Reading Program 3.0!!!

This is my 3rd year doing free choice reading in class.

I am a huge proponent of independent reading in all levels of world language, starting from about January of year one (and some folks like Bryce Hedstrom start even earlier).

This is my third year launching my reading program, and I learn more every year. This blog post is about what I’ve learned with my level 1 students since the new year when I launched the reading program with them. But before I go any further, I recommend that you:


Then, and only then, perhaps is my advice worthy of reading.

And you should probably start with this series I wrote last year, and then pick up below.

Novices need support!!!

In the past, I’ve done lots to build a reading culture: book talks with acting to preview books and build interest, positive reading quotes and quick discussions to highlight the importance of reading, book chats afterwards to have kids share what they’re enjoying, etc.

I HADN´T in the past done much in the way of supporting students in the act of reading, though. During reading itself, in the past I’ve read with the class, which is a strong influence over the class, one which is recommended by many CI reading program proponents.

However, last year in May, on a whim I decided to switch to reading workshop model and have kids translate to English to me one-on-one so we can work on reading strategies. I just called kids up to my position in the front of the class for them to whisper to me while I monitored the rest of the class’s attention on reading.


So many of my level 1 and 2 students weren’t getting much out of reading. They were skimming for key words and forming an overall understanding of the text, frequently decoding incorrectly. Many CI reading program proponents say this is enough–that you can read for the gist. But I no longer think so. Kids were frequently mis-translating basic, high-frequency vocabulary in even the most basic books by just scanning key words and working a general interpretation out.

This might be okay if we had thousands of hours to work with students and over time students would self-correct.  But I only have 150 or so a year. I want to make reading as efficient as possible.

The Reading Workshop Model

So this year, I have pivoted from modeling reading by reading my own book in front of the class to the reading workshop in which I work with a student one-on-one as they translate the text to English for a few minutes each reading session, sometimes multiple students. I have to admit that my class’s attention has slipped maybe 10 or 20% since I abandoned modeled reading, but the positives far outstrip the marginal loss of attention. And after a month or so, I plan on interspersing model reading back into my practice after my students have a stronger foundation and understand expectations.

It has helped me develop some key reading guidelines for my novice students:

1. Know every word

In the past, I told students they didn’t have to know every word. That they should read for the overall gist. The idea I’ve gleaned from these recommendations is that over time students will clarify meaning and reading will be more entertaining if they move through the story quicker and don’t get bogged down decoding each and every word.

I now tell students that they must know what ever word means and how to construct the entire sentence using all the words, not omitting any. Don’t just read for the general idea or gist. Use the glossary in the back of the book to look up everything they don’t know or can’t obviously guess from context clues or cognate recognition.

The effects have been super beneficial. Kids have to puzzle through things for a few classes, but I have found that there’s a turning point after about two weeks when they no longer need to look up the high-frequency words and their progress really quickens.

More importantly, the decoding work they’re doing while reading is actually accurate, which I found out it wasn’t previously with many, many students. This is a much, much better use of time. And it’s leading to much greater confidence, actually. At first it is a tough slog for many students turning to the glossary sometimes many times each sentence. But their pace quickens relatively suddenly because of the confidence that looking up each word gives them over time.

In order for this to work, novices have to start with one of the most basic books. The best thing is to make physical reading material out of classroom conversations by printing out a Class Yearbook or by making Classroom Cartoons a la Mike Peto. My favorite by FAR is Edi el Elefante by Emily Ibrahim. It is written soooooooo comprehensibly! After that, I suggest for students to read Terry Waltz’s three picture books A Puerco le gusta Hacer SelfiesMildred Quiere un Novio, and Gio Quiere una Pizza Especial. Those three don’t come anywhere near the literary quality of Edi el Elefante as they are more like targeted CI stories lengthened into a novel with the help of some illustrations. However, they are also sooooooo comprehensible that they build confidence.

In my opinion, the only other novels that are easy enough for MOST students for the first couple books are Craig Klein Dexemple’s La Piñata de Renata, El Ratón Pablito, La Familia de Federico Rico, and Mira Canion’s two books El Capibara con Botas and El Perezoso Impaciente. And while I have some strong students who are successful with other, more challenging books, most of the rest are too difficult for MOST of my students.

2. Re-read pages when necessary

Since I’m asking students to spend way more time decoding individual words using the glossary, working through each page can be like a puzzle (which is why the super easy books are essential for the first few reads). Hopefully in the future, there will be enough very, very easy reads so that kids don’t have to struggle through books at the very beginning. But until these super-easy books are available, I have found it immensely beneficial for students to re-read each page if they had to look up a lot of words before moving on. Students who have spent at times 3 or 4 minutes decoding by using the glossary then whip through the re-read in 20 or 30 seconds.

I can literally hear the gears turning in their minds after having worked with students decoding a page and then re-reading. This literacy work is tremendously beneficial. I hear pride in their voices when they smoothly and quickly read passages that they just minutes ago struggled through. I physically feel them solidifying the recently-acquired vocabulary. Sometimes I hear them falter over a word they looked up only minutes prior, but then it comes to them and their tone jumps with achievement and reassurance! It’s been amazing!

To reinforce these two rules, I now split my reading workshop tasks every other day. One day I work with a student one-on-one for 5 minutes reinforcing reading strategies. The other day, I ask students to raise their hands when they’ve finished decoding a page (the first read of a page) and I listen to their re-read. You have no idea how wonderful this is. I marvel at how quickly and accurately students can read, and I can quickly clarify any sticking points!

I think there’s a tipping point in which students will no longer need this reinforcement. The strongest readers with the strongest L1 literacy actually never needed it based on my one-on-one workshops. However, I will only know that point via one-on-one workshops. So I plan on continuing them.



The last point I’ll make about reading workshop is that I fully anticipate to come up with similar breakthroughs in my reading program practice by working one-on-one with my students every other day. When I was just modeling reading and not also doing reading workshop, I wasn’t gathering feedback. So, I’m going to keep splitting my reading program time evenly between modeling reading and reading workshop until I am confident that my students are breezing through their selected books.


The rest of my reading guidelines

This is kind of a review of reading program guidelines that I’ve discussed at length in previous years on this blog.

I use an adapted version of Tina Hargaden’s “Habits of Strong Readers Rubric” rubric. You can see my version here.

Here’s the full list of my student reading guidelines:

  1. You must know what ever word means. Don’t just read for the general idea or gist. Look up each word you don’t know for sure.
  2. Read to the end of the sentence before looking words up
  3. Look at the pictures before looking words up
  4. Use the vocab definitions at the bottom of the page (They’re bolded, underlined, footnoted, or numbered)
  5. Use the glossary to look words up
  6. Look back at previous pages when you recognize a word you previously figured out
  7. Re-read each page before moving on if you looked up many words


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