Our Professional Development guru, Mario Nuñez, is here with all the answers!
The questions and answers are not related to product, but strictly pedagogical:
Q: I have students with different levels of language proficiency and/or literacy in my classroom. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Teachers of both Spanish as a foreign language (SFL) and Spanish for native speakers (SNS) classrooms find themselves teaching students that have different levels of proficiency and literacy in Spanish. There are many different strategies that teachers can use to insure that students are being taught at their own level and, at the same time, challenged to learn more language and content every day.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Use cooperative learning heterogeneous grouping: Mix your groups! Put students of different levels of proficiency to work on projects together that require that they use all dimensions of language (listening, speaking, reading and writing). This type of grouping fosters oral language development, creative and higher thinking skills. Since not all students have the same skills, they can contribute with their stronger set of skills, and everybody benefits. Make sure you assess and score both individual and group work to avoid one student leaning on others, or doing all the work herself. Don’t do the “sage on the stage”, but the “guide on the side”, helping the groups both in language and content mastery.
- Teach to the “Big Idea”: Teaching big, over-arching concepts (like “We All Need Transportation” or “Food is Culture”) allows teachers to first concentrate on general principles, and then differentiate instruction according to language proficiency levels and/or literacy levels by supplementing student’s background knowledge, helping students in their areas of deficiency, and targeting lower language proficiency levels with additional support and strategies.
- Teach and Assess Using Standards: Standards-based instruction compares students’ language and content demonstration of knowledge with those outlined by a set of foreign language standards (local, national or even Core Content Standards), not with each other. This allows students to demonstrate how they are reaching the standards at their different levels of language and content proficiency.
Q: My administrators want me to emphasize reading, but I never really have received specific training on how to teach reading in the Spanish foreign language classroom. What can I do?
A: Many foreign language educators (both in elementary and in high school settings) are being asked to teach reading and/or language arts through the language they teach. This practice has become popular with the rise of standardized statewide assessments that hold all teachers (including foreign language teachers and SNS teachers) accountable for the student performance in statewide testing. Traditional training in reading has been designed to teach reading in English, not in Spanish or any other language, and obviously there are some striking differences in the way children learn how to read in English and the way they need to learn how to read in other languages. Here are some general tips:
- Look for authentic reading selections: Authentic literature and reading selections are those written by native speakers for native speakers of the language. Try to avoid direct translations, or reading selections written for the foreign language market. These typically lack the cultural context, a necessary element (and an advantage) to teach target language vocabulary, and to contextualize reading comprehension.
- Look for high-interest, low-difficulty reading selections: Seek reading selections that will interest your students (this will vary greatly with age, gender, socioeconomic level, community, etc. so you need to maybe poll your students to learn what interests them), with familiar themes such as adventures, culturally authentic settings, children or teen themes, animals, non-fiction, etc. Remember that you may want to teach classic authors or reading selections, but first you have to engage the imagination and interest of your second language readers. Low-difficulty reading selections do not necessarily mean below-grade level, but look for age-appropriate images, use of simple tenses and vocabulary that is recycled, lots of antonyms and synonyms, cognates, etc. These helps in contextualizing the reading experience and this increase reading comprehension.
- Teach dictionary skills as part of your curriculum: Second language learners need to be explicitly taught how to use a second language dictionary. The first definition is not always the correct one! Have them do activities with the dictionaries, word hunting activities, etc.
- Teach students second-language reading strategies: There are many articles and resources in the internet, and books written on this topic. Look for reading strategies that are specific to second language learners, and that are research-based. Examples of these strategies are: Use of Reading Baskets, Context Clues, Chunking, etc.
A good internet resource to start your research on these strategies is the Center for Applied Linguistics website: www.cal.org
Do you have any additional questions/concerns? Please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to answer them for you!