Forget about the Fossa: [Textbook] Embedded Readings Done BETTER

After attending Michele Whaley’s presentation on Embedded Readings at NTPRS, I was convinced that we’ve been playing a game of Telephone since she and Laurie Clarcq began sharing the concept back in 2012. It turns out that it’s “yes and no,” but there is an important distinction that is being made in current Embedded Reading practice. Whereas many of us THINK we’re creating Embedded Readings, most of us might be just adapting authentic texts, class stories, or textbook narratives. Those products are fine, but aren’t necessarily Embedded Readings. Most of us are missing two key features in our adapted readings that make them better:

  • Parallel Stories
  • Withholding New/Tantilizing Information (not just more words)

Parallel Stories
Don’t read the class story you just co-created as your Embedded Reading. Wait, what!? It’s true. There’s no point to reading the exact same story that was asked via TPRS the day before when everyone already knows the ending. In Bill VanPatten terms, these readings would be partially-communicative activities because they lack a purpose. The most-likely purpose is cognitive-informational (i.e. obtaining information for an immediate or future task), but another might be psycho-social (i.e. relationships, team-building, bonding). To set up an Embedded Reading to have a purpose per se (i.e. without other purposeful follow up activities), you must, must, must use a parallel story. This is also just good practice, and upon reflecting, that’s exactly what Blaine Ray TPRS Workshops encourage. Again, a game of Telephone over the years. Take the language (i.e. phrases/structures) that was used in the class story, and then change the details…maybe even the whole plot, and there you go! This is a simple yet crucial fix.

I’ve adamantly had students read what they heard, but I forgot about the idea of novelty, genuine communication, and how important it was to use parallel stories. I’ve probably been focused on getting the story in print form so everyone can read. From now on I might have someone type up and project our class story in real time and do a quick read on that very day, but otherwise my work (prep) will be to create a base parallel reading and embed it into 2 or 3 additional tiers…Embedded Readings.

New/Tantalizing Information
Don’t forget to WITHHOLD information from that awesome new story with new details. Once you have an ending, save it for the final version, or reserve space for an surprising twist. An Embedded Reading might be 3 versions of the same information that grow in sentence length, complexity, and use of adjectives/adverbs, but a better Embedded Reading has new/tantalizing information. Include new information (e.g. plot, background info, etc.) with each version you read. Otherwise, the final reading would just be read for the sake of reading more complex language. This hints at the type of “monitoring” that isn’t as helpful for acquisition, at least for the first few years, or the “classic” adapting that Michele mentions below.

Textbook Implications
I put a call out for some Embedded Readings to use with the textbook used at my new school. Some were “top-down” Embedded Readings. Considering the new information that has come to light, the lack of 1) parallel stories, and 2) withholding new/tantalizing information seems to make them less effective. Some of them weren’t even adapted, and instead contained sentences directly pulled from the textbook passage. Many of the latter would still be considered abridged/edited readings, but certainly not anything to make the reading vastly more comprehensible, which is a major point to Embedded Readings.

So, do students REALLY have to read about that fossa in Ecce Romani? No, not really. It’s better to use key language (i.e. phrases/structures) from the passages and create your own parallel readings that are far more personalized and compelling. Once done, the textbook passage, if deemed necessary/desirable, will be a breeze to read. If it’s not, don’t read it!

#authres Implications
Ballestrini et al. have done an amazing…aMAZING job creating tiered versions of Caesar and Virgil. These are adapted texts that make the authors’ works more accessible. If we were to do nothing else, we would still win Latin now that these resources are available, so hats off to them and others doing similar work. The tiered readings were created by following the “top down” approach to Embedded Readings as shown in an early PPT. However, we can take it one step further and use the language within each Tier to make an Embedded Reading that’s more personalized and compelling. That’s right…we could create Embedded Readings for each of the 3 Tiers of adapted texts from Caesar and Virgil! Our students would have no problem reading Caesar after a story with a twist using the same language. Here’s Michele on what might be considered adapted readings, how she does “top-down” Embedded Readings:

Dear Lance,

Embedded Readings have two forms: bottom up and top down. Both are to help students read a text that could otherwise challenge them so that they might then give up on without trying.

Adapted readings might be a way of describing the top down kind of ER, but usually the “classic” adapted readings haven’t focused on whittling the text down to the core information. Instead, they change the language to make it easier to read and often shorten the text.

When I do a top-down ER, I reserve some of the tantalizing information (if there is any!) until the later versions so that students maintain interest. And typically I do also use a parallel story, because that gives me more of a chance to repeat those structures I think are important or that the students are in the process of acquiring. A parallel story is also much more interesting to kids because it’s theirs. Parallel stories slow down the progress of the class if it’s curriculum you’re trying to get through, but they improve student acquisition.

There’s a chance that after years of Embedded Readings, our students might actually read Caesar and Virgil more easily. If that’s the case, the adapted versions could suffice. If not, looks like we need to create more personalized Embedded Readings with 1) parallel stories, and 2) withholding new/tantalizing information.

15 thoughts on “Forget about the Fossa: [Textbook] Embedded Readings Done BETTER

  1. Thanks for this post, Lance. You’ve hit the mark on many levels. I am particularly glad you talked about parallel stories. There has been some concern in our Latin communities about why we would bother reading fantasy stories like Itinera Petri, Magus Mirabilis Oz, Iter Mirabile Dennis et Debrae or modern time stories like Brando Brown Canem Vult. These novellas themselves can constitute parallel stories to other works that we are reading in our classes. Using them as such truly raises the compelling aspect of the classroom and the language being used. Your tips on writing embedded readings, preserving the ending, etc are huge, and quite honestly, easy to forget about. Very good work here for us just beginning the new year. Maximas gratias!

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  8. How would you do a parallel story or some PQA for the Caesar reading from the Project Arkhaia?

    Or, if you know it, how would you do a parallel story for the first part of Theseus from Lingua Latina 25?

  9. Argh. I’m missing something: what is the essential difference between tiered and embedded reading? Is it:
    Tiered: *same* story, wth simplified vocabulary (this is what the Arkhaia material does–I don’t think there’s any added information as the tiers go up)
    Embedded: targeted vocab, *similar* story (e.g., personal, twist, adding info)

    I’m starting the fall with an “advanced” tiered reading of a non-AP section from Caesar, where each tier does add more info as well as get a bit closer to the original. We’ll see how it goes…

    • Same/similar is one way to look at it, although you’ll see the term “parallel” used in place of “similar,” referring to the use of the same verbs/structure, but different details. “Similar” doesn’t feel as close. Also, yes, there are twists, and surprising details with Embedded Readings…not just more (e.g. NOT this: Caesar was a man. Caesar was a Roman man. Caesar was a Roman man who famously was killed on the Ides of March. Caesar, a Roman man who famously was killed on the Ides of March by fellow senators, wrote a book about fighting against the Gauls.).

      • Right. In the tiered/embedded reading I created, the second one gave some of the reasons–why did the Gauls have so few cavalry? Why weren’t the Romans on guard? Then the third added the twist that Piso Aquitanus’ brother, whom he had already saved, threw himself back into the fight and died as well.

        Those may not be compelling details for kids–it’s not like Katy Perry showed up or anything–but if they have to read Caesar, at least we can focus on the more interesting details of Caesar…

      • Yep, you are doing top-down Tiered readings. An Embedded reading would be about an entirely different topic using the language from Caesar, and students would need some reason to read the next version (i.e. parallel, and tantalizing info withheld).

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