In the wake of proficiency testing and the ACTFL Standards, the labels we as FL teachers use to describe our job have changed; and with those changes the objectives for teaching what were formerly called "skills" have been recast. What was once "speaking skill" is today more commonly referred to as "communicative competence." Reading has become "negotiating with the text," "reading for meaning," or "holistic reading." Along with new labels or new associations come changed ideas about what FL students should learn and how.

These four lessons on reading have presented the "what" (readable, authentic materials) and "how" (activities that engage a hierarchy of cognitive processes). We have stressed that these proposals can't work unless they reflect feasible instructional goals, taking into account the practical constraints posed by teachers' curriculum and their students' learning needs.

These goals include:

  • augmenting textbook readings with authentic materials,
  • introducing new readings with interactivity to motivate and ease the comprehension process,
  • providing activities to help students identify, to reproduce, or to interpret a text's information and messages,
  • teaching strategies for comprehending authentic texts without reliance on a dictionary,
  • comparing L1 and FL texts to uncover similarities and differences in approach and point of view,
  • and recognizing that testing must reflect the teacher's learning goals and the activities practiced to achieve them.

The ultimate goal in FL reading is the discovery of new knowledge. Enabling students to work toward that goal, even if only in small or periodic increments, contributes significantly to their development.

Instructor's Final Comments

Thirty years ago, I taught my first course in which we read only authentic texts. Afterward, I made a videotape of this intermediate-level class spontaneously discussing that experience. The first twenty minutes of the tape were filled with moans and groans—it had been hard reading magazine articles, newspaper editorials, etc. Finally I asked, "Do you regret having had to do this? Do you want to go back to the textbook next semester?" It was then that a sea change occurred. A chorus of voices responded with vociferous protests and firm denials. One of the biggest hand-wringers asserted, "Now I can talk about something interesting when I meet Germans—current political and social issues, not just polite hellos." Another assured me that the shock was over "after the first few weeks."

Today with the Internet, online searches, YouTube, and DVDs, authentic materials in print as well as in other media are far more accessible, and most FL classes have begun to use them regularly. As a result, I hope that the shock will not be as great for your students.