written for second language learners, not the children’s book in Chinese unless they are the right level for your students. There are more level-appropriate books written by CI teachers now than a few years ago. We wish all CI teachers can write and publish their own books for all of our students. I emphasize CI teachers because I found many so-called “level-appropriate” readers not written by CI teachers have two issues: a) not enough repetitions for beginners; b) too many new vocabularies to discourage reading flow. They may be good for your highest level students, but not for most of your students.
Terry Waltz has published many books for true beginners. I have all of her books, 2 to 5 sets each; Linda Li has two books; I have published 10 books, 4 for the beginners; I also used Haiyun Lu’s Beibei books as beginners’ readers because we do not use these as a textbook in our high school. The Brendon Brown book translated by Haiyun Lu is a good reader for beginners. You do not need to get enough copies for the whole class, just get a few books for each title. Do not copy the book, not only for the copyright issue but reading a real book has a different effect that cannot be replaced by xeroxed copies. If you use any of these books for teaching, do not include them in your library as FVR readers.
You can use your own or your students’ “books” as a reader as well. Make sure they look like a real book (I created them on the Publisher). They are level-appropriate for sure and there is a joy to read their friends’ creation. Again, do not just copy the stories. Take your time to make a real book format with illustrations or pictures. It has to feel like a real book.
I attended Michelle Kindt’s (A CI French Teacher) session in ACTFL this year. Michelle teaches in a public school so she had to purchase the readers on her own. She tells her students that these books are purchased by her because she thinks it is important for them to read and ask them to take care of the books. I LOVE the message she sent to her students. It shows how much she values reading and their benefit as well as the privilege of reading these books in her classroom.
Display and Label Your Books
If you have room in your classroom, display your books to show the front page. It’s easier for them to pick and it is more “inviting.” When new books are added, students usually notice them immediately.
I use the circular color stickers to show different levels of the books we have. It is easier to put them back in the right place and easier for me to spot if they are reading something, not their level. I do not check them, but if I see someone reads a book too difficult or too easy by the label color, I will suggest they change.
My log sheet is very simple: name on the top with three columns, the date, the title of the book and the page they finished reading. It is for their own convenience to resume reading in the following classes. I only check when I notice someone’s language showed noticeable improvement after reading for a few books. I will convey the message to that student. This is how I usually start and I make sure everyone else hears me: “I noticed that your language improved a lot, especially the structures (vocabulary, whatever you notice). Just out of curiosity, I looked at your reading log sheet. I see you read x books. It works, Don’t you think?”
I know it is a luxury to have a large classroom with a reading area that has a sofa and pillows. But do let them sit the way they feel it is comfortable in reading. My room is not big, but I put desks away and they can use the floor.
Set the Boundary
Here is the rule I put on the whiteboard. You can download from Bryce Hedstrom’s site: https://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/SSR-Reading-Poster.pdf
I usually move that poster in the middle of the whiteboard and said nothing. They get the message.
There are many good tips on Bryce’s site about reading, FVR and teaching reading. Bryce holds his students mildly accountable and has designed many wonderful tools you can find.
You will gain a lot of reading time for yourself. I am in my eighth book this semester just from the 10 minutes I gave each class every class period. More importantly, your modeling makes a big difference. The class will be quiet down immediately and read. I often brag about my reading: “Hi, class, I just finish yet another one!” and I wave the book I just finished.
That’s all I do for my FVR. Note that I do not hold my students accountable.
Last year I attended Mike Peto’s workshop. My takeaway was to have students produce reading trailers. It can be used to promote reading. When I gave the assignment to my students, I decide to have a free run, not providing a rubric, not telling them what I am looking for. I only want them to choose their favorite book among the ones they read and produce a trailer. They watch enough movie trailers to know the function of a trailer. I am curious to see what they will come up with.
I have received a few well-executed trailers from students who are familiar with the trailers; others just do not like those feel too promotional and commercial style and produced a retelling the story of their own style; some are good in the summary and gave me a short version of the book; others are detailed readers who told the whole book with pictures. The trailer let me see how much they got from their reading and what is their favorite book.
With a rubric, you can use this as a project. I just have them do a trailer as a fun project and gain some easy grades. It is my present for the readers. Here is a short one:
Includes book talk in a “Social” Conversation
I will make a conversation, just mentions certain contents in a book and ask if anyone happens to read the book. I will “forget” one or two things for them to tell me and continue the conversation to the class, but more towards the “insiders” who know a little more about what I am talking about. The conversation is usually very short and end up with something like, “we can talk next time, it’s so funny…” This works like a champ, especially to our socially sensitive teens.