Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reading Flow in the CI/TPRS Classroom

I'm currently reading Kelly Gallagher's book Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do. At NTPRS this summer, at his presentation, Bryce Hedestrom suggested that we as CI/TPRS teachers read this book, and I am certainly glad that I am. In this book, Gallagher argues that the reason why students are no longer reading for pleasure is because schools are committing readicide, which he defines as
the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in school.
One of the biggest problems which Gallagher sees is that when reading, students are no longer able to experience reading flow:
Nancy Atwell, in The Reading Zone, describes [reading flow] “as that place where young readers have to come up for air"...many of my students have no idea what it means to come up for air when reading...[compared to viewing a movie] many have never experienced the utter thrill of becoming lost in a book. They have never experienced reading flow.
In his opening chapters, Gallagher lists several reasons which contribute to the obstruction of reading flow:
  • an over-dissection of a text by trying to cover too many standards in one text. Rather, he argues that a teacher should spread the standards over a number of texts, as some standards align better with certain texts than others.
  • schools valuing the development of test-taking more than the development of reading itself
  • trying to cover too much material, which results in shallow coverage of texts (wow, it is almost as if Gallagher saw the AP Latin syllabus when he wrote this book!)
  • little attention paid to pleasure reading, regardless of what it is
  • annotating a text to death with sticky notes and journals
As I read this book, I can see all of this unfolding before my own eyes with my students in their language arts classes.

The same principles can be applied to the world language class. Now while I do not expect to see my Latin 1 students so caught up in a reading that they forget where they are nor will I ever have them sticky-note a story to death, there are many obstacles which can disrupt a student's reading flow in a world language classroom:
  • too much unfamiliar/un-acquired vocabulary in a reading. Instead of simply reading, the task ends up being a dictionary hunt. More time is spent in looking up words than actually reading. The reading ends up being a stop-and-go process. I have heard it said that if there are more than five unknown words to a student in a reading, then the reading is too difficult. 
  • the reading itself is not comprehensible enough, i.e. the reading is too difficult and is beyond students' ability. As a result, frustration ensues.
  • the reading itself is not compelling. While the reading may be comprehensible, the subject matter itself is uninteresting. Though students may be able to read and to understand a reading about Liechtenstein, most students may not find a connection to the reading. Noted CI/TPRS presenter Carol Gaab says, "Compelling Input is just as important as Comprehensible Input."
  • the reading is too long. Just the length itself can cause students to have a pre-meditated conception that they are not going to enjoy the reading. 
Laurie Clarcq, one of the developers of Embedded Readings, says it best in her opening quote of her presentations (Laurie, thanks for giving me permission to use this quote!):
The purpose of language used in communication is to put a picture in the heart and/or mind of another person.
When reading flow is disrupted, that picture formation in the minds of students is also disrupted. When having students read, our goal as CI teachers should be an uninterrupted picture forming and constantly re-forming in their minds as more details from the reading are added.

How guilty I am of disrupting reading flow in my classroom over the years. Quite honestly, I do not think I ever thought of reading as something distinct from translating/decoding. In my opinion, they were the same concept; they are in fact two different skills.

So how can we CI/TPRS teachers produce reading flow for our students when they read? Here are a few strategies:

  • do not jump into a reading right away. Students need to be prepped before they begin a reading, so do some pre-reading activities first. Do not use the first reading of a text as a way to teach new vocabulary and structures. Too much is going on for students at the same time if you do that.
  • preview unfamiliar vocabulary/language structures first before reading. This can be achieved through TPR, asking a TPRS story, telling the actual story aloud first and acting it out, while having the new forms/vocabulary on the board so that students see/hear them first, a dication, etc. 
  • create some embedded readings of the text for students. If a text seems rather long and complex, give it to students in bite-sized chunks. In reading and re-reading scaffolded embedded versions of the text, reading flow is achieved, because students are already familiar with the vocabulary and can activate background knowledge in anticipating the plot.
  • create your own readings for students. Just because the textbook has readings/stories does not mean that they are good for students. Many textbook readings are overloaded with way too much vocabulary/structures too quickly. If you limit vocabulary/structures and you use the right words, you can create both a comprehensible and compelling story with just 15 distinct words. 
  • do post-reading activities - I think that post-reading activities of a text is where the "magic" happens, as students interact with the reading in different ways and are "forced" to re-read it again multiple times. Examples of post-reading activities are read and draw, Readers Theater, cloze sentences, parallel universe, Mindreader, possible/probable questions and embedded writings. Post-reading activities are great ways to transition to a more complex embedded reading. Many of these activities I will discuss in later postings.
  • have students re-read the story/text on their own - I will address this in a later posting.
I hate the fact that we as a Latin community do not have the CI/TPRS novels which the other languages have. Hopefully, that will change soon as the CI/TPRS Latin community grows! 

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