Book Club Friday’s
This is my fourth year teaching AP Spanish Language & Culture. The first year was mostly just survival and trying to figure out how to approach teaching the course. I was reluctant to take too many chances or try new ideas right away. I have often heard teachers say that you really become comfortable once you teach a course three times. Since I started teaching, I have taught almost every Spanish course my school offers from Spanish 1 to AP. And, I would agree that experience definitely improves teaching. Looking at my teacher self in 2001, I was young, enthusiastic and eager to teach, but I feel I am a much more effective teacher now.
So, now that I had some experience (and some solid AP scores) under my belt, I decided it was time to take some risks. The AP Spanish Language & Culture course is not a literature course, but it does address interpretive skills, both listening and reading). And, research shows that reading is an effective way to facilitate language acquisition. Here is a nice article on the topic. With that in mind, I wanted to read more than short stories and non-fiction articles with my AP students. I had just finished participating in a virtual book club for the book ‘Ditch that Textbook’ by Matt Miller. I thought it would be great to have an actual book club weekly with my students.
While beginning to do some planning for the school year over the summer, I was trying to figure out how to incorporate a book club within the limited amount of time we have in AP (especially prior to the exam). The model I came up with was what I call ‘Book Club Friday’s’. I still teach my AP curriculum Monday-Thursday. Each week students are assigned to read a chapter of our book club selection outside of class. On Friday’s, the class is broken up into small groups for book club conversation.
Then I came across an amazing resource from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell of Musicuentos. She has created eBook guides for two novels that work in intermediate and upper level classes. One is for the novel ‘Cajas de cartón’ by Francisco Jiménez and the other is for ‘La ciudad de las bestias’ by Isabel Allende. ‘Cajas’ tells the story of a young child who immigrated illegally with his family from Mexico to California. He struggles through the many challenges of growing up as a migrant child laborer in the agriculture industry in the 1950’s. My students could not get enough of Panchito (the protagonist’s story). Jiménez wrote two sequels to ‘Cajas’ (‘Senderos fronterizos’ and ‘Más allá de mí’.) Some of my students started to read these books on their own, outside of class to continue Panchito’s story.
We use the eBook guide in class, discussing the questions in groups, and then look at the vocabulary and conversation activities included for the chapter that will be read for the following week. After reading the first novel, my students acquired some new vocabulary and were able to see authentic Spanish writing and comprehend it. I am hoping to have time this summer to create some resources for the two sequels to ‘Cajas de cartón’.
It took us about three months (of Book Club Friday’s) to get through the twelve chapters of ‘Cajas de cartón’. Once we were done, my students were begging for more Book Club Friday’s. After returning from winter break in January, we started our next selection. This time we are reading ‘La Ciudad de las Bestias’ and using Sara-Elizabeth’s eBook guide for this book. I’ve made some changes to the format of ‘Book Club Friday’s’ and am assigning some different tasks outside of class, among them using SnapChat for students to share their reactions to what they are reading. I continue to receive positive feedback from students. This book is a bit more challenging, but they are engaged, talking about it with friends outside of class and look forward to class on Friday’s. Many of my students read ahead and several are already talking about reading the other two Allende books in this trilogy - ‘El reino del dragón de oro’ and ‘El bosque de los pigmeos’.
I am hoping to try a simpler book, perhaps something like ‘La casa en Mango Street’ with my ninth graders later on this year. I plan on creating and sharing any supplemental materials I come up with for that here. Feel free to comment with any ideas or successful strategies you have used to incorporate Book Clubs or similar activities in your classes.
High school Spanish teacher in NJ. Google for Education Certified Trainer. Always looking to try new things in my classes. Technology junkie.