Integrating children's literature into a college foreign language class : a teacher-researcher's perspective
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Authentic texts, especially literary texts, are typically absent from beginning- and intermediate-level foreign language (FL) curricula because students at these levels of proficiency seem to lack the grammar, lexicon and cultural knowledge necessary to understand the complex nature of literary texts. When presented with canonical literature, many students feel overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged and anxious. In search of other forms of authentic texts that did not cause so much challenge for students in the first two years of college, children’s literature has been examined since the early 1990s. In the very few existing studies, children’s literary texts were found to be accepted by students, who praised their interesting topics, simple grammar and vocabulary, colorful illustrations, and short length, among other characteristics that facilitated comprehension. The purpose of this qualitative research study is to investigate the integration of children’s literature into an intermediate Spanish-as-a-foreign-language class at the university level in order to broaden the knowledge in this field. The research questions that lead the study investigated (a) the processes of text selection, integration and implementation; (b) students’ linguistic, cultural, and affective responses to these texts; and (c) the lessons learned during the investigation, as a teacher and as a researcher. The participants of this semester-long qualitative research case study are the teacher-researcher and twenty-two students (five of which were selected for more indepth case studies) of a fourth semester Spanish class at a large southwestern university. Data included several types of documents, interviews and observations. Content analysis was used to arrive at interpretations. Findings indicated that students’ proficiency level was directly related to comprehension. Therefore children’s literature must be selected carefully in order to be beneficial. Students enjoyed reading children’s literature in this course, believed their Spanish improved, and appreciated the presence of Hispanic/Latino culture in the texts. Low-proficiency students were found to have difficulties with most texts, especially with the vocabulary. These students selected familiar, simpler texts for their assignments instead. Only one student did not find the texts cognitively challenging. The teacher researcher’s lessons learned, implications for research and pedagogy, and limitations are included.