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Initial student reaction January 30, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Getting Started, Lessons Learned.
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Now this was a treat for me. My school district is big into “differentiated” curriculum. We are encouraged, nay, required to differentiate curriculum for every single sub group imaginable. So when I started making talk of a “heritage reading program” for the native speakers in my class I immediately started getting positive feedback from core curriculum teachers. Fuel to the fire.


The first day that I handed my native speakers the Blaine Ray readers and accompanying packets (a different reader for each student so that they could not collaborate) they objected. Loudly. They claimed that they couldn’t read Spanish.


Their whines fell on deaf ears. I told them that my second language learners were going to read in the target language starting on day 10. My second language learners were going to read the very novels that I was assigning them. If my second language learners could read those books, so could they.


Well, they crawled through those books at crippled turtle speed. Honestly, it took them twice the amount of time to read and do the packet for Pobre Ana as it takes my second language learners.


So, I had a little chat with them. I gave them reading logs (see top tab labeled tracking and look for the form there) and told them they would be accountable for the number of pages they read every day.


You could smell the panic in the air. Half of them immediately went to see the counselor. They told the counselor that they wanted to transfer out of Spanish. Suddenly, they were native speakers who didn’t really need to be in conversational Spanish level 1.


I took my then small book collection and packets down to the counselor’s office. I showed them the newly developed reading log and explained the program as it existed at that time. I told them those native speaking students just didn’t want to do the work. They didn’t want to read.


Well, you know how educators feel about reading. It is the number one best way to improve vocabulary in any language. It is also shown to improve standardized test scores. Our school counselors were all over my newly developed reading program. Praises filled the air.


I warned the counselors that those little cherubs, who were suddenly thrown into an elective that would take effort, would try to get their moms to call and get them removed from class. I told the counselors that I didn’t want to see that happen.


Who knows what I was thinking. I guess I was spending hours every night reading and preparing packets, those children were not going to transfer out.


I walked straight from the counselors’ office to the vice principal over curriculum. I showed her my budding program. I told her I didn’t think those students should get to transfer out just because suddenly they had to do some work. Not only did she agree, but she thought I was a hero in education.


I wasn’t even out of her office before she had the principal on the line explaining what I was doing.


Despite the best efforts of my resourceful cherubs, they were not allowed out of my class.


After half the year 60% still don’t love reading. It has taken some effort on my part to build parameters into the program to keep them reading at the proper pace. But they read every day. Their reading in Spanish has improved measurably. My writing and mechanical understanding of Spanish has skyrocketed. I now check books out to some of the custodial crew at my school. I owe more money than I dare tell my husband to my amazon credit card. And I am totally addicted to reading (worse than before).


Leveling my books January 30, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Lessons Learned.
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I needed to have my books leveled. Frankly, it didn’t matter so much how accurate the placement was, as long as it was consistent. If all my books were leveled by the same criteria then I could compare them to each other.


Someone led me to this website http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp  The other middle school in my district does AR. It is some sort of mandatory reading program that all their students have to do. This is where they buy their system from.


Don’t get too excited by the quizzes available on this website. It is extremely expensive to be part of this program. The only use I have for this page is it helps me level my books.


I have found it easiest to search by author.


I just used round yellow stickers on the front of each book with the grade level.


I have found my students are not really interested in the grade level. They want to read the easiest books I will let them get away with. They judge ease by size.

Where I got my books January 21, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Finding Books, Getting Started, Lessons Learned.
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As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was desperate and in a hurry. I already had 3 Junie B Jones books 3 Magic Tree House books and a bunch of books written at a middle school reading level.

I went to Amazon.com first. They are fast and have a really good supply of Magic Treehouse. They had a few Junie B Jones books in Spanish and pitifully few Goosebumps. I ordered what I could. Ultimately, after searching high and low on the net, and following every lead, I wound up buying most of the books from amazon and club leo.

I got a hold of scholastic Club Leo 1-800-724-6527.

I have learned that Goosebumps books are just difficult to get. Amazon has some, Club Leo only has a few at a time. Some of them are more interesting to read than others. Magic Treehouse were the easiest to get a hold of. As of Jan 2009 there were 20 in Spanish.

In my personal library of juvenile books I had all of the Twilight series, Isabelle Allende’s series starting with Ciudad de las Bestias and the first 3 Harry Potter books. All of those are available from a variety of sources, including my local bookstore.

I learned the books translated in Spain are very hard for my native speakers.

Why I started January 21, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Getting Started, Lessons Learned.
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In the 2007-2008 school year I had 4 native Spanish speakers in one my conversation Spanish level 1 classes, and lower numbers in the others. When I say conversational Spanish I don’t mean learning to say hola, ¿dónde está el baño? followed by a semester of article and adjective agreement. I mean conversational Spanish every day, all day, 180 school days of the year. It really isn’t the appropriate place for a native Speaker. They should be learning about Spanish literature, grammar and technical vocabulary. That’s not what I teach. Additionally, my class is not required. I teach in middle school and foreign language is an elective. For half a decade native speakers have been electing my class because they want an easy class. I don’t fault them that, it is human nature.


Every school year I have vowed that during the summer I would find some self directed grammar based program for future native speakers. You know how that always works out.


Then during meet the teacher night the week before the 2008-2009 school year it hit me. I can make them read. In their heritage language. And do reading projects of some kind. This would be the year. Who knows why it was that year that I picked to be different.


Well, school was starting and I didn’t have anything ready. I did have some Blaine Ray readers with accompanying worksheets etc. I was desperate. I just was not going to let another half dozen native speakers sleep through another year. In my opinion they were sitting in seats that could be filled by second language learners. Learners who would actually learn something. If my second language learns were going to be straining a brain cell every day to follow our storytelling, then the native speakers who were filling seats were going to strain a brain cell also.


As it happens my school district is really into differentiated learning and would not only support my idea, but herald it.


So, the first week native speakers worked with the class. The second week I gave each student a different Blaine Ray reader and accompanying packet. Meanwhile I was all over amazon.com. I was everywhere on line. I have a post here about best sources for books.


I went through my personal library. I had some Junie B Jones and Casa del Árbol books. I spent every spare waking moment reading Spanish books and making questions chapter by chapter.


That’s why I started. At some point early on I realized I really should start a blog so that I could share my work, thoughts and lessons learned with other teachers who may be facing similar situations.