Independent Reading: Building students’ confidence in interpreting authentic texts

 

The thought of having novice language learners confidently interpreting authentic text is far-fetched for some.  With their limited vocabulary and facility with the language, unlocking an authentic text can feel daunting to beginning language learners.

It is magical to walk into a classroom and see students sitting in chairs and lying on the floor, fully engaged in reading books in the target language, both fiction and non-fiction, that they chose based on their interests.

How do we build students’ confidence with interpreting authentic texts?

One strategy is to provide students with regular opportunities to read independently in the target language.

What are the benefits of providing independent reading time to students?

  • It builds confidence with reading in target language
  • The texts are sources of comprehensible input and add to students’ vocabulary and understanding of structure and syntax
  • Choice is motivating and engaging
  • The experience increases fluency
  • Reading texts of choice adds to cultural knowledge
  • It allows students to read text at their challenge level

Here are some basic steps to start independent reading time in your language classroom:

  1. Provide access to students to target language books.

 

Many language teachers have a library of children’s books that they have collected over time from purveyors such as Amazon, book stores, and speciality foreign language book sellers.

In addition to buying hard copy books, many target language readers can be found online.  Click the image below to access a page on my website where you will find links to multiple sources for online books:

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On that same webpage, you will find a list of online target language magazines:

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2. Decide how independent reading will figure into your planning

Students will benefit the most from recurring opportunities to read a book of choice in the target language.  Will you provide class time every other week or on a weekly basis for students to read independently?

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Image credit: Heather Sherrow (hsherrow@hcpss.org)

One approach would be to have a designated day of the week for independent reading.  It may be the first or last fifteen minutes of a class.  Independent reading may also be an option for students who complete tasks early.

3. Hold students accountable during independent reading while keeping it low stress

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Because the purposes, among others, for independent reading time are for students to read freely in the target language and to maintain a low affective filter where students take risks during independent reading time, it is not advised that students are assessed on what they read.   The intent of independent reading time is not to check comprehension and have students complete worksheets.  Some examples of student accountability during independent reading time include: keeping reading logs, recording new words they learned through their reading in their personal dictionaries, and creating a short journal entry that summarizes what they read.

4. Ensure students, especially novices, feel confident enough to read in the target language independently

As shared in an earlier post, How do I build my students’ skills to prepare them to interpret authentic text?, I shared the poster below:

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This poster gives students a protocol to follow when they encounter a word they do not know while they are reading.  It is also important to make sure learners understand what a language learner at their current proficiency level is expected to be able to do with text.  Finally, learners need to be reassured that they do not need to understand every word they read and that they can use text features such as visuals, titles, and captions to unlock the meaning of the text.

5. Get started!

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