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2010-2011 School Year September 2, 2010

Posted by mrsmerritt in Lessons Learned, Other random stuff.
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When the school year started I had 20 native speakers throughout the day. This was the most I had ever had. I was very overwhelmed at the prospect. While I probably had enough books, I didn’t have enough books on tape which is my bridge activity. There is that gap between reading and speaking. I believe that having them follow along with a book on tape for a week or so will bridge the gap faster.

I went to my principal with my various concerns, the leading one was that native speakers were taking over the classes that were designed for monolingual students. In an unprecedented move, she agreed with me and transferred every bilingual student out!

I do have another Junie B packet to add to the collection here. However, given that I have no students using this curriculum this year I will not be actively adding anything else. To anyone who may be using these packets, good luck! I hope you have a great year! You can contact me directly from this site and I’ll help in anyway I can.


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.

Whining Reader September 13, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Lessons Learned, Other random stuff.
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On Wednesday Vicky called to me “Mrs. Merritt, can I not read today and watch and laugh at the class instead?” Vicky is one of my native speakers. She was waving the first of the Magic Treehouse books in Spanish in her hand.

I turned and answered dramatically “noooooooo”. By the time I was done dragging out the word we had the attention of the whole class.

“But reading is hard” she whined.

“I know” and I actually was sympathetic. “So is learning Spanish for my other students.”

At this point the discussion involved everyone in the room and they were on the edge of their seats waiting to see how this conversation played out.

“You don’t understand. That was the very first book I ever read in Spanish.” She pleaded, referring to one of the Blaine readers.

“I know” I answered. And I really did know. I continued very gently. “But what were you thinking, and I really want to know, when you elected a class that said ‘Conversational Spanish. Not appropriate for native speakers. I know that is what it says in the catalog, because I wrote it. You speak Spanish in your home so when you read that, and selected it on the computer, what was running through your head?”

Her eyes were darting around as she looked for some reasonable answer. Coming up short she offered “I don’t know.”

Scooter, an out spoken 8th grade boy sitting in the cheap seats piped up “You picked this class because you thought it would be a blow off class.”

Finally someone articulated what everyone in the room knew was true.

Vicky weakly tried to defend herself with a shake of her head.

Then my teacher’s assistant chimed in with a laugh “That’s why I picked the class last year, I’ll admit it. I thought it would be an easy A.” My teacher’s assistant this year was one of my heritage readers last year.

Vicky completely deflated at this point and murmured “I’ll just read now” as she thumbed open her book.

I turned to the class and began, “Bueno clase, comenzamos.”

Starting the 2nd year September 3, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Lessons Learned.
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I just started the second year of my heritage reading program.  There was one surprise. One student elected my class knowing he would have to read. He doesn’t even love reading. Honestly, I can’t figure it out. He knew what I would expect of him and said he had no problem with it. His mother is thrilled because while she and her husband speak only Spanish at home, both of their children respond in English. She wants him to learn about his native language. She offered to buy the books he needed to read!

Speaking of pleased parents, that was not the only case. I got two sisters who elected my class. They are new to the area and hadn’t heard that their curriculum would include reading. They didn’t balk when I gave them an outline of the program at meet the teacher night.

Then when school started, one of the sisters came and told me how glad her parents were that she was going to be forced to read in her native language. They are from Puerto Rico and can’t go home as often as they would like. The parents are afraid that their children will abandon Spanish over time and thought making the girls read was a God send.

All total I have ten native speakers my second year. They are still spread out through the day which means reading novels is the only option available to them. Out of the ten, only two boys complained when I told them what they would be doing. They were horrified that I was going to make them do something hard. I replied “you didn’t think you could elect this class and then spend the whole year getting A’s with no effort did you?”

“Yes” they chorused.

That was a joyous moment for me! I am not a mean person, but to see the disappointed look on their faces when they realized that they had not gotten away with anything was magic.

The first week I ferreted out the native speakers. It took a couple of days but by the end of the first week I had identified them all (I believe) and given them an outline and an explanation of what they would be doing.

The second week I made everyone start with Pobre Ana bailó Tango. I started there because my Spanish 2 kids can read that novela by the end of the year so I figured my native speakers wouldn’t struggle.

The first of the ten finished the book halfway through day 4.

When they don’t work February 24, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Lessons Learned.
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I knew from the first day that if one of my native speaking students decided not to cooperate I would have a problem. Thus far, I have been able to overcome the simple issues. For example, when one student stopped keeping a running list of unknown words I told her she must be ready for a book at a higher level. She nearly hyperventilated when I bumped her up from Junie B Jones to Escalofrios. But, she immediately resumed keeping a list of unknown words. Then recently one student was only averaging 6 pages from the Casa del Arbol series a day. I checked the reading logs of all the students who had read from the Casa del Arbol series and they ageraged 25 pages per day.

The first delima was that I don’t have a lot of time to talk one on one with these students. My time with them is in passing, at the beginning of class, during music time, at the end of class. I have really learned the value of sticky notes here. There is a box on the wall that contains their reading logs and book packets. They know on Monday to pick up a new reading log. When they finish one book, there is magically a new packet waiting for them in the box. I use their reading logs to see how close they are to finishing their books. I periodically ask them what direction they want to go with future books. Do they want to switch series, keep with the series they are on? Based on that I keep their packets ready and waiting for them.

So back to the girl only averaging 6 pages. I knew it wasn’t a difficulty problem because I looked at past reading logs and she had read books at higher levels previously. The problem really was that the girl in front of her (who incidently is failing conversational Spanish) talked to her during class. First, I left my heritage reader a sticky note telling her that last week she had averaged 6.5 pages per day and I expected her to average 26 pages per day.

Then I decided that the next day I would offer her some alternatives. There is an office connected to my classroom. It is primarily used by my teacher’s aid so there is nothing sensitive or valuable in there. I told my student that I understood that what was going on in class could be really distracting. If she needed a quieter place, she could go read in the office. She could only stay in the class if she could meet my reading expectation. That day she read 40 pages.

As it happened, in that class she is the only heritage reader. I don’t know what I will do when it happens in a class where there are several readers because there is no way they are all going to the office. I already tried letting them all go to the hall to read. That was disastrous. It took them 2 weeks to read Pobre Ana, a Spanish 1 reader, out in the hall.

More Book Suppliers February 24, 2009

Posted by mrsmerritt in Finding Books, Lessons Learned.
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I really don’t know why it took me until February to think of Borders for purchasing books for this program. Maybe it is because the Borders bookstore by my house has no useful books in Spanish. Or maybe it is because the search function on Borders is not user friendly unless you know exactly what you want.  The only advantages to Borders as opposed to Amazon is that my school will do a purchase order for Borders but not Amazon. They have a full selection of La Casa del Arbol. Shipping is very inexpensive compared to Amazon. They offer my school a discount.

Overall, their selection of children’s Spanish books is small, even online. That didn’t stop me from submitting a $250 purchase order today.

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.