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Slow & Low Readers October 3, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Getting Started, Lessons Learned.
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 Well, this year I have two girls who are slow readers. They are both low readers in English and very low readers in Spanish. One of the girls is extremely low. After 4 weeks she hasn’t finished Ana bailó Tango. So, it’s time for a new strategy.

            Years ago I purchased the book Ciudad de las Bestias on tape.

            Last year as a break from the routine, I let my students listen and follow along (following along essential) with the book. As they did this I realized the benefit. This activity really bridges the gap between the language they understand when they hear but don’t recognize when they see.

I felt the potential to jump start kids reading using an audio book was huge. However, there are not many unabridged Spanish audio books available that are high interest.

            These are my newest strategies which I am just starting.

            After the slow reader finished Ana bailó tango (took her three weeks) I put her in a private spot, gave her Cuidad de las Bestias (for which I do not yet have a packet) and the audiocassette. I am hopeful that after following along while someone pronounces all those words for her she will be better able to read in Spanish.

            The extremely low reader presented another problem. First, since Ciudad is on cassette not mp3 I can’t really have two students listening at a time. Plus, I just wasn’t sure she would be able to follow along with the book yet.

            As always when I am desperate, I grabbed a Blaine reader. This time I grabbed Pobre Ana. The girl couldn’t read Ana bailó tango. But I have a CD for Pobre Ana. Last Monday I gave her the book, the CD, a CD player and a packet.  She finished before the week was over.

            I am just going to move her through the readers that I have audio for. Then reassess. Since I have audio for 4 readers, I have about 4 weeks to prepare my next move.

            I am going to take some of my budget money and purchase an inexpensive mp3 player. Then I can load all the audio books on it.

            My vision for this is to ultimately get 1-2 mp3 players, pick up some additional audio books and load them up. This will not replace reading. If I get enough resources I will let students start the year listening, following along and doing a packet. Then move into independent reading.


Where do my students start? September 16, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Getting Started.
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Where do my students start? This is the question I am most frequently asked. Do I give them some kind of test? I don’t want it to be too easy or too hard. How do I match up the right book with the right kid?

I make all my students start with Pobre Ana Bailó Tango. Initially this was because I had the Blaine Ray readers available with comprehension packets. Now, however, I could have them start anywhere but choose to start them with Bailó Tango.

For every student I have had, this is the first book in Spanish they have read. For most of them, it is the first reading of any type at all in Spanish. They are overwhelmed and convinced that they can’t read in Spanish. I guess they think it takes a long to learn to read in Spanish as it does in English.

I want them to see that reading is reading. If you can read in English, and you speak Spanish, you can quickly become literate in Spanish. Since I am swamped at the beginning of the year with my conversational kids, I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to them. I know that there won’t be any unknown words in Bailó Tango. I know the sentence structures will be comprehensible. I KNOW they can read this book without instruction or supervision from me.

And remember, that is a key factor in the program. It has to be independent.

So, the first week my native speakers do what the class does. It takes me a week to identify them. They don’t come with labels telling me that they are native speakers. I have to dig them out.

This also helps when I give them their first book and packet. I tell them, “you have worked with the class for a week, you can see that you aren’t going to learn anything in this conversational Spanish class are you?” They nod in agreement.

It takes a normal students 2 weeks to get through Bailó Tango.

I do require that my students read the first Magic Treehouse book. I just need to know that they can read at that level and I want them to know that they can.

After that we begin negotiating. They can choose to continue through the magic treehouse or move to a different series. I check their list of unknown words. There will be some from the first Magic Treehouse. I just want to make sure that it isn’t a long list. I also look at the reading log to see how long it took them.

This year I had two girls who finished their first magic treehouse book and packet in 2 days. They both wanted to read Crepúsculo. I let them. At the time of this posting one is half way done. I don’t know about the other.

Some students will elect to read Magic Tree House all year. The question I ask myself is, ‘What is my real objective here?’ I want them to learn to read and write in Spanish. Can they accomplish that by reading Magic Tree House? Yes they can. I know that their vocabulary will grow from Magic Treehouse. It has a lot of technical vocab.

I have learned that students won’t stick with a book that is above their level. They lose interest if it isn’t comprehensible. I always allow students to quit a book if it isn’t interesting. Remember, my objective is for them to learn to read and write not to develop a great love of classic literature or anything.

Last year only one elected to read Tree house all year. Most read some goosebumps. Two read Twilight. I wish more of them would be brave and read some other books. But, if they are reading I am happy.

Sept 2009 Reading Log September 13, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Getting Started, Tracking.
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Reading Log new

Based on the feedback I have gotten from other teachers implementing this program I have updated the reading log I use. There is a link above to an uploaded log. I hope it helps. Sometimes I have to click on the link several times because I get error messages.

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).

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.