Takeaways: Using Novels For the First Time

Edi el elefante and Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro

As I have written about before, I started using novels this year. And I can honestly say that during the first 3 months of 2019, there has been a renewed interest in Spanish class for me and for my students. I haven’t had this much excitement about for Spanish class since the students started learning through TPRS instead of the textbook.

Back in November, 2018, I found the Fluency Matters Booth at ACTFL and bought some novels. I was really excited to use them. I purchased class sets of Brandon Brown Quiere Un Perro and Edi El Elefante. I started by using Brandon Brown with my 6th graders, which I talked about here. A few weeks later, I started reading Edi with my 5th graders.

(Pictures above come from the Fluency Matters website: Brandon Brown, Edi el Elefante)

Final book activities

After we finished the books, we began summative assessments. These came from (or were slightly adapted from) the teacher’s guides that came with each book. These have been extremely helpful because they are filled with comprehension activities, vocabulary lists, scripts for reader’s theater, and lots of other helpful resources.

For Brandon Brown, I had the 6th Graders do 2 summative assessments: First, I divided the class into 10 groups, one for each chapter. They summarized each chapter in Spanish and drew a picture. In past chapters, I had the students choose the most important sentence in the chapter and illustrate it, but for this, they had to write their own sentences in Spanish that incorporated the important parts of the chapter. After completing this, I put the students into groups of 3-4 and they wrote and performed “trailers” for the book, just like trailers for a movie.

For Edi, the students completed the included comprehension activities, specifically the power point activity in which they heard a sentence (read by me) and chose a correct picture from the book. After this, we did a Running Dictation of sentences from different chapters and they had to compete the activity and then put them in the correct order. Finally, they did an individual written retell of the story and we played Freeze Frame with sentences from the whole book.

Successes with teaching novels

Engagement! Students were invested in the story and genuinely wanted to know what happened next. They were disappointed when we had to stop at the end of class!

Comprehension! Students, by and large, understood all the events in each chapter. They were able to read sections on their own and complete reading guides and they were able to follow along while we read as a group.

Challenges with teaching novels

Discussion – How do I get students talking about the chapters in the TL? There are lots of activities for them to do in the teacher’s guides, but I found it difficult to get them to successfully complete the discussion questions in Spanish.

Accountability – What’s the best way to assess their progress? Here’s what I did: I had the students set up a section of their notebooks for our novel. After each chapter, I had them write summaries (6th grade wrote in Spanish, 5th grade could choose English or Spanish because they have had less practice with writing). Then I would ask for volunteers to read their summaries and we would discuss all the details they mentioned/missed and I would ask questions about important facts from the chapter that the summaries seemed to miss so that the kids knew they were important.

The other thing I did was to use the chapter quizzes of the chapter we just finished as reviews before starting a new chapter. In the teachers’ guides, there were lots of resources to use for this, but I mainly used the matching and/or multiple choice activities. The students were confident in these kinds of interpretive activities, but not as much in the presentational activities (like writing answers to the questions in Spanish).

These types of evaluations were ok, but they didn’t show much more than that the students understood what they were reading. While I am very excited that they were able to understand everything, I feel like they could do a lot more, especially with their speaking, with the right kind of scaffolding and pre-teaching.

How would I do it differently?

My 7th and 8th Graders are finishing their final exam projects (they have to be done early so that they can be sent off before the end of the school year). With a little over a month left of school after the due date (13-14 class days), I was a little nervous about what I could do with the students, but then I remembered Brandon Brown! The students will end the year strong and confident because they will have read an entire novel in the TL!

I will use this opportunity to experiment with more silent reading for the students. With my 5th and 6th graders, I read the whole thing aloud with them and asked questions as we went (and they read along in their own books). I found this successful and engaging for the students and most seemed to like it, so I won’t throw it out completely, but I will definitely have students read certain chapters on their own. My plan is to use resources inspired by Jon Cowart’s Weekly Packet and/or Maris Hawkins’ Reading Guides. This will give the students more ownership over their comprehension of the story. As an assessment and will help make sure that they are keeping up with the story as they read on their own.

Rough draft of what each chapter sheet may look like: Subject to change!

Next year, my plan is to incorporate reading novels more deeply into the curriculum. This year was a year of experimenting. Next year, the curriculum for middle school will be based around TPRS, Non-targeted input (post coming soon!), News Articles, and Novels. This new curriculum framework will incorporate more direct instruction on reading strategies and include time for FVR (this will be a challenge due to the time constraints of the Spanish schedule, but it is important to find the time–There will be a post on that coming soon, too!).

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