By Liz Armstrong, Reading Recovery and Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger
When we look at running records or any other type of formative assessment, the results need to drive our instruction. Our hypothesis around next steps is determined by our observational lens, which can be narrow at times. A good example of this is when children make the mistake of el/le or es/se on a running record or during the first reading of a text. In today's blog post, I'll describe a wider lens through which you can examine running records when teaching kids Spanish.
Understanding Errors While Students Learn to Read in Spanish
If a child is reading with oral language and structure in mind, those words wouldn’t be interchangeable. Mi mamá se bonita doesn’t sound right. Up until the error, the child could be using meaning, structural information, and visual information. But once the child says or notices that the next word is bonita, they should be able to hear that what they said does not “work” in Spanish IF the child knows how to monitor their reading. Mi mamá es bonita not only looks right, but it also sounds right syntactically. Children should be listening to what they are reading in order to notice those types of errors.
It works the same way with errors for el and le in the following sentence: Yo vi le perro. Le is an indirect object pronoun that is in the sentence rather than the article el, so this doesn’t work linguistically. Putting the word le after vi wouldn’t be correct in oral language so the sentence should not sound right to a child. Prepositions, adjectives, quantifiers, and nouns would all work after the verb, but an indirect object pronoun would not follow vi. However, the indirect object pronoun le could precede the verb, like in the phrase yo le vi a la señora.
What should you do if you are teaching a child that reads like this without some sign of dissatisfaction by either making a face, rereading, or self-correcting their reading? You can make sure that they are listening to themselves and focus your teaching on meaning and structure. Be sure to help students anticipate possible words and then cross-check with visual information to see that the sentence makes sense, sounds right, and looks right. This would be a balanced approach since the child would appear to be reading words in isolation instead of thinking about their reading or listening to themselves.
Language-related errors were investigated for language learners in Reading Recovery in an article by Adria Klein and Alison Briceño that was published in 2016. That article focused on language-related errors in English. Using their thinking and widening my own observational lens has made me really reflect on the kinds of errors I have noticed through running records or during a child’s first reading of a text in both English and Spanish.
Through that lens, I have realized that there are more language-related errors than I had ever thought about before. As I tried to categorize the errors and attempts, some were tolds on unknown vocabulary. Some were visual attempts on words that were unknown but didn't include rereading to reintegrate the reading. The latter would have been evident had there been an attempt to make meaning again or tie it all together putting all sources of information together.
Complexities of Teaching Spanish to Kids
Tenses were also something that children may not be flexible enough with, such as gusta and gustaba, because they may have a preference for the present tense of the verb rather than the imperfect tense. In fact, I have noticed that many bilingual children don’t tend to use the imperfect past tense, which leads me to think that we need to make sure that we are using it in our own oral language and using leveled books and writing activities that prompt the use of different tenses.
In addition, temporal (adverbial) phrases that indicate a shift in time were not recognized as units and were not easy for children to anticipate after getting part of the word started. Some examples include El otro día, había una vez, or al día siguiente. The more complex future tense was not frequently used by students either. Children are more familiar with the simple future construction, such as voy a ir al banco rather than mañana iré al banco.
Pronouns cause much confusion for kids as well. It’s not about whether or not they know the word el or ella, but rather, whether or not they know that el and ella can be used in a different way. Kids are more comfortable using these pronouns when they refer to people. For example, Kevin fue al parque. A él le gustaba jugar fútbol. However, when the pronoun is replacing an object, that is more complex and less anticipatable for many children. This can result in an error in during text reading that isn’t related to decoding.
Here is an example of more complex pronoun usage: Kevin pateó la pelota muy lejos y le pegó a su amigo con ella. Kids sometimes stop dead in their tracks at the con ella part or reread it multiple times. This is because it doesn’t sound familiar to them, or perhaps, if they are reading for visual information only, they may just breeze right through it without understanding what it means. It would be good to check in with students to ensure that they understand these concepts. Again, exposure and use are key in getting children to use these language structures while talking, reading, and writing and to anticipate these structures while reading.
Some of the newest low-level narrative texts and nonfiction books for kids in Colección Caleidoscopio and paired texts in Fábulas y el Mundo Real use these tenses intentionally in order to allow for children’s exposure to a greater variety of linguistic complexity. Be sure to visit our blog again soon for more ideas from Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leaders, and don't forget to teach with intention!
Liz Armstrong has been a Reading Recovery and Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leader for the past five years. Before training to be a Teacher Leader, Liz obtained her master's degree in administration with licensure as principal, director of instruction, and significant coursework toward director of special education licensure. She has been an educator since 2002 with experience as an ESL teacher, bilingual classroom teacher, bilingual literacy intervention specialist, and bilingual instructional coach. In 2011, she completed a professional development certificate program with action research on how a focus on language development impacts achievement in reading and writing in various instructional settings. Language development, using data to inform instruction, and equity/advocacy for all students have been areas of emphasis in her career as an educator.