Language Educators

1.  Reading buddies?

Posted 08-24-2017 17:25
I teach Spanish at the university level. This semester I'll be teaching, for the second time, the final class required for the language requirement. (It is also the first class required for non-native Spanish majors.) This class continues to build language skills -- the main new element taught is the imperfect subjunctive -- but starts to segue into reading. In their previous classes the readings are all in the textbook, and are at most a few paragraphs long, but in this class the readings can be three or four pages long, and include fiction, memoir, and poetry.

As a non-native speaker I generally empathize with my students' language-learning challenges. I vividly remember practicing verb conjugations, memorizing vocabulary, and doing object pronoun drills, and I still struggle to roll my r's! But reading Spanish came naturally to me and I think this makes it harder for me to teach this skill. It especially pains me when a student has clearly made an effort to look up the new vocabulary in a reading, but is unable to put it together and extract meaning.

I do teach specific reading techniques (which students were supposedly exposed to in earlier courses), and I'm confident that our in-class review of the assigned texts is helpful, but I think the most important thing is for students to slow down and focus on understanding one sentence at a time. (I somehow think of this as "machete-ing" their way through a reading.) This is what I do when I meet with students one-on-one, but there isn't the time or opportunity to do this with all my students.

For this reason, this time around I'm thinking of assigning each student a "reading buddy", someone they work with to understand each reading. Ideally this will give them something akin to the experience they would get in a one-on-one session with me. I would assign each student a buddy at their own reading level, but also give stronger students the option of helping a weaker student. Buddy pairs would turn in a single set of answers to reading comprehension homeworks.

I also think that for many students there is a fair amount of fear involved in tackling a full page -- or pages! -- of text in a foreign language, and that working with a buddy would help.

Has anyone tried this in their classes? Any advice in general for teaching reading?

Muchas gracias,

Judy Hochberg
Fordham University
Author, ¿Por qué? 101 Questions about Spanish

2.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-25-2017 07:39
I like the idea of reading buddies.  These days, students can have "virtual" meetings on a variety of platforms.  In addition to the classic reading techniques, I try to get learners away from translation by using target language to make lists of things that describe each character.  Then students impersonate them in monologues.  Later we place the characters in analogous settings and role-play the characters in new situations.  You mention the imperfect subjunctive ... students can make truth or dare cards like "camina como si fueras gallina."

Bob Chase
Tunxis Community College

3.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-25-2017 10:03
Good morning!!!

I read your post regarding assigning a "reading buddy" to your students. What a great idea! Before I share with you my thoughts on this, let me tell you a little about my own experiences.

I taught college for 7 years and having heritage learners was not always as good as it sounds. They were constantly code switching in class and used words that were not proper while we had our discussions. They had difficulty understanding they needed to filter how they spoke to their friends and family. I had to teach them "formal & proper Spanish" in a school/professional environment. It was a lot of work but worth it.

The readings in the classes they took were not long (3 maybe four pages). However, these students researched and found that the authors I chose were known to the English literature and most of the works I assigned were translated to English. Guess what they did? I found out accidentally while having lunch in the students' cafeteria and I over heard them studying. They were having a study group there and one of my heritage learners said: "go online and search for the translation, you might find it". The next time I taught that same course, I did my research and check to make sure the readings I chose didn't have a translated version. I avoided Borges, García Márquez and many more. Focused on using Caribbean well known writers but not studied with the intensity other Latin American writers were in the US. I forced them to read in the target language (I am a horrible professor).

Now that I am teaching in a HS, I do the same (Again, I am a horrible teacher). So my first word of advice is: choose readings that have no translation available ANYWHERE. My second is regarding your plan to use a reading buddy: show them how to do it in the classroom first. Just to make sure they are not using online translators. Teach them to trust what they know, to work through it and avoid the urge to search on the internet or a dictionary. Teach them to struggle and succeed on their own. Then you can start assigning stories they can work on it together outside of class. Does this mean they will not use them? No, but at least you make sure you taught them in class. After that, it is on them if they choose to take the easier road.

Our job is to teach them and hope for the best, right? If they work hard and are truly are looking to reach their next level of proficiency, where ever they might be, they will succeed.

I hope this helps....


Gisela Cordero-Cinko

4.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-27-2017 14:19
I have also worried about students leaning on English translations. At my college we no longer give at-home writing assignments for fear of students' using machine translation, and it is distressing to think that the internet could also be wreaking havoc with reading

I know that at least some of our readings are available in English (e.g. Continuidad de los parques). As an adjunct I don't choose the readings, but I can certainly bring this up as a something to aim for the next time the syllabus is revised. HOWEVER, even if an English version doesn't exist, students can easily use Google Translate to create one (at least a rudimentary version) if they find the original Spanish version online or take the time to type it in.

Our students are very focused on grades, so this semester I plan to be up-front about this problem, emphasizing the need to build their reading skills during the semester so that they can tackle the readings on the midterm and the final. Something like "I know you can find some of the readings in English, or use Google Translate, but if you take this shortcut you will be handicapping yourself for the midterm and final."

I really like the idea of debuting the "reading buddy" teams in class before sending them home on their own.

Judith Hochberg

5.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-25-2017 10:58
Hi Judith,

I agree that it's important to teach students different reading comprehension strategies as they build their skills. It's equally important to give students time to use, compare, experiment with, and to reflect on the impact of different strategies that will help them to understand authentic readings in the TL. Here's a screenshot of the English version of an infographic that I'm working on right now to facilitate reading in small groups. (The Triad Summarizer has been around for a long time so it's not my own creation--I'm just adapting it for use in a WL setting.) Perhaps this structure or another like it would suit your students' needs?

Since I'm just putting this together now, I'd appreciate suggestions for improvement.

Interactive reading

Sheryl Castro

6.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-27-2017 14:25

This is an exciting infographic but I am worried about improving student understanding at a more micro-level. If Student A reads a sentence and it is gobbledygook for Student B (not to mention A and C) then they really need to stop and "machete" through the sentence, identifying the main verb and its subject, maybe decoding an object pronoun, guessing about what an unknown word means, etc., so they can figure out its meaning and go on.

Maybe the triad could run as designed until someone throws down a "red flag" (real or verbal!) to say that they are lost, at which time the group could drill down into the text and together figure out what is happening.

- Judy

Judith Hochberg

7.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-28-2017 08:06
Hello, Sheryl!

I love this adaptation of the "Say Something" reading strategy and the graphic lays it out very clearly.  Thanks for sharing this with the community!


Greta Lundgaard
gretafromtexas@gmail.comWorld Language Consultant

8.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 08-28-2017 11:07
I think it is also our jobs to teach them how to tackle the "beast" in front of them. I spend at least two weeks (sometimes more), teaching them how to tackle the page in front of them. Not all of them take on the task. Those who want to move up to the next level will listen, those who don't care won't. But at least I feel I did my best to teach them to trust what they know.

It is a learning process for all of us. All we can do is hope that they do listen to us.

Gisela Cordero-Cinko

9.  RE: Reading buddies?

Posted 17 days ago
As a follow-up: at the end of the semester I surveyed my students to find out (i) how many of the class readings they actually did with their buddy, (ii) how it went, and (iii) whether they thought I should repeat the "reading buddy" experiment the next semester.

Results were generally positive; you can read about it here.

Judith Hochberg