Self-motivated Summer Reading?
Like many language teachers, I want my students to read in L2 on their own. During the school year, I have FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) time on a regular basis for my more advanced students, and with my less experienced students, there are story-listening activities, MovieTalks, and collaborative story telling activities galore.
But what about over the summer? Can I assign them summer reading that they will want to read? Should I assign them summer reading at all? On the one hand, I have never been a big advocate of assigning homework, or even of using points, grades, etc. as my main motivational leverage with students. Ideally, to get the most out of summer reading, students would have to intrinsically want to read something, without a stick or a carrot influencing them to pick up the book.
So, convincing students to read in L2 on their own time without extrinsic motivation = impossible?
Probably. But I gave it a try anyway.
During the last few weeks of Latin II and III, my students adapted pre-existing stories into easy Latin reader picture books, using PowerPoint. I did not require a very lengthy text (8 sentences or so), nor did I require an original story (only one group wrote an entirely original story). Most based their short and simple texts on mythology, fairy tales, movies, television, or books. When they were done writing them, they submitted their texts to me, and I corrected their grammar and usage errors. When the students received their corrected draft, each group found pictures to illustrate their stories.
Then we spent a few days in each class telling the stories that the students wrote. The students were very engaged and interested in each other’s stories. Topics ranged from “Achilles” to “Spongbob Square Pants” to “Star Wars.”
Even better, now at the end of the whole project, I have easy, interesting, and comprehensible stories for future students.
But then I had a crazy idea—what if I were to compile all these stories into an anthology, and give each student a copy on the last day of school. As a memento of the school year, of course. But also as a surreptitious summer reading assignment.
I got to work, and in a just a couple days slapped together an anthology. I ordered printed copies from a local print store ($2 a piece), and handed them out on the last day of class.
The response was overwhelming. The students loved the books. They all flipped right to the table of contents, looked for their stories, then their friends’ stories, then at the other classes stories that they didn’t get a chance to hear. There was laughter, and even a few tears. It was a great moment in Latin class.
But even better, students started to read.
Later that night at graduation, a parent of one of my ninth graders came up to me and asked me what I was doing to those Latin I students. I asked him what he meant. He responded that all afternoon his son had been reading a book that I gave him, a book written entirely in Latin. He wanted to know how I did it.
As a teacher, there are moments (often rare and fleeting) when you realize that one of your crazy attempts to motivate or inspire students might actually have worked. This was one of those moments.