At the 2017 iFLT conference in Denver, I got the chance to attend a workshop with Michelle Whaley and Laurie Clarcq. Michelle is a Russian teacher in Alaska and Laurie teaches Spanish in California. Their workshop was all about embedded reading. Embedded reading is a scaffolding technique that they developed for the second language classroom. This activity involves giving students a simple base reading at first. Then over time the teacher presents more detailed and complex versions of the same reading. Here is an example of an embedded reading below.
Alba liked to sing. She had one perfect song. She needed a new song. She went to experts in other places for a new song.
There was a woman named Alba who liked to sing. Alba sang a lot. She had one perfect song. Her friends liked her song, but one day a friend said, “You need a new song. ” Alba agreed that she needed a new song. She went to other places to see experts sing a new song.
A few years ago, there was a woman named Alba who really liked to sing. This woman was our friend. Our friend, Alba, sang a lot. She had one perfect song that she liked to sing. Her friends liked her song, but one day a friend said, “You need a new song. ” Alba was a bit sad, but agreed that she needed a new song. So, she went to other places to see experts sing a new song. First she went to Las Vegas, Nevada. She went to a school for song experts. The experts sang a new song for her. Alba watched and then sang the new song. The experts were very impressed.
Michelle and Laurie have a fabulous website with more information about this technique, which is where I found the embedded reading example above (although I modified it slightly). I highly recommend visiting their site.
When I think of embedded reading, I think of swimming. Whenever I go swimming, I prefer to put my feet in and then take steps gradually until I am all wet. I have never enjoyed just jumping into the deep end because it is just too much of a shock to my system. For many students in our second language classroom, being given a complex paragraph in the target language (TL) is kind of like being thrown into the deep end of the pool with no warning. Maybe our higher achieving students would be able to swim if they were suddenly thrown into the deep end, but our lower achieving students would possibly drown! Embedded reading eases students into the reading process and helps them all be more successful. And even if our higher achieving students didn’t need the scaffolding, their repeated exposure to the structures in the readings will help their language acquisition in the long run, so it’s really a win-win for all students.
I started reading about embedded reading at some point this past year, but the biggest problem I had with it was that, in spite of the extra details, giving my students the same text over and over got a bit boring for them. I asked Laurie about this at the workshop in Denver and she showed me a document on the embedded reading website that compiled a huge list of reading activities on this reading-activities-chart that can be used to keep things fresh. So if I have four versions of a story that I would like to use in class, I might do something like this:
Day 1: Choral translation of Version 1 (the base story), have students illustrate Version 1 in comic strip form.
Day 2: Project comic strip of Version 1, read lines out loud from Version 1 and have students point to the panel being described (maybe a quick flyswatter game?). Have students read Version 2 in pairs.
Day 3: Review Version 2 with true/false or multiple choice questions in the TL. Present Version 3 with teacher reading (negotiating meaning for any new words), and have students actors act it out.
Day 4: Have students read Version 4 in groups and do a summarization activity mentioned on the activity chart, such as having students list a number of facts from the piece, summarize the piece with sentences from the text, draw a scene from the text, or create a fifth version of the story.
In my Spanish 4 class, I have pieces of literature that I enjoy doing but all of the pieces are really too advanced for my students. I think I will teach them via embedded reading this year, in the hopes that I can make them more accessible for my students. What do I have to lose?