I had the fortune to judge the local elementary school Olympiada of spoken Russian for our immersion Russian program today. My job was to give students a text that they read silently and then answered questions.
First I listened to fourth-graders. Students with Russian-speaking parents had one text, and those with no Russian at home had another. Their texts were difficult for them, but they could mostly understand at least two-thirds of the words. The first two questions were about the title and author. There was only one question on each text that most kids couldn’t answer because of the complexity. I asked each student whether he/she liked the text. Almost always, the answer was “Yes,” for some reason like “My birthday is in spring, so I like the text about spring,” or “Yes, I like animals.”
The kids worked hard, and I like to think that most of them went away from me feeling confident.
It was when I got to use the same texts for sixth-graders that a sort of ah-hah moment came to me. The sixth-graders read the texts and then could “jam” on them. They elaborated beyond the scope of the text. They enjoyed my questions. And when I asked them whether they liked the texts, the answers were all “Yes,” and the first reason was always, “Because it was short and easy to read.” Obviously they had been fearing these texts. Then they were able to explain that they like reading about the seasons, because they have a favorite season, or they like reading about talking animals, or they liked the text because of the genre.
I will go back to my classroom determined to keep what I do comprehensible.