For the first time in my nine years of teaching, I am teaching units centered on leveled readers. Much of this is going to sound like a commercial, but it is honestly just pure excitement. Listen up: I have taught AP Spanish for six years, and I have always turned up my nose at the non-authentic resources. I am by NO means a bandwagon-rider when it comes to these books. I dipped my toes in at the beginning of this year by using TPRSpublishing, Blaine Ray, Mira Canion, and Fluency Fast novels in my classroom for free voluntary reading (but really, how voluntary is it?); but never before had I built an entire unit around one of the books.
I must say, I am asking myself, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?!”
Right now I have Spanish 1 reading Felipe Alou, desde los valles a las montañas by Carol Gaab (I will be moving this up to Spanish 2 next year); Pre-AP Spanish 2 reading Robo en la Noche by Kristy Placido; Pre-AP Spanish 3 reading Esperanza by Carol Gaab(I’ll be moving this down to Spanish 2 next year– they’ll be having all of the fun!); and Vida and Muerte en la MaraSalvatrucha (by: anonymous) in Spanish for Native Speakers 2. We were reading Ciudad de las Bestias by Isabel Allende, but their grades were tanking, and they were completely disengaged because, yes, it was too hard for my bright nilingüismo estudiantes. So we switched! The goal is to learn, right? Last semester my intern did La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie Baker with Pre-AP Spanish 3– they loved it. And I’ll be honest, I “taught” La Hija del Sastre by Carrie Toth to my AP group. I did a terrible job. I’m very excited to try again next year!
Let me tell you what I love about teaching with these novels.
1. Believe it or not, these little novels, or “readers,” if you prefer, are chock-full of products, practices, and perspectives. The opportunities for comparisons are seemingly endless. This opens the door for many hits on national standards, as well as Common Core state standards.
2. With all of this culture, you have a great platform for bringing in #authres (authentic resources) to the lessons. In case you haven’t heard or just aren’t on board with #authres, it really is so imperative to expose students to the language in the way that it exists in the real world. I recently heard someone liken using a textbook to handing a student a travel brochure and saying, “now, wasn’t that a great vacation?” (I believe this was someone on Twitter…please help me cite the source if you remember!). Well, I see authentic resources in the very same way. The sheltered language that we produce for our learners is too much babying. We have to expose them to the real stuff in order for them to a) want to continue to learn and b) be able to succeed when they meet an unsympathetic native speaker.
3. With authentic resources, you must have scaffolding…lots and lots of scaffolding! Guess what has lots and lots of scaffolding already done for you?! That’s right, these leveled novels. The scaffolding happens mostly through the repetition of words and key structures. They also scaffold in that they introduce products, practices, and perspectives in a way that connects to a character in whom the student is invested emotionally. How do you make learning stick? Make it meaningful. That’s exactly what these novels do.
4. For all those trying to marry grammar instruction with TCI or TPRS, these novels give you the perfect opportunity for pop-up grammar. Many of them repeat structures, allowing for multiple opportunities to review those structures and apply them in interpersonal situations and in writing. For example, Esperanza uses the structure quiere/quiero que + present subjuntive many times in multiple chapters. My students are finally incorporating this structure into their daily charlas!
5. This is the most important benefit, for me, at least:
I’m just not good enough at this point, and with FIVE preps I don’t have enough time to package all of the above things into small, efficient little packages the way that the novels (especially in combination with the teacher’s guides) do. In using these books as the foundation for my units, I am left with the main task of scaffolding–that is, in addition to the scaffolding provided by the book. Scaffolding is something that really only I can truly do, anyway, because only I know my students, their backgrounds, their prior knowledge, their strengths, and their struggles. In my opinion, scaffolding is where we teachers should focus our efforts, because that’s where the real learning takes place (Vygotsky, anyone?).
I have purchased two teacher’s guides on my own and they are A-MA-ZING. Totally awesome. I cannot afford all of them, though! So, for the rest, I have prepared some activities, but I have relied heavily on Sharon Birch, Martina Bex, Carrie Toth, Kristy Placido, and Profe Hanson. Just call me your friendly neighborhood thief (ahem, did I mention I have FIVE preps?). If you are interested in collaborating on support materials, tweet me! @ProfeCochran
ps I would love to have your opinion and ideas on books to use in the 2nd language classroom! Here are my thoughts for next year:
In Pre-AP Spanish 2, I am going to start the year with Esperanza, then we will read Rebeldes de Tejas by Mira Canion close to the end of the 1st semester, Felipe Alou beginning in February, and Robo en la Nochein the spring.
In Pre-AP Spanish 3, we will read La Llorona de Mazatlán in the fall and Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha in the spring.
Pre-AP Spanish for Native Speakers 1 and 2 are combined classes that have a rotating curriculum. I’ll be using the same novels that Pre-AP Spanish 2 and Pre-AP Spanish 3 use with the SNS classes.