21 August 2014

ExploraTextos: 4 Ways to Fix SSR

I have over 100 awesome books in Spanish to share with my students, but SSR was going over like a lead balloon. Students should be excited to paw through real live authentic magazines and picture books, but instead, they were dreading raising the weekly 5 minutes to 10. They weren't enjoying it, and they weren't really learning anything either. They held their noses and forced it down.

There's no reason for me to keep doing something like that in my class! I mean, yeah, I have all of those books, but my time and theirs could be better spent.

So I looked at what was preventing free reading time from being the special treat it's always been for me, and I reworked "Sustained Silent Reading" into something friendlier and more fun. So when I wheel my little mobile library into the room, they have something closer to Free Voluntary Reading, but even "reading" is not all I wanted them to do. I'm calling it ExploraTextos.

I envy Sra. Toth's Free Voluntary Reading area and Sra. Placido's crafty rain gutter shelves, but alas, beanbags are not welcome in college classrooms. My classroom has to be ready for college takeover any evening of the week, and I don't see myself hauling armfuls of beanbag around even once a week to make that happen. I couldn't make my kids truly comfy, I figured if I could just spread out my little cart library so kiddos could really browse and find something they wanted.

I put the question to Twitter, and I got a lot of good ideas. In the end, I was swayed by the intrepid Srta. Johnson (though my baskets are plastic).

I also took Sra. Placido's advice and basically had kids "grab a whole armful of books so they can cast one aside if it is not interesting to them" by having one person from each four-person table select a basket with 10 or so books, thus reducing the circling vulture effect around my poor little carrito.

Informed Choices
The baskets are not divided by reading level, but rather by genre:  biografía, literatura infantil, traducciones, poesía, cultura, novelas, revistas.So students can pick baskets by the genre that interests them (though I do steer non-native speakers away from novelas--Harry Potter in tradducciones, yes, but not the Arturo Perez-Reverte). It's nice because almost all of the baskets include bilingual books for less confident readers, too. 

Plus I know they've all already had a chance to peruse and start choosing, because they did "shelfies" on day one and picked out 5 things they thought they'd like to read. They snapped pictures with the iPads and emailed them to me. Then I twisted them to my own evil purposes and made signs to help the young ones navigate the bibliobaskets.

I always told kids to pick up 2 or 3 books to take back to their desks, but I found the stragglers--who were often the hardest to please--almost never got anything that struck their fancy, even with a couple of options within arm's reach. Having a whole basket per table helps a lot in making sure that everyone has something to strike their fancy, and it also gives them more freedom to put down something that's not to their liking and try something else,without having to get up and wander across the room to pore over the cart offerings. All they had to do was make sure they wrote down the title of what they were reading and jot a quick note about what they liked and what they didn't before they picked up the next one.

Another freedom they enjoy--perhaps too much--is that SSR is no longer silent either. They  may discuss what they're exploring with classmates quietly. They asked each other what things meant, clarified things, read aloud to each other, made up their own stories from the pictures and words they could pick out. They engaged with the texts!

Cultural Emphasis
Before we began today, we discussed the 3 P's of culture (products, practices, perspectives) and related them to our coro from this week. They got that "Vivir mi vida" and the video were the products, that dancing was definitely a practice in Puerto Rican/Nuyorican culture, and that this product emphasized an optimistic perspective. So I told them I wanted them to engage with the books and magazines as cultural products, as ways to gather insight into practices (what people do/like to do/don't like to do) and perspectives. So at the end, after the timer beeped, they reflected on what they noticed about products, practices, and/or perspectives based on the texts they explored. I'd eventually like to have them add some vocabulary they picked up, but I'd like them to get a little more comfortable analyzing culture first.

Now, I've just tried the ExploraTextos systems the one day so far, in two classes, but if excitement about interacting with my little library is what I was after, I can at least say I'm on the right track!

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