Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a running record on myself

i decided about a month ago that i needed to improve my spanish to communicate with my kiddos and their families, and that a fun way to do so would be to pick up a children's novel i already know well and read it in spanish.

so, over thanksgiving i found a copy of harry potter y la piedra filosofal. over a month later i'm on page 77, right about where harry is buying his varita (wand- i think) and ollivander, the wand salesman, is explaining to him that you do not choose your wand, your wand chooses you.

i'm enjoying sitting down every once and awhile with a cup of tea and my spanish harry potter book, although i don't think it is helping my spanish that much at all. i started spanish in eighth grade and took it all the way through freshman year in college. that sounds like a long time- sounds like i should be fluent. i'm not. i'm horrible at it. i was blessed my last required semester of spanish in college with a professor who was only still with us through the magic of tenure. he'd had multiple strokes and couldn't remember our names very well. more importantly, (for me) there were only 3 girls in the class and we all had double first names (i went to a very southern school). he could not possibly remember the combinations of our names. as long as i didn't make eye contact with him when he'd call half of my name mixed with half of another girl's name i never had to participate. since i didn't look up the other girl would be forced to answer (she was better at spanish anyway). he didn't have participation grades for me, but since participation was only done by him calling on us, he couldn't fault me for it. i burned my spanish text books after my last semester and vowed to never do anything that would require me to use the language again. of course, i then found a job where if i knew it, i could use it every day. i realize now i should have tried harder.

reading the book in spanish is more like doing a brain puzzle than a relaxing read. my brain is working far harder to interpret the pages than it does when i sit and read for fun (even harder than when i actually do my reading for grad school).

what it has done is make me very aware of what my brain does when i read, which of course makes me think of my beginning readers who are also struggling with a text in another language. it's made me think a lot about the beginning reading process, what is important for me to be able to read the text, and what is important for our kids to have support with a text.
i've got the schema for the text so my book choice was spot on. i could retell the story of harry potter without reading it since i've read it so many times in the past. i can give you a general update on each page since i'm so familiar with the story. so it's really my schema that's getting me through all of this.
(for those of you not familiar with how we teach reading at my school we teach the children to activate their schema- use what they know and think about what makes sense as a reading strategy). through this experiment i've learned that this is my number one reading strategy.
when we teach reading we look to see if the children are using msv, or meaning, structure, visual in their reading. whichever they are not using is what we learn we need to teach more of to make them a better reader. meaning is using the picture, thinking about what makes sense, thinking about the bigger story in general. clearly i'm awesome at this.
structure is how it sounds in the language. does it sound right? are the verb tenses correct? needless to say i have a very limited knowledge of what an accurate, fluent spanish language sounds like, so i cannot rely on this very much at all. just like our students, i'm sure if i was reading this out loud i wouldn't re-read to make sure my tenses were in order.
the visual strategy is the phonics part- how the reader decodes the words on the page. i'm also not very good at this, but it certainly helps that i'm reading a language with a similar alphabet. and i am checking for parts of the words i know- just like we teach our early readers. if i was going to prescribe the next step in my spanish reading education i would decide that i need to work on spanish phonics, and, of course, my vocabulary. (those basic, simple high frequency words that i just don't know).

this experiment is building my sympathy for my readers. i'm amazed at how much they don't struggle with a text when we're teaching them to read in a language they don't really know. it's also shown me the importance of book choice. if i had choosen any other book i'd be drowning. i'd have no interest and i sure wouldn't be on page 77. i'd be on page- opps, did i leave that book in the coffee shop? i certainly didn't mean to do that... experiment over.

instead i'm interested enough in the book to keep going, although i spend a lot of time inferring vocabulary and re-reading for meaning. as i read i feel as though i am doing a running record on myself, i can see myself checking off the words, coding my mistakes, putting notes in the margins of what i am doing wrong. as i continue to read it will be interesting to see if it allows me any more insight into the world of a struggling reader, or if it just continues to give me sympathy.

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