Thursday, September 15, 2016

Going Back to Basics - Teaching with Novellas

A lot of us, whether teachers of Latin, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, etc., are working with novellas this year. Some are published, and some are still in beta testing (if you will). As we venture into this new territory, my colleagues and I have often mused on, asked, discussed, and angered over this idea of "how to teach with a novella"? Rachel and I have shared some ideas already (linked below), but this year, I considered some new ideas. I'd like to share them with you in this post. Some are still in research, others are already being implemented and edited, and others are things that we have already tried and plan to continue.

Links to Previous Posts

In Study

Rachel and I have spent quite a bit of time trying to brainstorm and share ideas on teaching a novella. After teaching both adapted and original stories, we've already gathered a few ready to go activities, but we wanted more, especially when it came to initial readings of chapters. To this end, I went to my mother, Lydia Patrick, who has been an elementary teacher for as long as I can remember. She's taught a variety of grades and now works in technology in the classroom. I asked for her help because I realised:
  1. Elementary teachers have been teaching with novellas for years! 
  2. Elementary teachers, even though they are working with (often) students' first language, they are still teaching the very basics of reading and discussion. 
She directed me to some resources for elementary teachers and I pulled it all. I am still sifting through this and other resources from Foreign Language teachers, but here are the ideas I've taken so far.* I'd love to hear what you all are doing with these, if you are already working on these, and what you've discovered! 
  • Reading Experts
  • Reading Workshops (sometimes called Kindergarten Day from what I can see so far)
  • Novella Studies (taken from a FL teacher, similar to a Reading workshop)
  • Reading and Writing Workshop (a website dedicated to these types of activities)
  • Using K-5 strategies to develop higher level discussion skills (looking for clues, asking deep questions, personal reflection, etc.)
  • Reader's Theatre
  • Round Table Discussion
* I will update this post with links to the discussions on these ideas as I have them. 

In Practice

Since I am going to post on many of these ideas, this is a place for introduction and reflection. Please comment with any questions and I will try to answer them in the comments or in the post on that topic!

Reading Experts and Workshops

This is the first activity I've borrowed from the elementary level and am working to put into work in the high school FL classroom. The main idea is that students become an expert in a certain category or field of the story. There are many you could try but I focused on these areas: character development, storyline, translation, vocabulary. Each group had a certain activity. On day 2, the kids were put in groups so that each group had 1-2 of each expert and they were to work on a variety of activities. I am posting on this in detail, so here were some observations I made:

  • I am still working out the idea of a reading workshop. I really like this idea, but self admittedly, I am not sold on the way it has been implemented thus far in FL classrooms. This is not a reflection of the teachers, but rather my own understanding of the practice. 
  • The Reading Experts activity wen well, but it had some kinks. Students were eager to work and said they greatly appreciated this two day activity, but they often moved quickly and missed essential steps. 
  • Students responded well to this and, while as a whole the seemed to find it precarious, they sought me out to say individually how much they liked it (peer pressure?)

Reader's Theatre

I am not great at this. I want to love it.... I was a theatre major in high school and my kids are always commenting on my voices, accents, and "acting skills". And yet... I don't love this activity. There have been new ways of doing it and allowing students to have some freedom with this, so I've been trying my hand at those. In an upcoming post I will discuss these. Here are some thoughts I have now, as I work out these kinks:
  • repetitions are nice, but... without some kind of differentiation, they become boring.
  • lengthy scenes become boring fast!
  • variations tried: freeze frame, silent scenes, video recording, same conversation
  • previous write up: Reader's Theatre

Round Table Discussion

This is the activity I tried today. I have been doing this activity for years, but I have begun playing with it and messing with it. Mostly I have become aware of what questions work and what questions don't. Working with the K-5 strategies has helped me even more. A few basics on this activity since it is often used in different ways.
  • I create questions in the target language and English about a reading.
  • I put students in groups. They get around 3-5 minutes to answer the question.
  • Students pass the questions to a new group.
  • Students get 3-5 minutes to agree/disagree with previous answer(s) and add a new one. 

In Closing

I am really trying to make novella reading useful to my students. I have seen a great many discussions on the use of novellas, Free Voluntary Reading, and Comprehensible Input. I have seen a great many discussions on the use (and place) of history, grammar, and culture in a classroom. From this comes my own inner discussion and debate. I'd love to share these thoughts, but also hear from others. :)