Building Literacy in Native Language Texts

Over the summer, I looked for Spanish language articles for my 7th grade daughter who attends a Spanish Immersion program in PPS, and I was bummed that my options were limited. I did find TweenTribune, which I’d known about in English. The good news, there were some articles appropriate for Sophie. The not so good news: the offerings were slim; there was no option to change the Lexile Level to meet learners’ needs; teachers couldn’t “assign” the Spanish articles to students as they could articles in English (with a free account); and there was no quiz option. Still, I could read in English what I asked Soph to read in Spanish, and design my own questions for her to respond to.

Recently, I asked Maranda Turner, our district’s Sheltered Instruction Coach, about the benefits of providing some options for students to read text and respond in their native language, and she pointed me to some research: “Research over the last three decades on second language acquisition, brain development, effective programs, and ‘best practices’ in teaching English learners (Olsen, 2006; Rivera & Collum, 2006) has shown that when teachers foster the development of children’s home language in the classroom, ELLs learn English faster and perform better in school long term (Escobar, 2013).

In immersion, Sophie spends part of her day reading and writing in Spanish and more of her day doing the same in English. Why would we not provide similar opportunities for English Language Learners in our mainstream English Language Arts classrooms? There are definitely myths that abound about English language acquisition, but to set the record straight, consider this: As [researcher Laurie] Olsen explains, “Literacy skills are not language specific; they can be learned in one language and transferred to another language, drawing upon a common cognitive base” (Escobar, 2013). In essence, strengthening native language skills strengthens English language skills.

Then, something amazing happened! Just the other day, I subscribed to a service called SmartBrief on EdTech, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first issue I scanned included this linked headline: Newsela offers news articles in Spanish. WHAT?! I clicked, and voila! I was transported to a page that looked like the squares from the Brady Bunch introduction, except, where Alice should be, there was a Kids category story about parents and students rethinking homework.

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Brady Bunch Squares and Newsela Grid

I know several of you already use Newsela to find informative articles to supplement your curriculum. It doesn’t appear as though every article is translated yet, but there are several. Just like Newsela articles published in English, you can choose from four or five Lexile Levels in Spanish, and the service provides you Word Count and Grade Level match as well. Quizzes are also available in Spanish.

I’ve included a screenshot below to demonstrate how to find the Spanish language articles on Newsela. Hover over “Articles” in the task bar across the top, scroll down and click on Spanish, toward the bottom of the bar. The articles are color coded and categorized, but you don’t have the option to search by Spanish categories as you do in English.

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Scroll to Spanish in the Articles tool bar

Finally, Venisha Bahr, our K-8 District Library Coordinator, just sent me a link to a recent edition of the School Library Journal (SLJ, November 17). Specifically, she sent me to this post, Translations of Popular Teen Titles. Listing more than 20 books (with ordering information, teaser, and link to review), including personal fave Eleanor y Park, these titles are most appropriate for 7th grade and Up.

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Teach middle school, never fear! At the bottom of that post, there’s a link to some Spanish language middle grades novels, too! Further resources for classroom connections to Spanish Language resources can be found in Libro por Libro, a monthly-ish column in SLJ.

I wish I had such language resources to share in Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, and more of the reportedly 50+ languages spoken in our district. Given the ever decreasing size of our home planet thanks to technological innovations, perhaps they are coming. If you’re aware of other second language resources, please leave a reply, so others may learn from you!



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