I started doing FVR (free voluntary reading) a couple of years ago after finally finding enough books to feel comfortable doing it and after spending what seems like several hours picking Bryce Hedstrom's brain about how he's done it so successfully. If you are brand new to this idea, I highly recommend going to Bryce's website and reading all you can about what he does in his classroom.
Here are the keys (in my opinion) to making this work (and I'm sure Bryce would agree since I got my ideas from him):
1. You have to start early. I have enough baby picture books that even my French 1 students are able to "read" for five minutes the first week of school. I don't know how beneficial reading is at this point in their acquisition, but at this point in the school year, they are super compliant and so I am training them that this is the way things are going to happen for the rest of the school year.
2. You have to read with them. When it's reading time, I get out my book, get in my comfy chair, and read with them.
3. No evaluation: I do not give the students anything to turn in for this time. I've read other books (such as Book Love) that say that keeping a log is a good way for the students to self-reflect and can help the teacher guide them to great books, but I just can't figure out a way to do it that doesn't seem like paperwork. I want them to enjoy reading in a low-stress environment.
4. Tell them why: Before we read for the first time, I tell them of all the research showing how wonderful reading is for acquisition and we revisit these throughout the year. I also don't assign homework, so I tell them that these 5 minutes are their way to pay me back for that.
5. This time is sacred: No bathroom breaks, no talking...just silence. Which is super powerful when I read something funny and start chuckling to myself. "Man, I wonder what is so funny in that book?? Maybe someday I'll read it."
But this blog post wasn't supposed to be a re-phrasing of Bryce's work... I wanted to say that I have been AMAZED at my own progress in French through reading 30 minutes a day for 2-3 days a week this year. (five minutes for six hours) For me, reading in French has always been awful because at university, we had to read 18th century novels written in a French that isn't spoken today and with tons of junk hidden in the words. I hated it. I hated reading and I hated that all the grad classes offered at the local university were all literature classes. Where's the enjoyment in that?! Luckily, I found the Nicolas Sparks of France, ,Marc Levy. His books are not earth-shattering, but they are written in a French full of daily language and with gripping plot points. Sure, the guy and girl end up together in the end, but I'm hooked! There are times when I am reading almost as if I were reading in English. I forget that it's in French and am able to just enjoy the plot.
So, if you are like me and struggling with how to get better at a language without being immersed in the language 24/7, please please please get your kids reading in class. They also benefit, but that has been well-documented elsewhere. If you need some book recommendations, let me know!!