Systematizing Interpersonal Communication

Making systems is critical if you want to stay sane as an instructor. If you’ve gotten to the point of teaching languages for a living, you’ve invented systems that work for you, even if you don’t realize it. In the last two years, I’ve finally been able to systematize a gradebook item that had frustrated me for years: interpersonal communication.

I tried to make this work with an electronic attendance taker (Skyward when I taught at high school and Canvas at the College), but it was always clunky. Not good for systematization. I finally had a breakthrough when I went back to basics – good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Below is a mockup of a what an Interpersonal Communication scoresheet looks like. You can download a .docx version for free here.

Let me break down what’s on this sheet, because there is actually quite a bit.

0. I write down what week I’m in at the top of the page. I keep each class’ work in a color-coded folder (which can be a separate post if there is demand for me to write such a post), and the number helps me keep the pages in order if they get lost.

  1. The first column (labeled “A”) is an absence column. I want to know how many absences a student has. In my class, they will lose 1% off their final grade if they have more than three absences. This lets me keep track without having to turn the page.
  2. The second column (labeled “#”) is just to see how many students are in my class. Frankly, it’s not that important, except to start the quarter. It helps me consider how many students I want to overload, if any.
  3. The “student” column is just my learners’ names. I try to leave enough space here to write down their preferred name. After the first week I change names to preferred names so I don’t have to keep correcting it by hand. Systematization and whatnot.
  4. “Days of the week” columns – One column for each day of the week. I keep track of attendance and interpersonal communication here (see below).
  5. The “IC” column is for writing my students’ Interpersonal Communication grade for the week. Each day is worth 5 points, so I write a number in this column at the end of the week.

The Andrew Snider’s Super-Fancy, Awesomest Systematization of Interpersonal Communication™ in Action

This is easier to write on by hand vs. on a trackpad, so forgive the sloppiness. Not that my handwriting is any better.

Let me break this down for you. This is a week-1 Interpersonal Communication scoresheet at the end of the week.

  1. The course started on a Tuesday, so I crossed out Monday. This also happens on holidays or if I have to cancel class. This week will only be worth 20 points.
  2. Dots represent a student being present. Unless otherwise marked, they earn full points for that day. Easy and quick, two of my favorite words.
  3. I start each class period handing back name tags, even after I memorized their names. I say hello to each and every student and ask how they are doing. At the end of greetings, I take the name tags of those not present, and quickly make them absent. This is the fastest way I have ever taken roll. It’s also great for building class community.
  4. For each absence, I write A1, A2, A3, etc. in the appropriate box. It helps me to quickly see how many absences somebody has. If they start to wrack up (it happens, especially at the CC), this lets me know how many absences somebody has without having to add. I don’t like unnecessary math.
  5. There is a T up there for student 5. That means they walked in late, for which they lost points. I’m sometimes lenient with this, but it can and will become a problem if you’re too lax about it.
  6. One of my waitlist students was there every day! Welcome aboard, Waitlisted 1!
  7. One of my roster students was absent every day! They are now losing points for each absence (and 1% off their final grade per absence above 3 – You can’t learn a language if you’re not in class).
  8. I tally up all their absences and write it on the of the week (below). This lets me line up next week’s page with this one and quickly write in the number of absences each student has.
  9. Once per week (never more), I take sit down at the computer and enter in this grade. I type as fast as I can and go right down the IC column on my sheet. I will batch my boring work and do it quickly, or be damned to live a life of data entry.

Below is my week-2 Interpersonal Communication Scoresheet. It’s updated so that non-attendees are gone. SNYDER, SPELLED WRONG finally emailed me and said he’d be there. I didn’t have do an admin drop because he contacted me. As you can see, he’s attending but not demonstrating interpersonal communication. He’s really just a blob in the back of the classroom, and blobs don’t communicate well.

Sometimes I write a reason why students lost points. P (phone), E (English), O (off task when I observed) are quick ways to remember why it happened in the off-chance that a student comes asking. They usually don’t come asking.

The End of the Term

At the end of the quarter, I modify my sheet to look something like the grade sheet above. I copy over absences to this sheet. Then I copy students’ final percentage from the gradebook and convert it to a GPA using the scale from the syllabus. If the student stopped attending, I write down their last date of attendance. This makes it a cinch to enter in final grades. I paper clip all the sheets to gather (from end of quarter to beginning of quarter) and keep that stack in my box of graded materials from that quarter. It’s come in handy many times.

Seeking Student Feedback 1

We’re approaching the end of Winter Quarter at my school, and as always my courses are different than the previous term ( I am constantly tinkering with my classes). In an effort to provide a better experience for learners each quarter, I feel it is to seek their feedback.

Sometimes I do this by asking one or two students how the class is going, what activities they like best, how hard an assessment was, what they are struggling with, etc. This quarter, I’m also asking students to fill out a survey for extra credit. Below are the questions I’m asking. (Sorry for the weird formatting. I’m probably not going to fix it).

This is homework that I created based on level-appropriate readings. Input, input, input.
I’m giving learners a place to tell me if something about these can be improved or if they liked something.
This is the textbook homework that my department has been using since before I started teaching here.. We’re moving away from it entirely next quarter and forever and ever Amen.
Honestly, I’m expecting a lot of negative feedback on VHL. It’s expensive and dry. It’s also very grammar-centric and, therefore, not very useful for language acquisition
I give my learners timed-writes. This is input disguised as output. Learners have to study the co-created story and write me a summary in their own words.
I have been giving learners mixed up paragraphs of 8-9 sentences. They put them in order based on the reading we did. They are tricky, and I’m expecting mixed feedback. They are good for acquisition, though, and I really like that they are input-based assessments.
This is a list of activities we’ve done this quarter, and I have a nervous feeling that I left something off this list. I’m expecting a wide range here, but I’m curious to see if there are any trends.
It’s important that learners are heard. I’m interested to see what people have to say.

I’ll post again when I have some data.

-Andrew

Storytelling Basics: Going Even Slower Than You Think You Should

Go even slower than you think you need to go.

It’s easy to get in such a groove with storytelling that we leave people behind. It’s less of an issue than with legacy methods of language instruction, but going too fast for learners remains a distinct possibility. Going slower than we think we need to helps keep the language we use comprehensible, which in turn makes the language accessible to more learners.

When learners are building up a mental representation of the language in their heads, they need to process the comprehensible input they receive. They need to receive and process, receive and process, receive and process. Then they need to process the language some more.

Learners need to process the words we think are easy (yo, tú, soy, eres, estudiante, pero, y, etc.).Not even cognates are immune to this need for processing. They often sound different in L2 and must go through the same processing… process. Going slowly ensures that more learners successfully negotiate meaning during the storytelling process.

Slowing Down Readings

I love to write and am enamored with the Artist’s Journey (I can’t recommend that book enough, by the way). During my years with storytelling, I’ve discovered that simple readings are the most difficult to make. It’s tempting to throw in new words and ideas because it makes the stories more interesting for me. Problem is, the readings I write for class are not for me, but for students. Throwing too much at learners in a reading will reduce its comprehensibility and, thus, its utility.

Two weeks ago, I gave students a reading based on some characters that we co-created at the beginning of the quarter (a modified version of the Hero’s Journey). Students read in groups of two and completed a short set of comprehension-based tasks to help them process the language they read.

I walked around the room as learners worked, answering questions and listening in as I am wont to do. Some of my very vocal students in one section expressed that they didn’t understand ni jota. Uh-oh, Spaghetti-o’s.

After hearing the aforementioned grousing, I solicited the opinions of a number of students that have given me good feedback in the past. Based on their feedback, I need to make the readings easier. They need to be able to process the language more easily, which will lead to their processing more complex readings in the future.

In my defense, I tried to make the reading approximately 90% comprehensible. The 10% of words and phrases I assumed students weren’t familiar with, I glossed. My intentions were good, but I didn’t account for some learners who would understand only 70% of the text easily.

Introducing too much at once reduced the comprehensibility of the language, and frustrated learners, especially the adults. Adults do not like having their ability to communicate taken away. Going slower than we think we need to and making easier helps keep the communication in L2 flowing.

I’m convinced that we need to go slower than we think in terms of reading complexity too. I don’t have an exact percentage, but something like 98-99% comprehensible would be better than the 90% I aimed for in this instance. Efficiency is the name of the game in the college classroom, and the higher the comprehensibility, the more efficient the acquisition process is. We want i + 1, not i + 10 (or i + 30).

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

An Example Quizizz

I intend to do a longer post on Quizizz in the future, but for now, here is an example that I made for my Spanish 1 students. It’s based on the story we co-created on Wednesday of this week. It’s my Friday treat for them during the last 10 minutes of class time.

Take the Quizizz

Students use their phones or laptops (if they don’t have one, they can partner up with someone who does). It’s more laid back than Kahoot, and my students love it.

Best of all, it’s another way to sneak comprehensible input into their lives (muahahahaha).

By the way, here’s the story we co-created.

Typos happen. Leave them in and see if a learner catches it. Then you’ll know that at least one learner is really paying attention.

25 Spanish Books to Build Your Free Voluntary Reading Library

The following is a list of books I have in my actual Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library. I have multiple copies of many of these titles, and I like to get additional copies of the popular ones. Many of these titles are readers written with language learners in mind. If you missed it, check out my Tool Kit for FVR.

The List of Totally Rad Spanish Readers

This list isn’t in any particular order, except that I put the books I wrote first because it’s my blog, so there.

1. La espía huérfana – Andrew J. Snider (me)

2. Las tres pruebas – Andrew J. Snider (me)

3. La vida loca de Marta – Andrew J. Snider (me)

4. Superburguesas – Mike Peto

5. La vampirata – Mira Canion

6. Agentes secretos y el mural de Picasso – Mira Canion

7. La clase de confesiones – A.C. Quintero

8. Las apariencias engañan – A.C. Quintero

9. Robo en la noche – Kristy Placido

10. Felipe Alou: desde los valles a las montañas – Carol Gaab

11. Problemas en paraíso – Carol Gaab

12. Ataques de hambre – Eric Herman

13. Soy Lorenzo – Virginia Hildebrant

14. Las lagrimas de Xochitl – Virginia Hildebrant

15. En busca del monstruo – Pablo Ortega Lopez

16. La momia desaparece – Arturo De La Rosa

17. La casa embrujada – Arturo De La Rosa

18. La calaca alegre – Carrie Toth

19. Todo lo que brilla – Chris Mercer

20. La guerra sucia – Nathaniel Kirby

21. Estefania: El azote de la frontera – Marcial Lafuente

22. Estefania: Ley implacable – Marcial Lafuente

23. El hacha – Gary Paulson

24. El principito – Antonie De Saint-Exupery (one of my all time favorite books)

25. Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal – J.K. Rowling (I love Harry Potter)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals. 

Please also note that all the cover art is copyright © the publisher/author and is only used here to help readers find the appropriate books.

Andrew Snider’s Free Voluntary Reading Toolkit

My personal FVR Library currently has around 75 books for learners. Sadly, I am my own biblioburro.

For a long time, I struggled to find a way to keep students accountable during Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Here’s my winning game plan, complete with free downloads below.

What is FVR? How and why do I use it in class?

FVR is self-selected pleasure reading. Starting in Spanish II, my students get to pick a book from my personal library (around 75 books) that I bring to class twice per week*. Students get 10 minutes to read whatever book they want and they read at their own pace. If they don’t like a book, they can put it back and grab a different one from the library.

It’s untargeted input. FVR has no grammatical or lexical agenda. It’s just language that learners can enjoy.

The goal of FVR is to get students to fall in love with reading. That way they’ll (hopefully) seek out more input in L2, even after the term ends.

I use FVR in class because I use it to learn new languages myself. I’ve experienced tremendous gains in various languages by reading for fun. I can personally attest that 20 minutes of FVR per week goes a long way. Fifty minutes would be even better.

*I keep my library in a blue-green crate. I lug the crate back and forth from my car because I don’t have an office (#adjunctLife #yoSoyElBiblioburro).

The FVR Accountability Toolkit (Free Downloads Below)

I’ve been searching for ways to keep students accountable during FVR in class. My solution is twofold:

  1. I have printed and trimmed bookmarks for FVR (free download #1).
    • Learners write their name on the top of the bookmark so they can see it when the book is closed.
    • Learners leave their bookmark in the book so they can pick up where they left off the next time they read (you know, like a bookmark).
    • At the end of each FVR session, learners write the title of the book they read and what page they ended on. That way they can still pick up where they left off, even if the bookmark falls out of the book (see #adjunctLife comment above).
    • I can glance at a few bookmarks and see the progress learners are making in different books.
    • I use a different color of paper for each class so it’s easier for learners to find their bookmarks the next time they read.

  2. I have printed and trimmed Book Review Slips (free download #2)
    • I have a stack of these I bring with me to each class when we do FVR.
    • Each time a learner finishes an FVR book, they fill out a Book Review Slip (Their name, the name of the book they read, a rating of 1-5 stars, and a brief review of the book they read. Did they like it (or not) and why?
    • The reviews and stars let me see what titles a particular student and/or class enjoys. I can then, among other things, use that knowledge to personalize the class to those tastes and topics.
    • I offer students 5 points of extra credit (our course has a total of around 1000 points) for each book review they complete.
    • These reviews (and the extra credit) motivate students to keep reading a book to completion.

FVR has no grammatical or lexical agenda. It’s just language that learners can enjoy.

-Andrew J. Snider (Me)

My Previous (and Failed) Attempts at Accountability

Just for fun, below is a list of several ways I tried to keep students accountable. I wasn’t happy with any of these solutions for a variety of reasons.

  • Students wrote down words they didn’t know to look up later
  • Students wrote down their favorite word that they read
  • Students told their partner in L1 what they read about (tried in in L2, and it devolved into L1 anyway).
  • Students wrote a brief summary of what they read.
  • Students drew a picture of what they read and captioned it in L2.
  • Students wrote down the three most essential sentences they read.
  • Students kept a journal of what they read

Maybe you’d have more luck than me with some of these, or know a way to make them better.

For now, I’m happy with my bookmarks and book reviews for extra credit.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

Hero’s Journey: New Year, New Adventure

I’m in love with the Hero’s Journey as a way of delivering comprehensible input to my learners. It’s so open-ended and makes it easy to personalize the story for each specific class.

Today my two o’clock class (2 hour block, Spanish 2) defined their protagonist, a friend of the protagonist, and the antagonist. This took about 30-35 minutes to accomplish, and was done entirely in Spanish. Through this dialogue of me asking questions and the learners making decisions, they arrived at our Hero’s Journey premise:

Carlos lost his hair during a mad scientist’s (Andrés*) experiment. With the help of his friend Marisol, Carlos tries everything in his power to get it back.

This premise is ridiculous. I think it’s the perfect way to bring up a variety of topics in context. Here is one possible tangent.

Me: Class, does Carlos comb is hair every morning?
Class: No.
Me: Why not?
Class: Carlos doesn’t have hair.
Me: Class, do I comb my hair every morning?
Half the class: Yes.
Other half of the class: No!
Me: I don’t?
One of the cheeky ones: No, you don’t have time.
Me: I don’t have time to comb my hair?
Same cheeky one: No, you’ve got two kids. It’s either comb your hair of drink coffee.
Me: Oh, that’s a good point. Class, I don’t comb my hair in the morning. I drink coffee.
Me: Class, who combs their hair every morning.

This is an example, but not too far from an actual conversation I’ve had in class. The authentic and comprehensible interactions lead to more engagement, which leads to more input, which leads to more acquisition. It’s a virtuous cycle, and one that you don’t get from the textbook.

A Deep Dive on Culture

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to incorporate more culture in my class. I decided that Hero’s Journey would be my in. My two o’clock class decided that the main character is from Colombia, and so we will do a deep dive on that country (Do I smell coffee in my future?).

The characters will also make trips to Cuba, México and Paraguay. We will explore these countries too, albeit to a lesser extent.

One more thing

I haven’t had a chance to type up the character descriptions yet, but you’ll be able to read them soon over at Read to Speak Spanish.

*My students know me as Andrés, so I always play up how handsome, young, and smart I am. I really lay it on thick, and students generally have a blast understanding sarcasm in Spanish.

How to Make an Original Story from an Engaging Premise

The right premise can lead to a wealth of comprehensible input.

An engaging premise is the key to an engaging story. The right premise can make for a no-prep, highly communicative and engaging story (and “no prep” is my favorite kind of prep). This activity is open-ended, you can modify the stories you spin out to use any grammar and vocabulary you want to target.

This may take some storytelling chops, but the result is comprehensible and engaging communicatively-embedded input: the secret sauce for language acquisition.

A Simple and Effective Plan

  1. Find a premise that you like and modify it to match your desired outcome
    • Maybe you have a different vocabulary word to insert.
    • Maybe you want to change the premise from third person singular to first person plural.
    • Briefly plan this out in advance to free up your mind for the juggling act that is storytelling. 
  2. Start telling the story to the class and dive deeply into the co-creation process.
    • “Class, there is a woman who works at bank.”
    • What’s her name?
    • Where’s she from?
    • What’s she like?
    • At what bank does she work? In which country?
    • Does she like working at the bank or does she dream of doing something else?
    • How is her day going?
    • Cast the net deep and narrow here. Find out as much as you can about this woman without boring the class.
    • “Class, in that very moment a bank robber comes in.”
    • Cast your CI net deep and narrow again. Find out as much as you can about the bank robber. Compare and contrast with the teller.
  3. See where the story takes you.
    • This is a little scary because it can go anywhere. Lean into the unknown. Your learners are highly creative, even if they don’t think they are.
    • If the learners in your class find this story engaging, you could spin another out of it, perhaps a sequel or a prequel. If that happens enough times, you could squeeze a whole novel’s worth out CI out of this one premise.
    • Have a student type up the story as you co-create it. They can email it to you for easy editing. This is a huge time-saver and helps you keep the stories straight across multiple classes.
    • Make sure to have a student draw out the story so you can refer back to it later.
    • Have a student write a listening comprehension quiz (t/f, multiple choice, etc.)
    • Have learners act out your story so you can interact with them in the TL.

25 Story Premises

  1. A bank teller’s day is ruined when a robber comes in and demands that she open the vault.
  2. It’s August in Arizona and the air conditioner broke at Emilio’s house.
  3. I have to wait in line at the supermarket when a fight breaks out.
  4. Elena thinks that she can fly. She’s right.
  5. I learn to play a musical instrument overnight.
  6. We need to buy a new house because ours is haunted.
  7. Billy asks Susie to the big dance, but he doesn’t have the money to rent a tuxedo.
  8. Two brothers are in a hurry because they believe that the sun is going to burn out tomorrow.
  9. An elderly couple decides to run a marathon for charity. It doesn’t go well.
  10. I feel like eating out, but my wife feels like making dinner.
  11. Sam’s mother-in-law cries every time she sees him.
  12. Tim the firefighter moves to Argentina and finds himself through learning to dance tango.
  13. María’s head always hurts because her boss always yells at her.
  14. Paulo needs to sell his car because he has to leave the country.
  15. David’s idea to make a million dollars seems like a good idea to Amelia, but it goes horribly wrong.
  16. A waitress receives a huge tip one night and decides to quit her job to pursue her passion.
  17. Amanda is too sick to go to her job at the hair salon. Her boyfriend goes for her and it turns out he’s a natural.
  18. Diana moves to Alaska but soon realizes she doesn’t like the cold.
  19. Rita’s husband Simón is very ugly, but their kids are really cute. Simón pays for a DNA test and the results are shocking.
  20. A young man decides to travel the world and sees something he shouldn’t have seen.
  21. Oscar is afraid of almost everything on earth. That’s why he decided to be an astronaut.
  22. Gael needs to lose some weight. He joins a gym and starts a new diet where he can only eat five different foods.
  23. Rebecca wants to give her mom a present for her birthday. Her mom loves clothes but has an odd fashion sense.
  24. Ramón wants to be an archeologist. He goes to the library every day to watch Indiana Jones movies on Netflix.
  25. Hector goes to the same café every day because he thinks the barista is cute. After 365 consecutive days, she agrees to go on a date with him. Hilarity ensues.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

Free Voluntary Reading at Home and in the Classroom

In his fabled garden, Pareto observed that 80 percent of the peas were produced by just 20 percent of the pods.

It’s uncanny how the Pareto Principle works in everything around us. Sometimes called the 80-20 rule, the Pareto Principle states that 80 percent of the results are produced by 20 percent of the effort. For example, 80 percent of the peas in a vegetable garden are produced by just 20 percent of the pods.

This number can be even more skewed in some circumstances: 85-15, 90-10 or even 99-1. You’re probably familiar with that number from economic discussion during the last decade – It stems from this non-linear distribution that occurs almost everywhere in nature. Note: If you weren’t familiar with this concept previously, you’ll probably start to notice it being talked about everywhere. That’s what happened to me when I first learned about Pareto and his fabled garden.

Applying Pareto’s Principle to Language Acquisition

For language acquisition, it’s clear that the vast majority of gains comes from one source: the unconscious/subconscious processing of comprehensible input. I can’t give an exact percentage, but I’d imagine that something like 95 percent of acquisition happens from input. Since we have such limited time with learners in the college setting, helping them seek out their own sources of comprehensible input is vital for their continued acquisition in and beyond our classroom.

My favorite source of comprehensible input is reading level-appropriate fiction.* Dr. Stephen Krashen, famous author and Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, has long championed this activity. I am in total agreement, and have started a steady diet of reading in my own language acquisition endeavors.

Krashen terms pleasure reading as Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), which is a term you’ll see thrown around the storytelling and the comprehension-based communicative language teaching community. Many instructors have even started using FVR as a part of their weekly routine (some twice per week, some every day).

My firsthand experience with FVR in French and Brazilian Portuguese have convinced me that reading is the most important source of comprehensible input for language learners. In terms of a Pareto distribution, I’d wager that FVR produced 90-95% of the gains I’ve made in those two languages (I’m still acquiring!). I found that more I read, the easier it is to think in those languages.

If you aren’t learning a new language right now, I recommend that you try, and to do so with FVR. It will remind you how difficult it is to learn to speak a new language and how powerful reading is. I’d also challenge you to not look up grammar rules or verb tables (at first). Instead, focus on processing as many messages as you can in your new language. Below is my daily routine for language acquisition:

1. 10 minutes of Duolingo in the TL as a warmup 
2a. FVR – at least two pages of a level-appropriate novel
2b. Watch at least 10 minutes of a show in TL (with subtitles in TL) / Listen to at least 10 minute of a podcast in TL (with transcript in TL, if available)

*What is “level-appropriate fiction”? I don’t know that there’s a good answer. I’ve heard people say if you understand 98% of a text without having to look words up would make it level-appropriate. Naturally, there is some wiggle room in the exact percentage.

FVR at Home

Since I have had such good success with FVR on my own, my initial idea to implement FVR in my courses is to ask students to read at home too. This frees up class time for more listening and structured reading input, but therein lie two potential problems.

1) Students don’t have access to an abundance of level-appropriate fiction. That means if a reader finds a particular novel boring, they can’t just put it back and grab another. This is a tenet of FVR. If the student isn’t enjoying a given text (for any reason), they just return it to the shelf and select something else.

2) I can’t be sure that learners are actually reading if I don’t have a system of tracking (e.g. number of pages, word count, number of books, etc.). Such as system is not viable, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be fair. I, for one, am a slow reader. It would take me much longer to read a certain number of pages than it would someone who reads quickly. 

The only thing that I can think of that might work as a tracking system is some sort of a streak system. For example, students might post to Canvas (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) that they read their nightly two-four pages in L2. That’s still the honor system, though. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s a feasible option.

I don’t ask my students to do FVR at home, but I’m still convinced there is a way to make it work. It’s what I do on my own, but I’m highly motivated to keep learning. I’ll continue working on a viable solution to this.

FVR In Class

Implementing a FVR program in class is, in my opinion, the best solution for presenting to learners a wide range of pleasure reading texts. A growing number of instructors are building personal libraries of level-appropriate novellas and allowing students to self-select a book to read. They act as curators of fascinating stories for their students to peruse, and they give access to books in L2 to students who wouldn’t have it otherwise.

This is a flexible option that you can easily add to your teaching repertoire. For instance, you might plan for students to have 10 minutes of FVR time, three days per week (perhaps after doing routine items such as the date, weather, etc.). If they respond well, you could up it to four or five times per week.

The goal is to get learners to fall in love with reading in L2. In this way, they will continue to seek out things to read on their own and extend their language acquisition journey indefinitely, well beyond the 10-15 weeks they spend with us.

As instructors, we know that those who read more have better vocabularies and command of grammar. Scheduling a time to pleasure read in class is a way to ensure that learners actually get that opportunity.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, FVR is actually an efficient use of class time. Why wouldn’t you want your students to read more? Give them the opportunity, and they will benefit greatly from it!

A Call to Authors and a Thank You

The thing about story is that we have an insatiable appetite for it. To this end, there are many storytelling educators who are trying their hand at writing short, level-appropriate novels for language learners. I am one of them. Below are the FVR novels I have published to date, and there are more on the way. I am sincerely grateful to all those who have read my work and/or have supported me to this point. It’s been quite an adventure. 

Las tres pruebas – Spanish
La vida loca de Marta – Spanish
La espía huérfana – Spanish
A espiã órfã – Portuguese

If you have ever thought about writing a novel, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s easier than ever to publish a novel, and our students need many thousands more titles to choose from. Perhaps this is the medium for you. There’s something deeply spiritual about an artist journeying to and from the divine.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

How to Prevent Students from Asking if They Can Make Up an Assignment

How can we painlessly mitigate one of the most annoying questions we get asked?

I know the syllabus says no late work is accepted for any reason, but have you ever made an exception?

I went on a trip/I got sick/My car broke down/My dog’s fourth-cousin once removed passed away recently/The line at Starbucks was really long/I didn’t hear my alarm/I had to take my little sister to see Santa but I forgot that it’s January and Christmas is over/ad infinitum

– Every student ever

It doesn’t hurt to ask, or so says our culture (at least in the U.S.A.). Generally, that is pretty good advice. I mean, it’s actually pretty good advice. The worst that could happen is that the professor says no.

Okay, I’ll admit that I can’t actually stop your students from asking if they can make up an assignment they missed (This is a problem for me because I’m still finding my courage to be disliked). But I have devised a system where I can provide leniency when necessary while remaining fair to all the other students, and not having to reopen closed assignments. I’ve had to pull my hair out way less frequently (which is good, because I don’t have a lot of hair to spare, especially in the front).

The Fabulous Four

1. Interpersonal Communication

Students are allowed three missed hours of class in my courses before it hurts their interpersonal communication grade. I need them to be present in order to evaluate their interpersonal communication, but I also understand that college students get sick, have emergencies, and occasionally need a mental health day. Missing a total of three days throughout the term isn’t going to impact their overall acquisition in any meaningful way.

Students email me all the time at the beginning of the quarter worrying about missing class and how it will affect their grade (it’s always about the grade, isn’t it?). I respond in three sentences that I don’t even have to think about. 

Hello, [language learner].

Oh no, [being sick] is never fun! You can miss up to three class periods before you begin to lose interpersonal communication points. Make sure you get any notes on what you missed from a classmate when you get back.

All my best,

Prof. Snider

2. Listening Quizzes

I give listening quizzes once per story that we tell. Throughout a term there are anywhere between 8-10 listening quizzes. It is inevitable that students will miss these, and they can be a huge pain in the butt to manage if you’re not careful.

My solution is to drop the lowest score from the gradebook (mine does this automatically!).

Billy: I missed class yesterday because I had the flu.

Me: Oh no! That’s terrible! I hate being sick!

Billy: I heard we had a listening quiz… Would I be able to make that up?

Me: Unfortunately, there are no make ups on listening quizzes, but I have good news! The lowest listening quiz score is automatically dropped.

Billy: Oh, okay. Thanks!

*Three weeks later*

Billy: I missed class yesterday because my cat had the sniffles.

Me: Oh no! That’s terrible! I hate being sick! 

Billy: I heard we had a listening quiz… Would I be able to make that up?

Me: Unfortunately, there are no make ups on listening quizzes, but I have good news! The lowest listening quiz score is automatically dropped.

Billy: Oh, okay. Thanks.

3. Timed Writes

Learners in my class do a timed write for every story we co-create. That means they have approximately 8-10 opportunities to miss a timed write. Same solution as the listening quiz. Drop the lowest score, and stay true to your word. You are giving flexibility to each and every student (which many of them need). You are also being fair to all the other students

4. Everything Else

No assignment in my class can be made up after the fact, but I will work with students if they know they are going to miss a quiz or a test beforehand and they communicate that for me. I tell them this up front and I keep my word. I highly value communication de antemano.

Conclusion

Dropping the lowest score in a given category is the easiest thing I have ever done to mitigate one of the most annoying questions we professors face (i.e. Will you make an exception even though the syllabus says no exceptions?). Now I show my students empathy and flexibility, but I also stay true to my word and don’t accept late work for any reason.

Better than aspirin for curing headaches.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.