-As a learner, how have you used reading when learning a foreign language? Did it consist of a task given by the teacher or did you voluntarily decide to do it? Did you find it challenging or useful?
-As a teacher (in any context: formal education, school placements, private classes…), how have you incorporated reading or storytelling in your classes? Was there a variety of methodologies and texts depending on the students’ age? Have you ever thought of using reading as an innovation strategy? How? Do you know of any methodologies different from yours?
Before answering these questions, I would like to start this first post by talking a bit about myself. I have lived in English speaking countries for about 4 years, two years in Canada, and two in Ireland. In my youth, I never had an interest in learning English that I discovered as an adult, that’s the main reason why I decided to emigrate. I am not asserting blame for the system not having awoken in me the desire to learn English when I was a child, but I would have loved that that in which I was a student could have pursued and given the importance to English that it is currently.
When I was a student in the primary stage, I don’t remember getting involved with reading on my own. However, I remember having had lots of storytelling in class with a few traditional stories such as the Three little pigs or even seeing The little red riding hood school play in English done by the 6th-grade class. My teacher at that time (we just had one teacher during the whole primary stage) tended to speak a lot in the F1 and she used lots of translation during the English lessons. What I remember well was that she used to love getting us involved with anything related to dramatization. We had a few well-known stories established at each level and she enjoyed making us perform them in small groups. These engaging stories required plenty of reading because we had to read our lines, understand its meaning, and perform what we read in small groups.
When I started High School, we had a few English teachers. I remember one that was a great teacher and I learned a lot with her. Although most of the readings consisted of a task given by the teacher, we had the option of voluntarily exchanging books from our English library in class. This library had a broad variety of books that students brought to school. We were allowed to choose a book from a partner and borrowed it to read at home. I found it useful to start improving my English skills. Nevertheless, I did find it very challenging to read a whole book with a low level of English. Even though bringing different books from home was a great idea, these were not carefully analyzed and adapted to the English level of the students.
Moving onto the next question, I’ll answer based on my experience as an English teacher that it started when I was still in University. I worked as a private teacher with a 12 years old student for about a year and working with this child made me realize that my English level wasn’t good enough to teach English. I wanted to involve myself and the students in lots of readings but I did actually struggle myself to understand the vocabulary that appeared in the story.
Right after I finished my degree, I decided to move to Canada and I studied English for two years. When I came back, I got a job as an English teacher in a semiprivate school and there was when I started incorporating reading and storytelling in my lessons. Sadly, the school was very focused on the curriculum and this aspect didn’t allow me to get my students into reading as much as I would have loved to. However, I did try to incorporate plenty of storytelling and reading in my lessons to help my students assimilate all the content that was presented.
One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most about working in that school was that it allowed me to work as an English teacher at all levels of Primary Education. I started teaching the first cycle of Primary Education and I included lots of nursery rhymes and in particular, the holly phonics to work on the pre-literacy skills and the phonics method. I also searched for a content-related book in each unit so that I could extend the content by using storytelling in class.
When I taught in the middle cycle, I tried to incorporate the audiobooks in class so that students would get used to the English accents. What’s more, I also encouraged the reading of short stories in class and sometimes, at home with their families. The stories were always adapted to the students’ level and one of the methods that I used a lot in my lessons was reading in pairs. Children were encouraged to discuss what they could see in the pictures and commented with their partners. Then, they were able to build shared knowledge and this made it easier for them to understand the text that we were working on.
Lastly, with the upper cycle groups, I set a library with different books from school and shared by some students’ families and I always made sure that these were adapted to the students’ knowledge. Letting children choose their own books and topics was really motivating for them. Furthermore, reading helped the students to grow their confidence in using the language and they also discovered the enjoyment and pleasure of reading itself. Answering the question about using reading as an innovation strategy, I have never thought of reading as an innovation strategy but I will definitely do some research about this topic and I will come up with some ideas in the near future.
To sum up, I would like to share with all of you that I am glad that nowadays, I’ve become an English teacher in a changing era of education. I truly believe that teachers should transmit their passion for reading and broaden horizons for our students. We need to work hard every day to be accessible, fair, and coherent teachers, but most of all teachers that can show humanity, be an example to others and help to grow the citizens of the future.