Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What my attempt at reading a book en espanol is teaching me.

I'm laughing because at first I forgot to type "in Spanish" in my title.

I am trying to work on my Spanish in a few different ways: a workbook on verb tenses, vocabulary memorization and by reading a Young Adult novel (The Color of My Words, or El Color de Mis Palabras). I am nerdily loving my workbook and finding it hard to believe that hated them when I was actually taking Spanish classes. I have started a little notebook where I keep track of new words and try to practice them. In short, I am a dork. Clearly.

But it got me thinking about struggling readers. Here I am, reading a 5th/6th grade book and realizing that I don't know nearly as many Spanish words as I thought I did. For each paragraph I am making a inferences for at least 5 words and looking up at least five more. It is frustrating to not be able to read the story as it is meant to be read: my reading experience is choppy and held together only by the fact that I am motivated to figure out what it is trying to say.

This is the equivalent experience of handing a child a book that is way too difficult for him or her to read, except in most cases--especially in a middle school--take out the self motivation and focus. Any meaning becomes absent as words are mindlessly plowed through.

Two interesting points arise: one, the only way I can become a better Spanish reader and speaker is to learn and memorize more vocabulary. Two, I probably need to go sit in the children's Spanish section of the Brooklyn Public Library and read books that are on my level, then grow into harder texts. So. as an educator I can take away the same two points: make sure kids are reading on level and push them to the next as needed (which my school attempts to do, as of course budgets allow for books in the classroom...aye.) and. teach. them. vocabulary.

This has become slightly out of fashion in progressive English education. My 8th grade English Language Arts team has been discussing the possibility of ordering old school vocabulary books in hushed whispers as though it needs to be a covert operation.

So anyway. I'm convinced that having a higher vocabulary will infinitely increase not only my ability to become a better Spanish speaker, but enable my students to become smarter. Period.

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