Increasing student comfort with authentic text through choice

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Trying to interpret a text in a language other than your first language can be intimidating.  And, in this day and age, students’ first impulse is to use Google Translate.  How can we lower students’ anxiety around interpreting authentic text?

In a previous post, I’ve discussed ways to build reading skills in the target language, implementing scaffolds and supports to support learners through interpreting authentic text.

Showing students how reading in another language has many similarities to reading in their first language and giving them the support to persevere through interpreting an authentic text can build confidence and lower anxiety.

Another approach might be to offer students choices.  Providing choices:

  • is motivating for students
  • draws on student strengths, abilities, and interests
  • gives students a sense of control, purpose, and competence

What types of choices might we offer students?

  • choice in the text they interpret
  • choice in the tools and strategies they use to gather information
  • choice in the way they complete tasks
  • choice in the planning and design of products

Let’s explore some strategies that lead to increased student comfort with authentic texts through choice.

  1. Allow students to select authentic text for independent reading time.

 

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In my blog post from May 11, 2018 called “Independent Reading: Building students’ confidence in interpreting authentic texts,”  I shared the benefits of providing time for students to read a text of choice independently in the target language (listed below):

  • 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

Allowing students to read a book of choice (either in hard copy form or online) in the target language lowers students’ stress and anxiety about reading in the second language where the goal is reading for pleasure, without being given worksheets or comprehension questions.

2. Implement before, during, and after reading choice boards

When students are required to demonstrate understanding of a text, using choice boards allows students to select the best way for them to reflect on what they learned from the text.  For each phase (before, during, or after reading), the student selects one task from the board to complete.  Click on the examples below to download a copy.

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3. Allow students to select an authentic text from a group of curated resources.

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Imagine that during a unit on the environment, intermediate level students are exploring the challenges of food waste.  Giving students a link to a Pinterest page like the one pictured above allows them to select from a collection of authentic resources that have already been curated on the topic.  For example, students may be asked to collect as many statistics as they can on the topic and then use that information to participate in a discussion or debate in the target language.  The teacher might provide a generic, flexible graphic organizer for students to capture their notes while interacting with the various authentic resources.

4. Encourage students to enrich and extend their learning by diving more deeply into a topic of their choice through authentic resources

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During a unit on personal technology, intermediate level students may be given several ideas for extending their learning on the topic based on their interests.  Some examples might include:

  •   exploring the idea of internet safety and digital citizenship
  •  researching the impact personal technology has on users’ health
  •  examining the topic of privacy and social media

These experiences may lead to presentational products or performances such as a short public service announcement, an infographic for young children, or a lesson created for English Language Learners on the topic.

5. Give access to students to authentic text at a variety of challenge levels

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In order for students to interpret authentic text that is neither too easy nor too hard for them, students can be taught strategies for selecting a text that is the best fit.  One way students can judge the difficulty level of a text is to count how many words in the first paragraph or section are unknown to them.  If there is only one unknown word, the students should select a more challenging text.  If the student counts 5 or more unknown words, the text is likely to be too difficult.  The “just right” authentic text contains 2-4 unknown words in the first segment.

In my blog post from May 25 2018, entitled “Tiering authentic text to meet the needs of all learners,” I shared strategies for selecting more than one text on a topic that have a variety of challenge levels.  When allowed to choose their challenge level, students become self-reflective about their confidence with the content and are able to select a text that is the best fit for them.

In a novice level Chinese class during a unit on healthy eating, for example, the teacher may give the following authentic text to the students from which they may select (click on each image below to access the source):

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Even the most reluctant learner can judge which infographic to interpret based on the number of visuals and the amount of text.  The generic graphic organizer for the task is a blank plate.  Being able to select the authentic resource which they will interpret can be motivating and engaging to students.

Consider how offering choices in authentic text might increase your students’ confidence level in the interpretive mode.