In a dual-language program (whether 50/50 or 90/10), one of the goals is for children to learn to proficiently read and write in both languages. Coming from an English-only classroom, every year I had some students who had difficulty with fluency and speed (how many words per minute they could read). I knew that if they were spending too much time trying to decode words, there was going to be little or no comprehension. Why? Your brain cannot spend a long time trying to figure out a word and at the same time keeping the elements of a story in check or facts if reading non-fiction. Once children became more fluent readers, teaching comprehension strategies became a lot easier.
Fast forward to this current school year.
As I have been assessing my fourth graders to try to find their independent reading levels in Spanish, I found myself dealing with a whole different issue: fluency and speed were GREAT (their decoding skills were extraordinary) yet I knew that some of them had no idea what they were reading about. They may have been able to answer simple questions such as what, when, or where, but no deep thinking. What does this mean? That I have to keep assessing until I find a book that is just right – one that offers the perfect combination of both fluency and comprehension.
Additionally, I am making the following things a top priority as well (especially for students who need it the most):
1. Concentrate even more on vocabulary acquisition. As a native speaker I feel that at times I use words that my students have no idea what I am referring to; now add to this the fact that people from different Latin American countries can call ‘a thing’ ten different ways (popcorn, straws, and sofas just to name a few)
As a parent, are you spending time with your child in order to help him/her develop more sophisticated vocabulary? Reading or talking?
2. Provide more opportunities for students to discuss what he or she knows about the characters based on title and book cover, as well as opening paragraphs and texts read aloud (specifically in Spanish)
As a parent, are you diving right into books when reading with your child or are you taking the time to activate their prior knowledge (asking them about what they already know?)
3. Model and support how to distinguish between more important and less important ideas and details
As a parent, read a book and model your own thinking out loud, so your child knows exactly what is going on in your head
4. Model and teach how to be empathetic toward characters
As a parent, put yourself in the ‘shoes’ of the characters and share with your child what you would do if you were experiencing the same
The key is to have a discussion, a conversation about what they are reading. One cannot just take into account how fast they are, but rather how much they understand. This is particularly important in Spanish as words are really easy to read (vowels sound the same regardless!).
If you are a parent raising bilingual children, think about the importance of reading. Knowing how to speak another language is not enough. In order to access great literature, one must understand what we are reading. I often tell parents to leave the writing piece to the side for a bit. Do not have your child write a summary…they will dread reading. Instead be genuinely interested in what they are reading. You can always access short summaries and reviews of texts that way you are not completely clueless about a story (unless you read it at the same time). Another GREAT tool is using picture books. They are short, yet do not let the pictures or length fool you. Nowadays, picture books are most sophisticated than ever and it can lead to amazing conversations.
Happy reading and more importantly…happy discussions.
Photo thanks to Will Ockenden