|Program Background||Unit Plan||Lesson Plan||Teaching the Lesson||Sample Student Work|
Many struggling readers are uninterested in reading. Since one of the goals of two-way immersion classrooms is to develop literacy skills in two languages, struggling readers in these programs face special challenges. Therefore, two-way immersion teachers must find creative ways to motivate students to read.
This unit seeks to improve the reading lives of students in two ways. First, it provides them with plenty of opportunities, in the classroom and in the library, to experience the joy of reading. Many students in my classroom come from low-income homes where both parents work long hours and do not have the time to read to their children. In Schools that Work, Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham (2002) note that “children who arrive at school with few book, story, and print experiences are the very children who need rich literature environments and activities in their school day” (p. 54). This unit provides students with those environments and activities.
Second, this unit builds on students’ knowledge of Spanish vocabulary to help them understand English terms related to literary genres. Through the use of cognates, students make cross-linguistic connections and deepen their understanding of both languages.
At the beginning of this unit, students explore different authors and their writing styles. The class reads books by Anthony Browne (author of the Willy series) in Spanish, and by Mem Fox in English. Students expand their experiences with literature through read alouds and classroom discussions of the similarities and differences, in content and style, found in the books.
In this lesson, students discover the wealth of resources available at the local library. Students learn how a library operates, how it is organized, and how to access its resources. Then, by completing the Treasure Hunt Sheet activity, students put their new knowledge to practical use by working in pairs to locate familiar books. Finally, back in the classroom, students have the chance to discuss their findings, using the words they have learned to refer to the books they found. Thus, the students have an opportunity to use language within the context of an authentic experience.
This unit and lesson also underscores the importance of using cognates to build English comprehension. I teach students to find the roots of words, pointing out to both English and Spanish language learners that many words in English derive from Latin or Spanish. I point out, for instance, that the English words fiction and nonfiction look similar to the Spanish words ficción and no-ficción. In fact, almost all of the genres that students identify at the library have similarities in their Spanish and English spellings.
Grouping techniques are an essential component of the dual language classroom, where peer interaction is as crucial as student-teacher interaction. As Pauline Gibbons (2002) notes, “We [teachers] should not forget that group work may have positive affective consequences: Learners who are not confident in English or [Spanish] often feel more comfortable working with peers than being expected to perform in a whole-class situation” (p. 18).
In general, I like to combine students with different proficiency levels in the two languages. I often create groups of three or four that have at least one bilingual student. The rest of the students at the table can be a combination of English dominant and Spanish dominant.
I also like to combine children with different reading levels. I find great value in seating a low-level reader next to a high-level reader. The arrangement is mutually beneficial: The high-level reader serves as a model for the low-level reader, and in the process of helping someone else, the more proficient reader develops a deeper knowledge of the reading process.
Another factor to take into consideration when grouping students is personality. In my experience, two introverted students are not helpful to each other in terms of acquiring language skills. However, with the help of guidelines that spell out the different roles that students are expected to take in the group activity, an extroverted student may be a good partner for an introverted student.
All of these grouping strategies proved helpful in this unit with its many opportunities for reading, discussion, and writing. For example, a student with basic English skills was paired with a bilingual student who could read English and was therefore able to help the less proficient student. And when low-level readers saw their more proficient partners reading a variety of books, they were often motivated to read as well.
Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.