Week 1: Introducing graded readers and how to choose them
Evaluating level: focus on comprehension
The text I chose for this diagnostic stage was a comic story (9 pages long with 610 running words – nice version of a famous comic book for older children/young teens in Brazil. Using Lextutor I checked the frequency of vocabulary. I selected the NGSL. As this comic is not graded, we will find a variety of grammar points present in the syllabus and formulaic language.
The first 1000 most frequent vocabulary makes up 85.57% of the text, then the second and third count for the other 7.54%. More than 90% of the text are among the 2,8001 most used words. Only 2 words are from the New Academic Word List and 15 are not found in any of the previous list.
The instruction was pretty simple: Time it! While you are reading it, do not stop to look up the words in a dictionary and please do mark the words that you don’t know or don’t remember. And carry on reading! The aim is to read and focus on the story.
After everyone had marked the time and the words. I asked them to put the text away and write on their notebooks what they remembered from the story. For higher levels, they had to do it in English and for lower levels in Portuguese. The aim was to write down as much as they could about what they remembered and therefore, how much they had really understood of it. It was retelling the story time.
As they finished writting down the story from memory, they came to my desk, one by one, and we discussed how long they took to read it and what words they marked (I took notes of everything). This time was a great time because we discussed vocabulary and what they found most difficult in the text and also possible reasons why. As we reflected together, they became more conscious of what they knew already and what they still needed to learn in order to fully enjoy texts like that. For higher levels, I asked questions and raised their awareness of clues from the pictures and context that could help them make sense of the very few words they didn’t know. And for lower levels, we discussed dictionary and tools, and reading to learn as opposing to reading for pleasure. One can ignore what one doesn’t know, but if there are many words not known, one won’t be able to enjoy it or get the meaning without support.
I roughly knew the results from each one of them (time and number of words), but LEARNERS need to see that for themselves, so I never assume that they will know what to do. That is why dialogue is so important. We get to hear and discuss their assumptions, difficulties and so on. They usually don’t know how many estrategies there are out there, and the teacher as a more competent learner and user of the language becomes the mediator between them and their goal in order for them to progress towards a more autonomous attitude. They learn how to become better learners.
With a better sense of what they knew and what they didn’t, off we went to choose the readers.
Week 2: Reading and Sharing
It is normal for teachers to feel apprehensive and become control freaks especially because school adms and parents will want some sort of proof of the learners language learning progress. Even if we want to hand over to students the responsabilities for their own learning, especially when they are teens, there is still the need to have some sort of instrument that will guide them to success. The tasks I chose to assign was not a form of controlling them, but to hand over the responsability as they needed to complete each stage of the project, they needed something to look forward to. So from knowing what a graded reader was, to choosing a story that they felt they would enjoy reading considering the linguistic aspect and having the choice to put down and change to a new one if they didn’t like the story were all part of the view I have that students as less competent readers should be guided as well as given enough space to make their own decisions. Because life is made up of tasks that we have to accomplish and goals we have to meet. Whether we choose those goals for ourselves or not, they are still part of our lives. And as such, they should know what is expected of them as co-participants of this process so they can be responsible for the accompliment as well.
Instruction they received with the book:
Divide the story into four parts as you think it is best. Each week read one part (Enjoy it!), and as you did in class with the Uncontrollable Angel, close the book, write down as much as you can remember, then read it again and compare. It’s up to you how many times you wish to read the story. Next week, you will share your story with the group. Instead of reading one book, we all have a chance to read as many stories as the number of students we have in class. If you are a beginner student, you will be allowed to read aloud what you have written. Others can use the book and pictures within the book to help them activate their memory.
As far as I understand about ER, that is the opposite what pure ER preaches. So what I proposed might not be pure ER, but the main core principles are still there: EASY and ENJOYABLE.
Writing down and retelling the story to the group were just supplementaring the reading experience. The focus was still on the story all the way through. The goal was experimenting reading in a language other than their own. Writing down served as a supporting tool for the oral stage. The sharing time which was mandatory for 4 weeks in a row was not an end in itself as I could acknowledge by what students responded in the questionnaires a week after the reading project had ended. My overall feeling was that writing and sharing made the act of reading meaningful as they were reading in order to share the story and their reactions to it. Everyone had a different story to share, so it was also something unexpected every week. And each one of them became a central part in each meeting as everyone’s presence mattered.
The fact that I was the one to say what was expected of them in the first week did not make their participation less important in any way. As planned, we sat in the following week in our multimedia room comfortably in our cushions and I took the lead as everyone seemed shy to do it for the first time, and shared part of my story. In each group, the first meeting to share was basically the same. Once everyone shared their stories, they reflected on the experience and suggestions were made as well as problems raised.