Progress from comedy to crime
The Lesereise series is a three-stage group of readers for pupils learning German. Each stage consists of 16 differentiated readers and a teacher's guide. Lesereise 1 is based on the Gute Reise! 1 course; although the general themes and vocabulary make it suitable for all pupils at key stage 3.
Differentiation is an important feature of this pack. The 16 readers are divided up into six groups to match the revision units of the parent publication. All but the first two of these groups provide reading at three distinct levels - easy, medium and hard - which are sensibly colour-coded.
The readers themselves are lively, attractive, and made to withstand continual handling by pupils. Graphics are varied and colour is used throughout. Texts are mostly presented against pastel backgrounds to make reading easier. The simpler texts use comic balloons, while the harder ones are in more sustained narrative. The medium texts are a mixture of both.
The authors make it clear that pupils should be free to choose a reader they wish to read. Independent reading is the order of the day. Pupils are also required to keep a "reading file" in which they log new words and comment on the content of what they have read. A template for this is provided in the teacher's guide.
Lesereise promises a mix of reading material offering something to interest every pupil: fiction, non-fiction, humour, horror, detective, sci-fi and romance. At stage 1, possibilities for the full range of these are limited, although there is variety in content and approach.
The accent is on cultural awareness and peer empathy rather than the pop style of youth magazines. Each reader concludes with a series of exercises, which are also graded and offer closed and open-ended responses. Some of these require exacting linguistic answers, others are more personal.
Lesereise has obviously been put together by authors who are familiar with the latest research and thinking on the role of reading in language learning. Besides taking account of this in the design of the readers, they offer notes to teachers and tips for pupils.
The tips come on a Lesereise bookmark, and advise pupils on how to select a book and where to look for support while reading it. They go a long way to encourage pupils to work on problems, use dictionaries, and ask friends before going to the teacher for help. There is plenty of support, with starred items of vocabulary at the bottom of the page.
The teacher's notes are sensible but rather brief. What is missing is a developed rationale for the range of strategies to be built up with pupils. The many "good" language learner strategies now identified might have been more closely and explicitly tied in to the exercises offered.
Autonomy and progression are the present concerns of secondary modern language learning. Reading may be the key. Pupils take charge of their own rate of learning and build up a personal language network.
Lesereise is a big step in taking this message on board and developing good practice.
Michael Grenfell is lecturer in education: modern languages at the Centre for Language in Education at Southampton University