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One of the important goals for reading in Spanish was the expansion of the types of books the students read. This goal was reflected in another handout, “Géneros de mirada,” (Genres at a glance) and in the students’ annotations in their libretas of the number of each type of book they committed to read during the school year. Each student set a personal goal to read a certain number of books for the year; Betsy set her goal at 40, but other students set theirs lower, at 30 or 35. Within that number of books, according to their own goals, they were to select a certain number of books in the following genres: traditional literature, fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, informative, and biography (including autobiography and memoir). The handout explained what constitutes each genre of book, serving both to guide student choices and instruct them in basic literary knowledge.
Guided autonomy in writing about reading. At the point of writing about the reading they were engaged in, students in Ms. Gomez’s class had available to them a number of pages in the Libreta that afforded them guidance into secondary generic forms of writing, primary genres (in the form of sentence starters) to help them focus their writing, and an array of topical choices for the content of their writing. These resources were all intended to help students produce regular letters to Ms. Gomez about the reading they were doing. They provided a flexible predictability to the writing students might do about their books. Pages related to the generic forms of letters included a visual presentation of the three-paragraph structure of the letter, including a salutation and closure; a form letter from the teacher with each students’ name inserted describing the parameters of the letter-writing assignment, following some of the generic forms of the letters they would be writing; a checklist of tasks associated with revision and editing of the letters, including attention to letter-writing forms; a sample letter written in the teachers’ hand about a book that she enjoyed reading; and the “Leer es Pensar” rubric of
qualities of a letter for the libreta. The rubric focused on six elements:
1. Generic features of a letter (date, greeting and closure);
2. Opening sentence, including the underlined title of the book and the author’s name;
3. Paragraph 1: a short response to the teacher’s questions about the book;
4. Paragraph 2: a short summary of the main plot points of the section read;
5. Paragraph 3: use of the “Leer es Pensar” strategies outlined previously for them; and
6. Editing their work for punctuation, spelling and grammar.
All of these pages provided guidance into the habitual practices associated with writing about reading using a particular genre of writing, while emphasizing the conversational nature of the genre and the practice of sharing reading with others.
While Ms. Gomez instructed her students into the practices of writing within a particular genre, she also suggested to them a number of possible topics to write about, over which the students seemed to have complete autonomy of choice. Though the page “Posibles tópicos para tus cartas,” she listed 31 possible topics for the third of the three paragraphs in their letters. Nearly all the possible topics provide material for analysis of the book, and many focus as well on ways of interacting with the text, connecting the text to other texts, demonstrating ways of understanding the text, and applying that understanding to some aspect of their lives outside the text. To help students further with their choice of topics, Ms. Gomez provided a page of “Comienzos de oraciones para cartas de lectura,” short sentence starters which covered many of the topics on the previous page, and modeled syntactical and grammatical features of beginning those discussions in Spanish.
Students wrote weekly letters to Ms. Gomez from early September to early May, turning them in on the same day each week, with groups of students staggered throughout the week, so Ms. Gomez never received letters from all students on one day. Receiving small numbers of letters each day meant that Ms. Gomez could respond to the letters with questions, suggestions, instructions, and exhortations about thinking and writing.
Through this practice students could learn to have a written conversation about their reading, a real audience for their writing. Ms. Gomez tracked the development of her students’ interaction with the texts they were reading and their written expression in Spanish. She commented on their content, approach to writing (use of the principles of “Leer es Pensar,” following of the letter writing conventions, and need to edit their writing more carefully. This regular writing prepared Ms. Gomez’s students for other writing they would do about books and for having conversations with each other in their “Club de libros.” Club de libros: Conversations with each other. Ms. Gomez’s practice of having her students write letters to her about their reading encouraged their developing autonomy in their reading, but also provided them with her guidance into their critical thinking about the books they read. She extended that guided autonomy further by providing them with a model for how to talk about books together, to guide each other into understandings of the reading they did. To do this, Ms. Gomez’s students participated in a “Club de libros” at least three times during the year, once in the fall, winter and spring. Formed by four or five students all reading the same book, the club met twice a week to discuss them over the course of several weeks. Students took leadership roles in the group, leading discussions and presenting the book to the rest of the class at the end of the sequence of meetings. Each student’s libreta contained pages of suggestions and considerations for preparing to lead a book discussion and to present a book to a group. At the end of a cycle of group reading, each student would write a fiveparagraph essay on the book. While I did not observe a book club meeting in this class, I have seen book clubs at work in previous class observations outside the scope of this study. Club de libros has been a regular practice of upper-grade elementary and sixth grade middle school Spanish Immersion classes in Midville for more than a decade.9 During winter and spring 2009, some of the book clubs were reading El dador, El hacha, and ¿Quién cuenta las estrellas? Betsy included in her libreta book club notes about 20,000 leguas de viaje submarino (fall 2008), El dador (winter 2009), and La gran Gilly Hopkins (spring 2009).
During the focus group after the May 2009 Spanish Language AP exam, former Spanish Immersion students pointed back to their experiences of the Club de Libros model as one that was both helpful and satisfying in learning and using Spanish.
In preparation for group meetings about books, each student prepared by filling out a “4-3-2-1” form for the section of the book read in advance of a club meeting. They were instructed to take notes while they read and to then share their notes with the Club de libros when they met in class. The “4-3-2-1” activity referred to each reader having to summarize 4 main plot points, to clarify 3 complicated sections of the text, to ask 2 questions about the text, and to make 1 prediction about the possible outcome of some of the events they read about in that section. For her first Club de Libros meeting in
October, Betsy included the following responses for her “4-3-2-1” activity:
Figure 3.2: Betsy’s First 4-3-2-1 Activity for 20,000 leguas de viaje submarino
In her notes, Betsy covered the first five chapters of the book, including the major plot points (inviting Mr. Arronax on the expedition; falling overboard; becoming Nemo’s prisoners on the Nautilus; going hunting), several questions that would need clarifying when the group met (how they fell overboard; how they found themselves on the submarine; why they weren’t rescued by others on the expedition ship), two questions that needed answering in the future reading (what Captain Nemo’s intentions might be;
why he built the Nautilus), and one prediction about future events (that the three prisoners might escape). These four areas comprise the building blocks of critical thinking about reading, and the use of this form for Club de Libros pointed to the practice of critical thinking being developed regularly in Ms. Gomez’s class. However, most interesting was the fact that Ms. Gomez, while she reviewed these forms regularly, relied on the students themselves to shore up each other’s understandings of the books they were reading. In particular, they served as the first source of clarification of the elements of the plot that confused their peers. Once again, this practice emphasized the philosophy of guided autonomy that characterized Ms. Gomez’s classroom.
Both literacy practices, the “Libreta de lectura” and “Club de libros” afforded students a socially-based approach to reading, and meant that literacy competency in Spanish would mean much more than either the ability to decode text or to write grammatically proper prose. Students were learning to use Spanish as the language of critical thinking, of sharing ideas with readers, writers and conversation groups. They were also learning to use Spanish to address some of the social problems surrounding them through writing about problem situations at their own school.
“Using their bilingualism for good”: Guided autonomy in argumentative writing. Ms. Gomez demonstrated very early in my observations that she was willing to act on her language ideologies with her students, giving them an opportunity to use their Spanish language abilities for the purpose of bringing about positive change in their world and school. She did this by giving them the opportunity to choose a problem situation in their school and write an argumentative essay about how to address it. In the process of engaging in this activity, the students continued to develop their critical thinking skills, had the opportunity to think for themselves, and stretched their language knowledge to include school domains they had not written about before.
On my first day of classroom observation (1/13/09), after a short grammar lesson on accents, Ms. Gomez redirected the class to begin work on escritura (writing) in Spanish at exactly the time indicated on the board, 8:30. To mark the change in activities, she rang a bell and called specific students to form groups of two or three to sit together on the couch and rug in the corner of the room. She announced, in Spanish, that they would be working on a writing activity involving argument, one related to activities or themes at their school. She reminded them throughout the preparation of what writing argument involves, using terms such as acierta (assert), razonamiento (reasoning), and evidencia (evidence). After she asked the students in the pairs to greet each other and reintroduce themselves, she asked them to work together to choose a theme about which they would form an opinion and provide evidence. To organize their thinking they would use a tabla de tres (table of three), with columns for pro (pros), con (cons) and “una vez” (once, one time). Her reference to this tool seemed to refresh something the students were already familiar with, but she explained the meanings of pro and con, as “en favor” (in favor of) and “lo malo de algo” (the problem with something) and encouraged them to use personal experience as “tu evidencia” (your evidence). Encouraging students to include themselves in their writing, to form an opinion and to use their experience as evidence, is a practice they might not be exposed to again during much of their secondary school experience.10 She continued by providing them an example they might write about. Many of the boys in the class were very interested in sports, and played baloncesto (basketball) regularly during recess. She suggested this as a writing theme, and began to discuss what they might say en favor de (in favor of), or on the “pro” side of kids playing basketball at school. One of the boys began to complicate the meaning of “pro” in relationship to basketball, and several other students chimed in to affirm that that term had a special Based on my experience as a first-year college writing instructor, I would argue that few students have the chance to develop opinions based on their own experience in writing in high school English classes. My own students are often surprised that in college they will have the chance to do so, and have adapted to a style of writing that allows no use of “I” or expression of a personal point of view.
meaning in that context. Ms. Gomez acknowledged that difference in meaning, but returned to illustrate one of the “pros” of kids playing basketball at school, “niños dando complimentos a otros niños” (kids giving each other compliments), reinforcing the meaning of “pro” in this writing context. She proceeded to suggest a “con” might be the fact that kids will sometimes begin to fight (luchando). As the kids processed her examples, one boy’s voice was heard saying in English “major arguments,” to which Ms.
Gomez predictably responded, “Español.” When she asked for other ideas about themes in the school about which they might write, the discussion seemed to focus primarily on sports, and mostly boys participated in the discussion. As they became more animated and engaged in the process of generating ideas and imagining themselves writing about them, they began to codeswitch more frequently, specifically breaking into English as they told stories about sports on the playground. Ms. Gomez was not put off by their tendency to lapse into English in this situation, as evidenced by her next instructions.