What’s an appropriate level text for students reading independently?
That is, texts intended to be used for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) need to be way, way, way easier to read than most teachers think…
If a novel/novella is going to be read by the whole class, the level of that text can be much higher. After all, the teacher is there to engage, provide support, and check comprehension throughout. Let’s face it; some learners don’t do that on their own, continuing to read with the wrong idea missing details, skipping words altogether, and zoning out, sometimes processing little input. Reading a book as a whole class allows the teacher to have more control over the pace, and see that the text is more likely to be processed.
Independent reading, however, is different. I, myself, space out while reading my native language, let alone a second language that might be causing me difficulty! Only the highly-motivated student can deal with a great deal of noise (i.e. incomprehension) in the input, and doesn’t mind continuously flipping to the glossary. The typical student, however, will check out well before then. That’s why texts for the beginning independent reader should be far, far, far below what many expect.
I read on Twitter a call for Latin texts of 300, 600, 900, 1500, etc. unique words in addition to those with lower word counts. I disagree with this, at least in how novellas are used in my school. For anyone implementing an FVR program, there really isn’t such a thing as having too many texts at the kind of level some consider hideously simple. After all, choice is important for independent readers. What kind of actual choice do beginning Latin students have right now compared to, say, Spanish?! Students reading independently would benefit more from a broad range of topics and writing styles than they would a broad range of text levels, at least right now.
Don’t get me wrong; the idea of having texts of all levels is great, but that idea falls short, practically speaking, considering that most Latin students are beginners (i.e. the major drop in enrollment after year 2, even in schools with excellent retention numbers). Surely, there must be a priority, yes? And I do wonder who the intended audience of the 300-2000+ word count novellas would be, and how they would be used. I can say, with confidence, that those texts don’t serve typical students reading independently during FVR.
To illustrate, I can share some insights into reading Pugio Bruti during the 10 minute FVR time while students choose their own books. I can read just about one chapter within that time. There are 28 chapters, 350 unique words, and the book is over 9,000 total words in length. That latter figure represents half of the total words as my students have read the entire school year thus far, and they’ve been exposed to about 125 of the unique words. We know that a student with a vocabulary of 125 will easily read books that have perhaps just 10 more unknown words, but not the 225 more needed to read Pugio Bruti independently! This book is an excellent read for me, someone with nearly 15 years exposure to Latin (granted, I do question how much of that exposure was comprehensible. It’s possible that my own students will have received as much CI within one year as I did within a decade!). Thus, books at the 300+ level are nowhere near readable by my students independently, which I anticipate holding true for the first 2-3 years of Latin, and maybe all throughout high school. If anything, more authors would do better writing at the <300, <150, and ideally <100 levels! Those texts would be readable by far, far, far more students in FVR programs.