Sean Lawler on Heritage Speakers

Sean reports:
Mike Peto is a great source on teaching heritage students. He helped create a Facebook page called Teacher of Spanish Heritage Speakers. It’s a good page. I used to be much more involved there. I faded out, though, because so many teachers became members who didn’t have a background in CI or Krashen or FVR. I guess I got selfish. I was doing a lot more giving than receiving (i.e., info and help).
I teach high school heritage classes. My experience is having students that struggle reading in general… reluctant readers… fluent but not literate, to students that are ready for college level literature classes in Spanish, and every level in between. Peto’s classes in California were like that as well. He taught for several years such heritage classes. I agree with him that FVR is the best option for these classes. Get them reading their own texts. Celebrate what they are reading. Get them interested in reading on their own. Low level TPRS novels, high interest young fiction in Spanish, Ocra Soundings as a publisher, Scholastica in Spanish has good non-fiction stuff, graphic novels. Do read-alouds with them. Talk to them about books that you are reading and then offer them a chance to read it. Have students recommend books to each other… Whatever you can do to sustain a FVR program for as long as possible.
That said, I am only able to sustain FVR for so long. A big chunk of my time outside of FVR is with telenovelas. Netflix has a few that are very compelling for high school students. Two we are watching now are Ruta 35 and El Vato. Both great. We watch then discuss a little. But just watching is valuable. It’s like FVR in a way, but using the same text. All of my students look forward to watching the telenovelas. Sometimes we do character studies. Sometimes I have students track scenes and then analyze story development. I’m currently working on having students think like an author of the telenovelas; to think about what they would do to edit or add to make the story even more compelling to the audience.
Other whole group texts come from various places. is a great source of documentaries about the hispanic world. They’re an offshoot of NPR. I try to get audio texts where I can print the transcript. With the transcript we can do text-handling (i.e., reading or vocab study) exercises.
As far as writing goes, I think it’s super important that we give students opportunities to write informally. They do so much formal writing, persuasive essays and all, that so many students come to despise writing. So, I ask them to narrate or create stories. Right now we are listening to a horror story from Psicofonías (look them up online), analyzing the story in it’s use of good horror story elements, like 1) memorable, graphic scenes, 2) appeal to primal fears, 3) undermining the audience by creating the unexpected (see what James Wan shared publicly on his 5 rules for creating a good horror movie), then I want them to write their own horror story using these elements. We’ll see how it goes.
But I don’t do OWIs with my heritage classes. Granted, if I had more intermediate level students in my heritage classes, I might consider it. But it’s true that my current heritage classes don’t benefit much from me talking to them. They get much more language, and richer language, from, say, a telenovela.



6 thoughts on “Sean Lawler on Heritage Speakers”

  1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Another idea for supporting struggling and/or reluctant readers is to give them the audio of the book they are reading. This can help a great deal with fluency.
    As I might have mentioned before, Reading A-Z, though it has lots of lame in-house created ‘literature,’ has leveled fiction and non-fiction Spanish, French and English texts that all have audio tracks… the idea is to have eyes on texts while listening.

  2. Alisa said:
    …the idea is to have eyes on texts while listening….
    And that is precisely why I make my claim against class readers. Even those that have auditory tracks, in my view, are recorded too fast and so they split the class between readers, usually kids of privilege, and non-readers.
    It is because when we do the reading options, choosing from all 20 of them, the kids read what they themselves created together and they ALL READ TOGETHER with confidence, with ownership.
    So these are the three ways that in my opinion are the best way to do a reading class:
    1. they read by themselves. This is the best in terms of gains. We do this during Free Choice Reading.
    2. they read class novels. This is the worst. It splits classes.
    3. they use the Reading Options to read stuff they created together. This is right up there with (1) above.

  3. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Agree 100%. The listening-while-reading I describe with Reading A-Z or whichever audio track – is for Heritage Learners who can successfully cope with native-like rate of speech.

  4. Many audio tracks can be slowed for non-native listeners. At least those that are in English. My students appreciate being able to see the words as they listen. I don’t consider it a Reading exercise but a listening exercise. The written text is just there to help them understand what they are hearing. I have no idea why all my words are being capitalized. Sorry.

    1. Hey Judy – many months have passed since that wonderful reception you organized at the mayor’s office in Agen – so cool! Hope you are well. I wanted to tell you that the caps only appear when you write but not when your comment is published. It’s a result of a really bad blog function that was put in by my former web developer. I’m working on it and told Sean just this morning that this entire blog, and indeed the entire site, is in for a massive overall in coming months. I would have just shut it all down and called it an “experience” in life and begun the meditative part, but the new materials I’m coming up with are so much better than all the stuff I came up with in the past so I keep on trucking. When the changes are all in place, I expect a far less bloated and more user-friendly blog experience. So good to hear from you and I agree with your comment. By the way, when do you think reading those little chapter books should begin? I’m curious because I see them force fed to really young readers and my idea is to introduce what they call level 1 “novels” to all CI students in level 2, and have them only read what they create in class, what I call tableaux vivants (and later) stories. My premise is that more SIMPLE (i.e. tableaux and stories that they create in class) auditory input in level 1 brings far more efficacy and a lot less struggle in level 2 for ALL students, not just those of privilege. In that way we keep students who struggle with reading (the majority of our students) happy and they stay with us longer, thus securing our jobs while honoring the life of George Floyd and the countless others who have been crushed by the current system for so many centuries now.

  5. Hi all. Update on this post: Adrienne Brandenberg is managing the Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, as well as a couple of others. It’s still got some good stuff up there.

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