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FVR or Whole-Class novels?

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to travel to the FFLA (Florida) Annual world language teacher conference. It was my third conference in three weeks, and I was hoping to…well, I was hoping to survive: the travel, the presentations, the peopling. It was a lot, to be sure, but it was so much more than I could have imagined. It’s a great conference, too. It is expertly organized by the FFLA folks who are, in a word, lovely. And next year it’s in Orlando!

One of the highlights of the trip was finally getting to meet Diego Ojeda in person. We’ve been online colleagues and friends for years, and we’ve even written a book together, but our paths had never crossed in person until that conference. It was a joyful meeting, of course, but the conversation that we had in the airport (because, wouldn’t you know, we were on the same flight to Charlotte, NC!) still has me thinking.

There will probably be a variety of conflicting statements in the following paragraphs. Please know that I continue to examine them, but nevertheless felt this message necessary to deliver because they have to do with books and reading, two things about which I’m passionate (for obvious reasons).

When I started writing these comprehensible novels, I was keeping in mind - and still do - the kind of novels that I was searching for as a teacher; novels with facile plots, embedded culture and lots of stuff to talk about. I was considering the books I was writing as class novels. At the time I didn’t have any idea what FVR/FCR/SSR was. Ten years ago when I penned (okay, I used the computer) La chica nueva by the sole, dim bulb in my kitchen, I was thinking of how to deliver ideas to talk about in class, leaving the grammar piece aside. I wanted my students to communicate in Spanish, so I gave ‘em stuff to talk about! But I also knew that I didn’t want any kind of culture to be a sidebar like it is typically in textbooks of yore (or still?). Easy plot line? Check. Culture “baked into” the story? Check.

I did it then and I do it now. Working with class novels has revolutionized my teaching. Okay, my planning. I do a lot less because I don’t have to. The conversation takes care of itself.

But what about FVR/FCR/SSR? I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what that was until I started working with my DigiGal sister, Theresa Marrama. Theresa introduced me to this concept of free reading, and how she implements it in her classes. I was intrigued. It didn’t seem possible given my schedule and room changes and… but I kept thinking of the idea and how I would have had had it working in my classes when I was teaching high school. More than ever, students need to be re-introduced to books (and separated from their screens) for a part of their academic lives. Who knows? Maybe the joy of reading will become a habit. So, I became a huge proponent of free reading, and kept pushing the idea for the reasons mentioned above.

Then came the discussion with Diego Ojeda at the airport. While we were chatting about reading, Diego mentioned that students need to be taught how to read, and to read critically. I, of course, was focused solely on creating the habit of reading (and the mental break for teachers during FVR/FCR/SSR), so I wasn’t thinking of the “how,” as Diego was suggesting. And, he is absolutely right: our students DO need to be taught how to read analytically. Given the onslaught of media to which they - and we - are exposed, the need to examine «insert whatever input here» is more important than ever. As an author, there are subtleties and subtexts included in what I write, and what if the reader totally misses those? Are we doing our students a disservice by just handing them books without guidance? It has me thinking…

So, while I might be thinking, I haven’t come up with *the* solution, but that’s mostly because I don’t think there is one. As with most things in education, the argument can be made for one (class novels) over the other (FVR/FCR/SSR), but as with almost everything, there are pluses and minuses to both. I think we can all agree with Stephen Krashen, though, who said during his keynote address at the FFLA conference (and I am totally paraphrasing here), that a populace that reads is one with more critical thinkers. So, while we are on our quest to cure monolingualism, we can also count ourselves to cure ignorance through reading.

Read on!

You can find out more about Diego Ojeda on Facebook, Instagram and X.

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