With the change this year to block I implemented something I’ve wanted to implement for years: SSR. I have about 40 different titles of novels in Spanish. They start at a 100 to 200 word level and work up to 500 + word level. These novels are based on word lists of most frequently used words in daily language use in Spanish. When a student works their way up into the more complicated novels, they still see many of the same vocabulary words as in the lower level novels, however in more complex sentences, richer contexts and accompanied by new words.
How does the program work?
Students self-select the books they will read. There are two criteria: 1) It is at least mildly interesting to them. An un-interesting book equals low language acquisition value. However, I point out that they need to be patient: A limited vocabulary book is not going to be a best seller. 2) It must be comprehendible. A good percent range of known words is between 80 and 90% comprehension of the words.
We currently read 10—15 minutes a week. The Spanish program includes a lot of reading so I didn’t feel the need to make this daily reading.
When a student finishes a book, they write a short book report. The questions ask them to summarize the book, talk about their favorite part, write an advertisement for the book, and rate the book from 1 to 5 stars. In 7th grade they must read 2 novels per semester. In 8th grade it is 3 novels per semester.
They receive two grades: 1) for reading. All they have to do is read. As long as they are not distracting themselves or others, they have an A for this effort grade 2) writing a book report—a reading grade.
Let’s start by seeing what the experts say:
Incidental learning of words during reading may be the easiest and single most powerful means of promoting large-scale vocabulary growth.
— W.E. Nagy & P.A. Herdman Quoted in Extended Reading in the Foreign Language Classroom
There is overwhelming research showing that recreational reading in a second language is a powerful means of improving grammar, vocabulary, spelling and writing ability ― and it is far more efficient and far more pleasant than traditional instruction.
― Stephen Krashen, PhD
For years I have offered a Free Voluntary Reading program in which students check out the same books now used for SSR to take home and read. As they work through the books they unlock new levels (like gaming) and earn badges. Usually less than 10% of the entire class takes advantage of this reading. However, each year when I have tested a group of 8th graders using an independent testing service (Avant Assessment), students who read even one extra book in the FVR program scored stronger in reading and writing than those who didn’t. (This ACTFL approved test is based on the ACTFL performance guidelines, which include the California Standards). Where I used to have the majority of students reading only the three class novels in 180 hours of study, with the SSR program I now have every 8th grader reading 9 novels. Our testing has just begun for this year, but I expect to see an increase across the board in reading and writing for all test takers. Next year’s 8th graders will be even more interesting as they will have read a total of 12 novels.
By: Sr. Stone, 7/8th grade Spanish