January 28, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo
Students in my high school English Language Learner Beginner’s class start the day with fifteen-or-twenty minutes of reading a book of their choice (see The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading).
Of course, their options can be somewhat limited because of their English-proficiency, but they do have many choices:
* The classroom library has many different English books geared towards primary age children, as well as a smaller number of simple bilingual books in different languages.
* They can access huge numbers of online English books that provide audio and vocabulary support to the text on either Epic! or Raz-Kids. Students can use either their phones or desktop computers we have in the classroom.
* My class has four peer tutors (students who had been in my ELD Beginners class four years ago, but who have now been reclassified – they volunteered over the summer, too – see Guest Post: Advanced ELLs Write About Their Summer School Experience Tutoring Newcomers). So four students can outside and read to, and receive assistance from, the peer tutors.
These three alternatives are not too shabby. However, there are still some big holes in them.
One, students between the ages of fifteen-and-twenty-one (the ages of my students) don’t necessarily want to read simple books, or plow through higher-level books that require them to look-up the definition of every-other-word (even if they just have to click on it). Our students are just as intelligent as every other student in the school – they just don’t know English.
Two, ELLs, like other young people, generally prefer paper books to eBooks (see The Best Resources On Which Is Best – Reading Digitally Or Reading Paper?).
One way I’ve dealt with those two challenges is to get English editions of books popular with our adolescent mainstream students (“Always Running,” the Harry Potter series, etc.) and then buy copies of them in different home languages. I then ask students to open both copies on their desk, try to read the English version, and then glance at the other version when they don’t understand the word.
Yes, I know, I’m sure many just read the version in their home language when they are at home, but that’s okay. I want to encourage students to develop a love of reading, they’re developing their English skills when they use the two versions at school, and assisting them to use their home language helps English acquisition, too (see The Best Resources Explaining Why We Need To Support The Home Language Of ELLs).
Using this strategy this year, however, has been challenging. We have many new Afghani refugees who speak Farsi, and since Iran doesn’t recognize copyright outside of their country, it’s more difficult to find Persian language versions of books that can be bought in the U.S.
I did find, though, Persian versions of The Diary of Anne Frank (I was privileged to be able to visit The Annex in Amsterdam last summer!). I’m assuming that’s because at least some versions are in the public domain.
So, I bought English, Persian and Arabic editions of the book.
The Farsi and Arabic students have loved the book, and most have been reading them during our Independent Reading Time – not to mention talking about its content. I showed the Brainpop movie on Anne Frank as well as other accessible videos (see The Best Sites To Learn About Anne Frank) to the class, and the Spanish-speaking students (who had been reading “Always Running”) all clamored to get their own copies. Happily, there is a simplified version that has the text in English on one side of the page and Spanish on the other.
Now, pretty much everyone is pretty focused during the reading time. Obviously, with that level of interest, a next step could be to go beyond reading for pleasure time and use it for other language-learning activities. Unfortunately, though, I haven’t been able to find a Hmong version, and, without that for those students, I can’t do any whole-class activities.
But, really, that’s okay. I’m quite happy that most of my Beginner students have found a book they want to read and talk about….