Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Another Dual Dilemma: Self-Selected/Independent Reading

Student above is NOT the student described in the story below but I am a sucker for pictures of kids reading and I captured this one in a PK class near the beginning of the school year last year.

Había una vez...there was a seven-year-old boy in a second grade classroom.  He was one of seven children and neither of his kind, hard-working parents could read.  Anytime I needed to communicate with his parents, I had to drive to his trailer or request that he ask his father to add more minutes to his cell so that we could talk via phone.  

This seven-year-old entered second grade as a struggling reader.  I did all sorts of the typical interventions with him including daily guided reading and additional support during word work and writing workshop.  While I'm sure those probably helped him some, I am confident that there was something else that really stopped the cycle of family illiteracy with this child.  

One morning in late fall, I read aloud the book Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch to my class.  There was something about this book that resonated with this little boy and he learned that there is such as thing as falling in love with a good book.  He begged for the book right off my stand and asked to put it in his self-selected reading box.  For the next several weeks, Souperchicken was "read" every day by the same little boy.

While his reading gains were slow throughout the year, he did improve.  At the end of the year, he was very close to reading on grade level.  I followed his progress over the next several years and, while he continued to need some additional support, he also continued to demonstrate success on the state reading assessments.  

One day, I was observing his fifth grade classroom.  As the teacher was in the middle of a lesson, I was delighted to discover my sweet little bigger boy hiding a book under his desk because he was just that into it!  Now, I know that he should have been obeying his teacher and paying attention to his lesson but I can't tell you how it warmed my heart to see that kind of reading mischief!

So here's the Dual Dilemma.  I taught in a one-way 50/50 model where Mondays and Tuesdays were taught completely in Spanish, Wednesdays and Thursdays were taught completely in English and Fridays were used for reteaching and assessments in both languages.  If I followed the model exactly, my little lover of Souperchicken would not have been able to read this book on Mondays and Tuesdays because it is only available in English.  Now that some seems like torture, doesn't it?

The same problem would occur for a girl who had just begun reading Me llamo Maria Isabel on a Tuesday.  Do I tell her to put it down and wait until the following week to finish it?  Preposterous!

Well, my conclusion was this:  When a child is given a choice about what to read, he/she is also given a choice about the language in which to read.  

Self-selected reading became a time of flexibility within our 50/50 model.  Students could choose to read books in just one language or in both languages during this time.  Of course, just as I would conference with a child who ONLY ever selected the same book (like Souperchicken) or books from the same genre and gently nudge them to expand their choices, I would also conference with kids about maintaining a balance between the two languages as they made their selections.

So, how do you deal with this Dual Dilemma?  Have you observed the magic of Self-Selected reading impact your students and create real readers?  I would love to hear your stories!


  1. Hola Candis,
    soy profesora parvularia en São Paulo, Brasil.
    me encantó su blog y todas sus sugestiones de actividades son buenísimas! =)
    los dilemas de la educación son muchos, pero usted logró importantes avances con este niño.
    estoy segura de que él jámas la vá a olvidar.
    la felicito por el trabajo sensible!
    Un abrazo.

    1. Usted me enseñó una palabra nueva. Tuve que buscar la palabra “parvulario” en el diccionario y ya la entiendo. :) ¡Mil gracias por visitarme desde Brasil! Espero que siga visitando y compartiendo de sus propias experiencias.

  2. Hi Candis,

    My district is currently following the One-Way 50/50 as mentioned in your post. Today during our bilingual meeting they stressed that we HAVE to follow the model, which is fine, but like you said, what if the child is really into the book? Do we just say, "No puedes hasta que tengamos un día de Inglés.." and vice versa. I am happy that they do incorporate 45 minutes of required ESL instruction, so I will def. use that to my advantage! I'm glad others feel the same way I do. :)

    1. Hi Judy! Thanks so much for sharing! It is hard and I do believe that fidelity to the model is crucial. BUT, I also believe that it is important to consider the other things that we know about good teaching. One of those things is that choice is important in students' having ownership and engagement in their learning. SSR was a small exception during our day. The rest of our reading that was done throughout the day (with the possible exception of guided reading, was always in the targeted language of the day. As you meet with your bilingual team and administrators, I suggest that you continue to work together to solve these problems as they come up. My solution worked for my district but you may find a different solution that works for all of you!

  3. Hi! My name is Yanell and I am currently a sophomore in college. I just got a small job as a spanish tutor for a 2nd grade student. I am going to be meeting with him twice a week for about 2 hours. I haven't started to tutor him and I'm wondering if you can tell me what students in your class have problems with, how you help them, and maybe some advice or ideas on how I can help tutor the student? Thank you so much, this program sounds so great!


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