Monthly Archives: July 2009

Reading FAQ by Frank Smith

Bryce Hedstrom recommended a list of books for me to read and this was on the list. Frank Smith is right up there with Krashen. Actually, he was there before Krashen. I had never heard of him, but I came to realize that he is no slouch — especially since he has his PhD from Harvard.

So what is this book? Basically it is a short book where he answers commonly asked questions that he gets at seminars. He keeps the answers to about a page or so, which is just right for teachers who probably don’t have time to read his larger, more comprehensive books. Some of the questions are: How do you define reading, What is the role of prediction in reading, How can you read a word you haven’t met before, Are some kinds of reading preferable to others, etc.

I really feel that this book is great introduction to reading research. If  you don’t have the time to go out there and do a full research summary on reading and language acquisition, this book is great resource to whet your appetite. We all know that there are way too many great books to read out there and most people want to know  the top 10 books. I would say that this is one that makes the top 10.

Check it out, you won’t regret it. Thanks Bryce!

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Are we exposing our students to what they need?

I have been reading a book by Frank Smith entitled, Reading FAQ. I am going to add it to my books list, but I thought I would give a brief excerpt here. I having been thinking about the idea that we need to totally revolutionize the way we view language acquisition. Traditionally, we have just given students lists of words for them to memorize and this needs to stop. What we need to do is to expose them to different contexts of words that they can understand and slowly they will start to grasp the meaning. They will begin to make sense of the print, which is what reading is.

On page 18, Frank Smith is discussing what happens when we read a word that we haven’t met before. He states:

By a process called “fast mapping,” children automatically attach a possible meaning to any unfamiliar word they encounter in speech or writing, and refine this possible meaning on further encounters. Six encounters is usually enough for a correct meaning the be determined. To determine the pronunciation, someone else must be heard saying the word.

Of course, none of these ways of identifying new words is possible if the words are in isolation, in lists, or any other kind of meaningless context. Expecting children to learn new words by presenting them one at a time makes reading as difficult as possible for them.

After I read this I started thinking about how often this happens in the classroom. I mean, most of a textbook is just lists of words that are not in a context. Are we really making it easy for a student to learn the language when we do this? I would say that we are not and that perhaps we need to think about language acquisition in a new way. Instead of lists we need to present words in different contexts so that the students can have the opportunity to experience words enough times to get a sense of the meaning. Meaning is not always something that can be defined, but a feeling. Most people  know when to use the preterite because of a feeling, not because of the rule.

Have we totally bought into the power of reading and what it can do for language acquisition? Or are we still stuck on the idea that the students need us or a textbook full of lists to learn a language. I think that if we really gave reading a shot, we may be surprised how much language could really be acquired. I know that I am not there yet, but that is where I want to go.


Filed under Reading, Teaching Discoveries

Getting Excited

I must admit that for most of the summer I was questioning my ability in storytelling. As a result, I was not as excited as I wanted to be about starting in the fall. I don’t know what it was. I think that part of it is fear of not being good enough or perhaps being affraid that the students won’t buy in. Whatever it was, it has passed now — especially after seeing Jason Fritze at Fluency Fast.

That was the turning point for me. It showed me how fun the stories can really be and how creative the kids are. They will come up with stories that I never could have planned or even imagined. I am also looking forward to seeing the hearts of kids open and to see them come to life. What an amazing opportunity we have in storytelling. Not only is each day new, but each period is new! There is no telling what will happen next because, “todo es posible en la clase de español.” Right?!?

I am also excited about the things I am going to try this year that will make the storytelling more effective. I going to give PAT a try and see how it works. I am also going to try some other brain research activities as I go to see if it will freshen the brain to receive the input. I also think that it may aide in lowering the affective filter in order for the input to enter into the Language Acquisition Device.

To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen! That is part of the excitement for me and as school is getting closer, I think that I am getting more excited each day.

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Fluency Fast Denver 2009

I just got back from the fluency fast classes in Denver. Wow. What a great week it was. I was in Jason Fritze’s Spanish class and spent the rest of the time observing other teachers. Dr. Stephen Krashen was there as well as fellow TPRS teachers like Ben Slavic.

I had no idea that this week was going to make such an impact. It was one of those weeks that truly changes your teaching and views on language acquisition. I will be blogging on it soon as I continue to process it.

Most of all, it was nice to meet other teachers who are doing the same thing that I am doing. People who are out there trying to make TPRS work. It can be easy to feel like I am alone sometimes, but this week helped me to see that I am really not alone in this.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Teaching Discoveries