17 July 2017

Why I Won't Teach Novels in Spanish

Let me be clear: I am a Spanglish teacher. I went into this game an English teacher, and novels have been the basis for my approach to instruction for a goodly portion of my career. It took me a while to come around to the idea of using novels in my Spanish classroom for two main reasons:

  1. I had an "authenticity" hangup.
  2. I have a PBL hangup.
I like to think the PBL thing is more than a hangup, though. Really it's more of a paradigm shift--one that both complements and challenges my proficiency/communication shift. But the upshot is that I understand the goals and means of schooling and learning differently now. My ultimate goal is no longer to have a little fun poking around in the perspectives and opinions of the adolescent minds that get stuck with me (now for three years thanks to my Spanglish skills MWAHAHAHA!) I really did get into the game to entertain and inform myself, so I could keep learning a la Mr. Bancroft in my 11th grade American Lit class. At some point, though, I grew up.

Oh, I still have fun with kids' perspectives and opinions. I make an effort to actively respect them rather than just collect them now, too. But my ultimate goal now is more about outcomes based, more about what specifically they leave with. I want them to have something to show, something concrete they can display and explain as an embodiment of their learning.

I wholeheartedly believe this is possible--and beneficial--to do with novels, both in English and Spanish classes. I've seen it done (at least from afar) from the likes of second language superhero Carrie Toth.

The reason I won't be following in their footsteps? Two main reasons:
  1. I can't, and 
  2. I'm not ready.
This might be the part where I get to say, "Gotcha!" I do like a sensational title now and then. Notice I didn't say "Why I won't be teaching novels in Spanish EVER"--and if I were really honest, I would have added "this fall." I fully intend to figure this thing out, maybe even in time for Spanish 2 in the spring (those are the kids who were all into Agentes Secretos after all, and my whole festival-centered Spanish 2 curriculum did kind of fall through completely last year). 

But this year, I am taking time to re-invent the wheel.

Look, I know that's the first thing they tell you not to do in teacher training, but I have to. I was talking with my amiga who's taking over the online gig from me this year, and she was careful to express how much she liked my ideas, and that she was definitely going to use some. And I knew exactly where she was coming from.

I LOVE the way #langchat amigos CONSTANTLY inspire me. Arianne Dowd is a freaking genius (though I am 100% confident she would try to say otherwise), and I plan to revisit her blog regularly as I plot Spanish 2. But I cannot be Arianne any more than I could be Sara-Elizabeth six years ago.

I have to understand what I'm going to do from the bottom up, and I can't do that by cribbing someone else's strategies. I can weave them in where they make sense to me (as I do with basically everything I see Rose Rhodes do), but more than ever I have to be intentional about how and WHY  I put them together.

Last year was rough for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that I never fully wrapped my mind around where I was headed, much less where my kids were headed. And if that is my ultimate goal, OF COURSE everything is going to be off!

So the real reason I won't be teaching novels in Spanish this fall? I am taking my sweet time to process what I want kids to leave with, what I want them to present and to whom, and how I can make sure it is something that matters.

How that fits with novels is a question that will have to wait for another semester.


  1. OH MY! These are my thoughts exactly!! I have given up on Twitter (I had always been a fan of it) because all that I read on my feed now is NOVELS, NOVELS and more NOVELS. And I can't do it...not yet, and maybe not ever. Why? I am confident that those that are doing it and writing about it are doing it well (Arianne is a freaking genius!). I have seen teachers that I admire on Twitter make the switch and rave about how inspiring it is. However, like you, I need time to process this and do it well without jumping in and failing miserably. Part of me feels like circling is boring/phony/childish and I really do not want to learn how to teach using novels. Maybe for a unit, but certainly not for a whole year! Another part of me--the cynic--feels like all of their research is based off of one man and I do not buy into all of his magic. Everything in moderation, right?

    I like where I am at right now (focus on all the modes of communication, instruction using CI with authentic resources, and some grammar to clarify their writing). Grammar has become the dirty word in the novels circle, and while I agree that it should not be the focus, I have students who love it and to deny them Why? the language works the way it does is to agree that I should ignore the needs of my students. Thank you for writing this! I am comforted to know that I am not the only one out there not ready for this, or even confident that it is best for my students at this point. I do not want to sound like I am bashing those that use novels because I truly believe it works for them and their students, and ultimately, that is the most important! Right now, it does not work for me and I feel somewhat inadequate because I just cannot commit to it! Thanks again!

  2. It is good that you are waiting, this way it will be authentic for you ( and your students) and you"ll be more invested! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you, thank you! This 1000% spoke to me:

    "Last year was rough for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that I never fully wrapped my mind around where I was headed, much less where my kids were headed. And if that is my ultimate goal, OF COURSE everything is going to be off!"

    I may look into novels more, I may commit to Somos Spanish 2 units full on instead of enrichment...But, what I have to do is get an idea of what I am able to weave now as I'm in my hybrid of traditional and CI, and what I can best do for the kids. And, that needs dedication now to plan, not on the fly.