“Chouchou,” “consentido,” or “class pet” is an old and universal problem. Elisha Babad documented the subtitles of teachers’ behaviors for decades and found children as young as 6 perceive differential treatment.
Some principles and strategies that work to avoid this problem:
Library time. Often teachers are perceived to give more time or more positive feedback to traditionally-successful readers. Plan time to chat one-on-one with lost kids milling around the library without a book, while your successful readers (“teacher’s pet” types) are reading independently.
Change up your seating chart and make sure you give small reading groups equal time. The students sitting nearest you (feel they) get the most attention and often achieve more. Constantly move your back row to the front.
Avoid class jobs or consider rotating jobs. All Kindergarteners know, being line-leader matters. Similarly, with Learning Experience Approach or co-created stories, one student gets to be the “story driver.” You can certainly seek ways to rotate or share these roles equally, but this often introduces the problem that some students are more vocal leaders, some are quiet. Also, how many Kindergarteners (or high schoolers) can wait six weeks until it’s their turn? I recommend avoiding class jobs or special leadership roles during whole-group time. A more natural, egalitarian leadership tends to evolve in student-led literary circles or small group time without direct teacher intervention.
Periodic Assessments should notice all children, especially struggling learners. Each time you observe something noteworthy, consider jotting down your observation (successes or struggles) on a Post-it. Stick Post-its in each child’s records page, alphabetized in an class binder. Flip through your binder monthly to find students you notice less. Anecdotal records can be helpful with administrators and parent conferences and help you cut down on high-accountability testing.
Note: a huge thanks to Dr. Beniko Mason for this and many other practical lessons.
Recycling is allowing words and phrases to repeat naturally in a story or text. Sometimes we can apply a little intentionality to the stories and words we choose to use recycling to our advantage.
Recycling targets is appropriate for beginners but should be done with caution. Do not test students on targets and never pressure yourself to “teach” recycled targets for mastery (targeting 1).
Here is an example of the first two weeks of stories for true beginners. Very quickly, I found this level of planning was unnecessary. With each story, cast an increasingly wider “net” and let recycling happen more and more naturally.
Nontargeted recycling occurs naturally through narrow listening and reading.
Use students’ interests to find one type of story or book and stick with it for a while. Spend a few weeks telling Greek myths and the words “god,” “causes,” “earth,” and “sky” will recycle. Then, move on to “prince,” “princess,” “spell,” and “castle.” Operas/tragic love, knight’s quests, creation stories, Aesop fables, trickster stories, tall tales, etc. each have a set of words that naturally recycle. Academic language will be naturally included in narrow reading (Krashen 2004, 4).
One important consideration for shared oral stories is that when students can not simply put a book down, the teacher should be ready to abandon any story or type of story if interest wanes.
Dr. Beniko Mason tells her students to “just enjoy the story” to provide low-affective-filter, low-accountability comprehensible input. Most students won’t need convincing to “just enjoy stories” and books. But how do you convince that rare skeptic teen, or the studious, over-achiever to keep an open mind when they hear their first story? How do you convince students accustomed to a textbook to simply read for pleasure?
The answer is to empower them with what they crave: knowledge.
Inform students about the SLA process. Beniko Mason has created this great resource explaining SLA for parents, but you can explain the same ideas to students too.
Use books and stories that give students special world knowledge. Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. are just as engaging for adults as for the very young. These stories never lose their charm. But stories like Prometheus Brings Man Fire or Pandora’s Box (especially if told as a series) may catch the attention of those students who are reluctant to enjoy less “academic” stories. Similarly, students who turn their nose up at Diary of a Wimpy Kid may enjoy high-interest nonfiction or historical fiction. My favorite are Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales or the I Survived series.
Offer feedback on their growth. Periodically show students the assessments you have done and how you are monitoring their progress. This kind of student may want to know how many words per minute they are reading.
Give in a little. If “practicing language” really makes them feel better, let them. Dr. Beniko Mason suggests allowing students to take notes in class if they want; or send home a prompter or word list with them to “practice” on their own time.
Why are blood and guts, gross out humor, and enormous spiders so endlessly fascinating? Because they’re cool, that’s why. And the idea of pursuing your curiosity despite it being taboo or displeasing to adults is empowering.
As students gain knowledge about the gross and weird, they proudly think, “‘Listen to me. I know what adults know too, and I am brave enough to speak of the unspeakable!’ They are pushing the edges of their knowledge as they push the edges of acceptability,” according to Jobe and Dayton-Sakari (73).
Students feel empowered as they build a special knowledge base through narrow reading. When possible, encourage students to find a single subject to read narrowly on (yes, even if that subject is the later stages of digestion).
Single-Topic Gross-Out Books
Gross-Out Animals That Do Disguisting Things by Ginjer Clarke
Bugopedia by Discovery Kids
That’s Disgusting series by Connie Colwell Miller
Poop: a Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies
Sanitation Investigation Series by Capstone
Icky, Sticky Gross Stuff series by Pam Rosenberg (warning, the Icky, Sticky, Gross Stuff in Your Food book is in fact quite gross)
Real Scary Spiders by Animal Planet
*The following books jump from subject to subject. They don’t have the same effect as true narrow reading in a content area, however, they allow students to browse until they find exactly what they are interested in reading.
Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
Almanac of the Gross Disgusting and Totally Repulsive by Eric Elfman*
National Geographic’s Ultimate Weird but True series*
The “Guiness Book of World Records” series*
Oh, Yikes! History’s Grosses Moments by Joy Masoff
Free Voluntary Web-surfing is great source of comprehensible input (Krashen 2011, 64; Krashen 2005). There are many ways to adapt this to suit your classroom, but use these guidelines to protect children.
Surf with a plan. Conference with students to create small group or individual web-surfing plans. Use student interests to offer a list of safe sites and resources. The American Library Association has over 800 amazing kid-friendly sites, or you can talk to your school librarian.
Monitor use of social media and online interaction and neverallow students to give identifying information (their name, their school, etc.).
Use settings to block inappropriate content. Make sure your school filters block inappropriate content, use safe search, and consider blocking images for very young students.
Two simple approaches to Free Voluntary Web-surfing
1. Read in a content-area or genre.
Shared reading and discussion about text in a genre or content-area can provide background knowledge, as well as set a purpose for Free Voluntary Web-surfing. For example, to enhance a Sheltered Literature study in lyrics, my students surfed the web for lyrics and contributed to a class’s blog of their favorite songs.
2. Create a Digital Magazine
Web-surfing and then contributing to a class magazine allows students to share enthusiasm for reading and creates a finished product students take pride in. Instapaper allows students to bookmark articles they love with one click. Their bookmarks compile to create a beautifully visual “magazine” of articles, blog posts, and websites.
I allow students to sign up for roles like “sports editor,” “fashion columnist,” or “celebrity news reporter.” Students familiarize themselves with online resources and then read narrowly in an area of personal interest.
I once made the mistake of mentioning my love for comics in the classroom at a job interview. I got the job… and an eye-roll.
Comics have an undeserved stigma. While students should eventually move on to academic text, Krashen notes “that comic book reading and other forms of light reading can serve as a conduit to ‘heavier’ reading” (3).
Comics lure the most reluctant of readers into a reading habit. Artwork that allows them to actually see thoughts, faces, and feelings helps make connections with characters (so says my comic-fanatic son with ASD).
When talking with administrators, it is important to explain why ESL classrooms have more teacher talk than mainstream classes. Teacher talk is an important source of comprehensible input for language learners (Krashen, 1982, 59). The majority of English Language Learners report that teacher talk with enhanced visual clues, body language, and simplified speech helps them understand and feel engaged (Matsumoto).
Many native speakers or advanced ELLs are ready for “student talk” and may choose to speak spontaneously. Forcing student talk, however, may raise the affective filter.
Proponents of forced student talk argue “Talk plays a noticing role; it triggers a consciousness-raising function” (Boyd, 448). However, language practice and noticing promotes conscious learning, not unconscious acquisition (Truscott; Krashen 2004, 1982). Student talk is the result, not cause of comprehensible input. Autonomous, student-initiated responses will happen if students receive enough comprehensible input (Krashen 2004, 1982).
Boyd, M. & Reuben, D. (May 2002). Elaborated Student Talk in an Elementary ESOL Classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 36(4): 495-530.
Gharbavi, A. & Iravani, H. (May 2014). Is Teacher Talk Pernicious to Students? A Discourse Analysis of Teacher Talk. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 98: 552 – 561.
Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Long, M. H. (1983). Linguistic and conversational adjustments to non-native speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 5(2): 177-193.
Matsumoto, H. (2010). Students’ Perceptions About Teacher Talk In Japanese-as-a-Second-Language Classes. Arizona Working Papers in SLA & Teaching, 17: 53-74.
Truscott, J. (1998). Noticing in second language acquisition: a critical review. Second language Research,14(2), 103-135.