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7 Ways Reading Impacts Language Learning

7 Ways Reading Impacts Language Learning

It’s been a minute since you took a break from your language lessons, but every time you think about taking a break, the guilt comes at you like the Kool-Aid man. Sounds familiar? We know. It happens to the best of learners!

Now, is it really that terrible to skip a few lessons? Will you stagnate? No, and NO!
Experts at MyCoolClass are here to give you the most fun, yet educational solution — pick up a book instead!

Here are 7 ways in which reading can help you give a much-deserved break and still help you learn!

  1. Improves vocabulary
    Reading is an excellent way to expand your vocabulary. When reading, you encounter new words and phrases that you may not have known before. You can also learn new synonyms, idiomatic expressions, and phrases that are commonly used in a language. Through reading, you can see how these words are used in context, and this can help you understand their meaning and usage better.

  2. Enhances grammar and syntax
    Reading can also improve your grammar and syntax skills. When you read, you are exposed to a wide range of sentence structures, which can help you understand how sentences are constructed in the language you are learning. You can learn about the correct word order, the use of articles, prepositions, and other grammar rules.

  3. Improves reading comprehension
    When you read, you have to understand the meaning of the text, and this requires you to use your comprehension skills to identify the main idea, make inferences, and draw conclusions. Reading regularly
    can improve these skills, making it easier for you to understand more complex texts.

  4. Helps with pronunciation and intonation
    Reading aloud can also help you improve your pronunciation and intonation. By reading out loud, you can practice the correct pronunciation of words and the natural flow of the language. This can help you to speak more fluently and accurately.

  5. Improves critical thinking
    When you read, you are exposed to different viewpoints and ideas, and this can help you to think critically about the text. This skill can be applied to real-life situations, allowing you to analyze situations, make informed decisions and communicate your ideas effectively.

  6. Provides cultural knowledge
    By reading books, articles, and other materials, you can learn about different customs, traditions, and way
    of life. This can help you to understand the language in context and make it easier for you to communicate with native speakers.

  7. Motivates language learning
    It can also be a huge motivating factor in language learning. When you read materials in the language you are learning, you may feel a sense of achievement and progress. This can motivate you to continue learning the language and can make the process more enjoyable.

By incorporating reading into your language learning routine, you can enhance your language skills, reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, grammar, and syntax, and ultimately improve communication skills, all while making the learning process more enjoyable.

So, which book are you planning to pick up first?

Teaching Diversity is Imperative (Part One)

Teaching Diversity is Imperative (Part One)

One of the great benefits of being a self-employed educator is being able to create individualized curricula. Some teachers use standard materials, some exchange resources with other teachers, and some create all the materials from scratch. As long as the curriculum is high quality, the method of acquisition is moot.

However, ELA teachers–and any teacher who incorporates literature into their lessons–must decide what to prioritize in their text and assignment selections. These decisions can result in enormous anxiety and debate, both with the teacher themself, families, administrators, and other teachers. Despite the potential backlash, we as educators must choose to teach diversity to prepare students to make compassionate decisions in their adulthood.

Saying “No” to the Classics

If you are attempting to teach texts based on a Western education, you’re likely to be pushed to teach the “classics”. Some of these texts are “classics” in the traditional sense (e.g. Homer and Shakespeare), some are more modern (e.g. Fitzgerald and Austen), and some are the books that will likely be given that honor this century (e.g. L’Engle and Morrison). The largest problem teaching these books is the lack of diversity. Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, and Amy Tan appear on these lists, but most authors are White men from the United States and Western Europe.

Parents argue that those books are what help students succeed on the AP Literature exam, college admissions, freshman English composition, and world literature. It’s hard to dismiss that argument; if a student wants to enroll in a Western university, having some knowledge of those texts is likely to help. However, if that’s the argument, here is the rebuttal: Then what?

What happens after the English composition and world literature classes are finished? Will reading “The Great Gatsby” help students love their chosen career? Will studying “War and Peace” make them better parents? Will dissecting “Great Expectations” make them healthy, compassionate adults?

In most cases, the answer is, “No, probably not.”

There’s nothing wrong with students reading these books. If a student wants to read Hemmingway in the summer or on the weekends, that’s fine; I’m thrilled when a student is reading anything. However, should teachers spend precious class time teaching these texts?

No, probably not.

Saying “Yes” to Diversity

I spent months designing my fall curriculum. Even books that I love to read and teach were moved to summer to make way for greater diversity and lessons I felt students could genuinely use. Mary Louisa Alcott’s “Little Women” was replaced by Linda Sue Park’s “A Long Walk to Water,” and Ann Braden’s “The Benefits of Being an Octopus” was replaced with “Listen, Slowly” by Thanhhà Lại.

“Little Women” is fun to teach, and Braden’s book deepens students’ empathy and understanding of peers in difficult situations; in fact, Braden’s novel will remain one of my favorite middle grade books. Nevertheless, Park and Lại wrote stories that create intense discussions, widen perspectives, and will likely stay with students long after we’ve moved to a new unit.

Linda Sue Park is a Korean-American author best known for “A Long Walk to Water,” although she has plenty of other award-winning books. Thanhhà Lại is a Vietnamese-born American author best known for “Inside Out & Back Again,” but her three other books are also highly acclaimed. Both authors write beautiful stories worthy of their success and awards.

The rubric I used to choose these and other texts is a subject for another post. For now, I would like to explain why Thanhhà Lại is a perfect example of an author worthy of precious classroom time.

Listen, Slowly

First, “Listen, Slowly” begins when a Vietnamese-American girl has just finished sixth grade and is blind sighted by her parents when they announce the family will be spending the summer in Vietnam. My seventh graders, just returning from summer break, will be able to relate to this story, at least in part, creating a smoother transition.

Second, the book takes a close look at how we define our identity. Tweens and teens are having these inner monologues already, but the choices they make in the next few years help mold them into the people they will be in adulthood. “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” are questions worth exploring in fiction to help students explore those questions in real life.

Third, the creative writing has an informal style that will resonate well with its intended audience, allowing us to discuss word choice, sentence structure, and all the other difficult English concepts teachers love to explain.

In short, the book is well-written, relatable, and thought-provoking. That could be enough of a reason to teach a book. However, Lại’s life story and accomplishments add another layer, which persuaded me to keep it at the top of the list.

Teachable Lives; Teachable Moments

If I’m honest, my text selection really boils down to me looking for as many “teachable moments” as I can cram into a semester. How many lessons can I turn into advice (without sounding like advice)? How many times can students leave class thinking about something we discussed? “Listen, Slowly” will increase those teachable moments exponentially.

Often, teachers give students information about the author of a book because that’s what we’re supposed to do as a “pre-reading” activity. However, students rarely care when and where an author was born, where they went to college, or what job they had before they published their first book. These facts don’t enhance the story for them; it’s basically the same as learning information about a complete stranger. I try to find a more engaging way to introduce this material–usually after we have started the book.

I won’t need to do that with Lại.

First, Lại’s family fled Vietnam in 1975, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. Her childhood and adolescence allow us to discuss the Vietnam War (about which students know very little at that age), immigration, and the refugee crisis. It builds empathy, tolerance, and humility.

Second, Lại struggled to learn English properly, and she wrote a scholarly article entitled “From Awkward to Still Awkward, but More Chill” detailing the challenges she faced in learning the language. She tells a story about being exiled from AP English and discusses how one can’t use logic to write English properly. The article is humorous and captivating, and I know my students–especially multilingual students–will appreciate this personal story.

Her experience provides us with the opportunity to talk about the difficulties of English grammar, syntax, and mechanics, and I hope that it will instill optimism. After all, a student who struggled for years to understand the complexities of English became a bestselling author; my students can overcome those difficulties, too.

Third, Lại founded Viet Kids Inc, a nonprofit organization that provides bicycles to Vietnamese students who often walk four hours each day to receive their education. Biking to or from a school can cut a 2-hour commute to a 30-minute trip, giving students more energy to concentrate on learning. Additionally, the nonprofit provides tuition, uniforms, and rice to students; my American students often do not realize that the necessities of education are not available to everyone.

This information allows us to gain a sense of community and interdependence, foster kindness, and learn humility. Additionally, we can tie this noble organization to the information about the Vietnamese culture included in the book.

Students may not remember all of the facts. The story of being kicked out of AP English and the exact name of the nonprofit may escape them. However, the lessons they will learn and the positive character traits they will develop thanks to the book and the author’s story will be with them much longer–and I will feel proud of those teachable moments.

Positive Character Outweighs Classic Knowledge

I do feel it is my responsibility to help prepare students for university, and I’m not sure that “Listen, Slowly” will ever be on the AP Literature test or discussed in a college English class. However, more importantly, it is my responsibility to help prepare them for adulthood–in whatever form that takes for them.

Reading Baum and Dickens is unlikely to help students when they’re facing their biggest decisions.

But the information they discussed while reading Lại just might.

To Inspire Learning, Read to a Child

To Inspire Learning, Read to a Child

As a child, there were few things I loved more than listening to an adult read. Whether I was curled up next to a family member or sitting in a circle in front of a teacher, hearing stories captivated me. No adult reads exactly the same way. Some read slower, some showed the pictures longer, and some asked more questions. Rapt with attention, I noticed all of the differences, but enjoyed them equally. When I began teaching, I found one of the most helpful techniques to inspire learning was to read aloud to my students, and it ultimately changed their lives.

March 19th is International Read to Me Day, so I would like to discuss just how vital that concept is in a child’s education.

Younger Children Engage

Perhaps the “read to me” idea is best known to inspire learning for the youngest children. Parents use it to soothe their kids to sleep, and early education educators use it to teach. Often, we think of the iPad or similar tablet to keep children entertained with moving colors and silly voices, but an adult reading a story can be just as engrossing. The child is able to picture the story, analyze the illustrations, and ask questions.

Several years ago, I met Katherine, a college student working part-time at a daycare center in the afternoons. Despite barely making minimum wage, she drove to the local library every day after work and carefully selected five or six books. The next day, she would come into the room of four-year-olds just after they had awoken from their naps. She would help serve snacks, watch the kids on the playground, and then sit on the alphabet rug. Often without even being asked, the students would join her in a semi-circle and stare at her, ready to hear the latest books.

She was a natural speaker, and she would read as long as the students would stay engaged. Most of the time, that meant that she read all of the books she had selected. We think of four-year-olds as having short attention spans, but those kids could sit nearly an hour and share their (often hilarious) insights into the books.

Any unread books would be held until the following day, when she returned with the next stack. If kids had become fascinated with marine animals, pollution, artists, or any other topic, suddenly Katherine’s books were all about those interests–similar to Reggio Emelia teaching. “They love it,” she told me once. “We probably read 25 or 30 books a week.”

The kids gave her fixed attention to listen to nearly 30 books every week!

Many of the students had parents with long, highly demanding jobs, and they were at the school for at least 60 hours each week. I suspected that many (though certainly not all) did not have someone available to read nightly stories, and Katherine fulfilled a need they only subconsciously knew they had.

Teachers, especially early childhood educators, know the importance of reading aloud to students. Asking them questions, letting kids share their opinions, and subtly testing reading comprehension are all part of teaching literacy.

Reading Aloud Teaches Reading Alone

Nearly 15 years ago, I worked with a student who was severely academically behind. Technically in middle school, she had never been taught to read. Other teachers used flashcards, phonics games, and other common tried-and-true tools. Unfortunately, that only frustrated her more, and she especially hated the pity that seemed to come with those methods.

So, instead, I started reading to her. We bought two copies of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, then Judy Blume’s Fudge series, then dozens of Magic Tree House books. We would sit on a couch or on bean bag chairs, each with a copy of the book in front of us, and I would read to her. Occasionally, I would quickly clarify words I knew she didn’t understand, but I always continued the story immediately.

We did this roughly seven hours each week; even for the most avid readers, seven hours is a long time to commit to reading. However, to us, it was a magical time. Away from the distractions of preteen drama, critical adults, and the daily hassles, we were lost in a world of curious kids’ shenanigans and their exasperated siblings.

Approximately one year into our lessons, she began telling me about books she was reading that were well above the level we were reading together. I was hesitant at first, and I wondered if she had simply read the back of the books or heard the stories from classmates, but (thankfully) I was soon proven wrong. She had picked up books at the school library and was reading them by herself.

After two years of reading with me, she was nearly at grade level. Just as importantly, she loved reading; I had not removed the joy by forcing her to sound out words she didn’t know or asking her to read aloud with other students. She carried a book everywhere she went and read significantly more than her peers. Ultimately, she enrolled in university, and now as an adult, she reads to her own children.

Simply reading to a struggling student can make a tremendous difference in their future and inspire learning. Whether they are four or fourteen, listening to someone read can be life changing.

It Even Captivates the Cool Kids

Not long after that adventure, I taught a six-week summer literacy program to at-risk teenagers. They completed hands-on projects and short journaling assignments related to The Giver and Flowers for Algernon.

It was summer, and I knew most kids would rather be anywhere else, and thus would not read on their own. Other professionals suggested they take turns reading aloud, but I could imagine the embarrassment they would feel–especially with those books. Instead, we bought a CD audio book of each text and a paperback copy for every student. Each day, they listened to several chapters of a book, reading it to themselves simultaneously. Then, they worked with their friends to develop a utopia and build a rat maze.

Reading comprehension and writing complexity increased after those six weeks, and no student had been disruptive while listening to the chapters. Outside with their friends–and even other adults–they might say they were bored or that they hated books, but I knew the truth. Even if they disliked being in a classroom in the middle of summer, they loved the speaker’s hypnotizing voice allowing quiet time between the constant plans and demands of their summer schedules.

Whether it is adults reading aloud or a professional speaker clearly enunciating in an audio book, listening to stories can help students with learning differences or those that claim they’re “too cool” to have someone read to them. It removes the pressure and potential embarrassment, whilst still teaching the sounds and subtleties of a language.

MyCoolClass Teachers Read Aloud, Too

Although parents often think of language curriculum as academic, story time teachers are just as important. They provide an excellent way to teach the basics of language, gently test reading comprehension, and prepare students to read independently to inspire learning. Plus, story time classes are engaging and fun!

There are many teachers on MyCoolClass who offer virtual story time sessions to kids around the world and inspire learning. Typically, with extensive experience in early childhood education or special education, these teachers can make stories come to life and capture children’s imaginations. Additionally, with global teachers and global students, children are likely to have an experience unlike those they may have with their families or local friends.

If you are trying to instill a love of reading, want to build literacy skills faster, or simply need 25 minutes to finish the laundry (we’ve all been there!), consider enrolling your learner in a one-time or continuous story time class. It’s likely to be an experience they won’t soon forget.

After all, International Read to Me Day exists for a reason. Truly, any child can be mesmerized by an incredible story being read by someone who loves reading to them.

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