FVR/SSR · Learning Disabilities in the Latin Classroom

Starting FVR: Who, Why, and What

Salve/te! Sorry for the absence. I had an incredible summer of traveling: Italy in June with students, then Hilton Head the week after with my family. Down here in Georgia school starts the first week of August, so I really tried to use July not to work very much, including here on the blog.

But now that we’ve been in school for almost a month, I thought it was time for an update. I’m pretty excited about this post, since a lot of us Latin teachers are diving in to FVR this year or looking to improve upon what we’ve been doing. I want to give some insight into the “who, what, when, where, why, how” of the FVR program I have started running in one of my Latin classes. To keep the post from being too long, I’m going to split it up over the next few days.

Who? Why?

I am using FVR with my Latin II CP students this year. At our school, CP is a different level from CPA. I teach Latin I CPA, Latin II CPA, and Latin II CP. Students are placed into CP Latin for any number of reasons, most relating to learning disorders. It’s a rigorous course, but we move more slowly through CLC. The goal for both CPA and CP Latin is that students build fluency in reading Latin (among other goals) by the fourth year, but we take a more grammar-focused approach in CPA.

The other difference between CPA and CP Latin is that students might move between teachers at the halfway point of the year in CPA Latin. We have three Latin teachers, and in the lower levels, there are multiple teachers teaching each level. There are 4 sections of Latin I CPA and 4 sections of Latin II CPA; I teach 3 of Latin I CPA and 1 of Latin II CPA. With CP, however, students stay with the same teacher throughout the year since there is only 1 section of CP per level. So far with the way the schedules have worked out, we have actually looped up with our students (so that I am teaching my Latin I CP students again this year in Latin II CP), though that may change.

All of this is to say: I am running an FVR program with my CP students for a few reasons.

  1. They are a singleton section. There is no other section to coordinate with, whether a section of my own classes or one of my colleagues’ classes. This makes them perfect as my “trial run.” If we need to change something about the program, we can change it just for 20 kids, not for 60-something, and not in multiple classrooms. This also means that I am keeping track of books going through the hands of just 20 kids, not 60-something.
  2. Many of my CP students have dyslexia, so we are working on a skill that many of them struggle with in English as well. When we discuss best practices for independent reading as a class, my hope is that some of these skills will transfer to English reading. Another long-term hope/goal is that we would be able to have audio recordings of some or all of the books in our library that students could listen to while reading. I hope to have a post out at some point that describes our experiences – whether successes or failures or somewhere in between – in this area.
  3. I think it will be good for this CP class. I love these students; we are very close after having been together for a full year. We have gone through a lot of ups and downs together due to some circumstances and situations in some of my students’ lives, and because of those experiences, we seem to have bonded a lot. Now, they drive me (and each other) crazy sometimes, but at the end of the day we are nothing if not comfortable with one another and aware of one another’s quirks and preferences. This makes certain things easier, like asking them to do something brand new like FVR. I also think some of them like getting to do something the other classes don’t do.

What?

What does FVR look like in our class? First of all, we aren’t calling it FVR in class, although that’s what I call it (and intend to call it) on the blog, Twitter, and elsewhere. If I told my students that we were doing something called Free Voluntary Reading, they would say (I promise): “We are not volunteering to do this.” And they would kind of have a point. So to them, I call it Silent Reading most of the time. Sometimes I call it SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), although I know that technically, there is a difference between SSR and FVR (FVR = the kids pick what they want to read; SSR = the whole class reads the same thing). But SSR is a lot more descriptive of what we are actually doing: it is sustained, and it is silent.

We have actually only done one FVR session so far in class, although students did read their books on Friday after they were done with an activity, so we squeezed in another round of reading then. This is the way it works and will keep working (I hope):

  1. We plan to do FVR on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We are starting with 5 minutes; every 2 weeks, I will add 30 seconds to the time. Originally I wanted to add 1 minute every 2 weeks, but I think a more gradual build-up is going to be what we end up with. I project a timer on the board while they read – this may change if I see them checking the timer too much. (For a free timer, just Google “5 minute timer.”)
  2. It is the first thing we do in class. I don’t want to worry about them trying to pack up at the end of class. I also like starting class, if I can, with a calm and focused activity.
  3. I say “We’re doing Silent Reading today. You need to get your book from the milk crate. You can start reading as soon as you get your book, but I am not starting the timer until everyone is seated with their book. If you start reading on your own, keep your own time.” If they are keeping time on their own, they can use their phone’s stopwatch, but their phone must be face-down on their desk.
  4. Then… they read. I have a set of rules that I will share in a later post, but they are to be silent the whole time, reading the whole time, and dealing with words they don’t know (context clues, glossary, et al.) before they ask me about them.
  5. When they’re done, they fill out a simple reading log, which I will share in a later post. Right now the log is on paper. I’m considering moving it to a Google Form for easier data collection, but we’ll see.

The first day that we did this, they had just gotten a big talk about how they had to be silent the whole time. No talking to friends. In the middle of reading, I started hearing a student giggle. I turned around and firmly reminded them that they were not supposed to talk to friends during this time. The student looked really confused before saying, “Ms. Briscoe, I’m laughing at this book! It’s really good!” Heart-melting.

After our first session, a lot of my students (even the ones I was banking on not liking FVR) were really excited. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; some of them definitely weren’t excited and wanted never to do this again. I will find out why. With some of them, I think they chose a book that was too hard for them; with others, I think that they do not do much reading, period, and are struggling with reading for 5 minutes straight. Hopefully I can keep you posted on what solutions I find for this handful of kids. But for now, I will leave you with some real live quotes from my students after our first FVR session:

  • “This is really easy.”
  • “I only made it to the second page [of Cloelia] but I love it so far. The backstory is really interesting.”
  • “I was happy that I knew most of the words.”
  • “I liked it because it was funny.”

And… my favorite:

  • “I wanted to keep going so I could find out what happens.”

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Update: There’s a follow-up post here on how I started FVR.