What is Translanguaging? Building on the Strengths of Spanish-speaking Children

Dana L. Grisham, Professor (Retired), California State University



Guest Blogger, Shira Lubliner, Professor, California State University, East Bay (Hayward)


We have researched and written on Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) over the past decade, amassing a compelling argument for the use of CSI with Spanish-speaking Emergent Bilinguals (EBs)(Lubliner & Grisham, 2017; Lubliner & Grisham, 2015; Lubliner & Grisham, 2012; Lubliner & Hiebert, 2011, Lubliner & Grisham, 2008). In this blog post, we define translanguaging and we examine the role it plays in CSI.


The Latino student population in our schools continues to grow faster than any other group and test scores reflect the challenges these students face in learning academic English (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Grouping students for English Language Development (ELD) instruction is the current approach to teach English as a second language, but poor outcomes for ELD instruction have led to the need for a different approach—our research on Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) (Lubliner & Grisham, 2012) is one promising approach.

Vocabulary is central to language acquisition, reading comprehension, and all forms of academic achievement (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, 2012). Building the English vocabulary of Spanish-speaking emergent bilingual students (EBS) is a key factor in improving academic outcomes.

Spanish-speaking students may acquire a wide range of academic vocabulary words from 10,000- 15,000 cognates with shared meaning in Spanish and English (Lubliner & Hiebert, 2011). Despite the potential benefits of cognate instruction, two pervasive myths undermine teacher willingness to engage in this instruction: 1) a deficit theory that suggests that Spanish-speaking students do not know challenging vocabulary in either Spanish or English, 2) A “false friends” belief that so-called false cognates are too prevalent for the strategy to be effective. Our research has established that neither of these myths are true (Lubliner & Grisham, in process).

Lubliner and Hiebert (2011) analyzed the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) and determined that more than 70% of the headwords were cognates. Cognates were sorted by frequency and a majority of cognates in Spanish are more common than corresponding words in English. For example, “edifice” is part of academic English, while “edificio” in Spanish is as commonly used as “building” is in English. The analysis suggested that Spanish-speaking EBS have a “cognate advantage” in learning academic English.

In our research, we found that cognates are helpful in identifying and using academic language. Academic language is different from ordinary spoken English because it is the abstract language of ideas and like awareness of cognates, academic language needs to be taught to students (Scarcella, 2003). Zwiers (2008) defined academic English as “the set of words, grammar, and organizational strategies used to describe complex ideas, higher-order thinking processes, and abstract concepts” (p.20). Students begin school with a fund of convesational language from their home culture, but in school they begin to use another language—that of learning in general and specialized fields. Zwiers refers to these new words as “bricks and mortar.” Bricks are the content specific vocabulary, like plate tectonics, while mortar are the general utility academic words, like analyze, define, summarize. In terms of vocabulary, we might compare this to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) vocabulary Tiers:

Tier 1: spoken, conversational words, like family, home, friends, etc. These are words that most English-speaking students already know and do not need to be taught.

Tier 2: words and terms useful across contexts—the “mortar” words such as analyze, summarize, define, or explain. These are words that many English-speaking students do not know and need to be taught.

Tier 3: words that are “bricks” or content specific, like photosynthesis. These are words that most students do not know and need to be taught as part of content-related instruction.

Although Tier 2 and Tier 3 words are considered more challenging for English-speaking students, this may not be the case for Spanish-speaking EBs. Spanish-speakers are more likely to know Tier 2 and Tier 3 words that are often everyday words in Spanish. For example, the academic (Tier 2) word construct is quite rare in English, with a frequency ranking of 6398. However, the cognate construir is very common in Spanish, with a frequency ranking of 525. Thus, we would argue that Spanish-speaking EBs are fully ready to employ their home language in the classroom, providing they have the support of teachers aware of that advantage and willing to apply translanguaging principles to their instruction.

CSI and Translanguaging

Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) teaches students the patterns of cognates and in our most recent work (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017), we contextualize CSI in “translanguaging,” a relatively new term in the research literature (Garcia & Wei, 2014; McSwan, 2017).

Translanguaging provides a framework for inclusive bilingualism. Translanguaging is reality-based; it is the way bilingual children and adults use a full repertoire of linguistic resources to communicate with one another. In contrast to subtractive bilingualism, translanguaging embraces all languages in a classroom in order to encourage meaningful communication between students and build on the social and cultural resources students bring to their classrooms—or “Funds of Knowledge” (Moll and colleagues, 1992). Translanguaging is a way to dignify the learner’s language and culture and requires flexibility and encouragement from the the classroom teacher.

Take for example, this scenario from a university-based teacher preparation program:

First student: ¿Qué haces este fin de semana? (What are you doing this weekend?)

Second student: Mi hermana y yo nos vamos a Santa Cruz para reunirse con nuestros primos. Ellos quieren ir a la playa por el día. ¿Que pasa contigo? (My sister and I are going to Santa Cruz to get together with our cousins. They want to go to the beach for the day. What about you?)

First student: No lo sé. Tal vez mi novio y yo simplemente pasar el rato en casa. (I don’t know. Maybe my boyfriend and I will just hang out at home.) Hey, did you finish the biology homework? That chapter was so long and boring.

Second student: It wasn’t so bad. I just skimmed the chapter and answered the questions. But I’m really scared about the test next week.

First student: Yeah, me too! ¡Mira! Simon está sonriendo contigo. Él es tan lindo. ¿Le gusta? (Look! Simon is smiling at you. He is so cute. Do you like him?)

Second student: No, no es así. No es más que un amigo. (No, not that way. He’s just a friend.) Hey Simon! What’s up? Did you finish the homework?

The young women in this example (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017, p. 2) shift seamlessly between English and Spanish—fully bilingual discourse as it happens in the real world. Teachers have traditionally been told that students’ languages needed to be kept separate and that “code switching” should be avoided. We now know that this is not true (Garcia & Wei, 2014; Guzzardo Tamargo, Mazak, & Parafito Couto, 2016). Bilingual and multilingual people possess a language repertoire that is comprised of all of the languages and dialects that they know—a heteroglossic language ideology (McSwan, 2017). Bilingual people move flexibly between languages depending on the subject they are discussing and the person to whom they are speaking. Experts in emergent bilingualism refute the idea that English is to be acquired as a second language. They believe instead, that students continue to acquire both languages simultaneously and continuously rather than in an ordinal sequence (Garcia & Wei, 2014).

We propose that as a strategy for learning English as a Second Language, the position taken by McSwan (2017) that EBs have a single linguistic repertoire, but that they have a rich and diverse “mental grammar” that may be termed a multilingual perspective on translanguaging. The objective and ultimate goal is for education to create fully bilingual and biliterate citizens.

For teachers, the question might be proposed: “Fine, but what does that mean? What does this look like in the classroom?” We would like to provide an example from our book (Lubliner & Grisham, 2017, pp. 56-57). The following lesson is based on a true story of Shira Lubliner’s grandparents’ immigrant experience.

Lesson 14. CLOZE Activity with Add/Change Cluster Cognates

Instructional Sequence:

  1. Project the following sentence on the white board and explain that it is an excerpt from a cloze (a text that has missing words that need to be filled in. “They left to escape poverty and to find __________ freedom.” Ask them to think about a word that would fit in the blank.
  2. Use the following think aloud as a basis for your instruction:

Teacher: Let’s see! What kind of word could fit in the sentence? I think that the missing words has to do with freedom. Freedom is a noun—a thing; so the missing word must be an adjective—a word that describes a noun. Here is a word bank that we’ll be using with this story (teacher projects the word bank on the whiteboard.

solution ( solución)               differences (diferencias)     different ( diferente)

customs (costumbres)          religious (religiosa)              adventure (aventura)

experience (experiencia)      finally (finalmente)             family (familia)

problem (problema)              fantastic (fantástica)           epidemic (epidemia)

Figure 1. Cognates

Students identify the adjectives (religious, fantastic, different) and then together pick the one that fits best (religious). Teacher points out that the context helped them to pick the word that fits best and eliminate the ones that don’t make sense.

  1. The text is next projected onto the white board and students are given the printed copy. Ask the students to work together, filling in the rest of the empty spaces with cognates from the word bank. Remind students to use cognates, parts of speech, and context to make sure that each word they select makes sense in the sentence.

The Great Flu Epidemic

My grandparents came to the United States from Europe in 1917. They left to escape poverty and to find _______________ freedom. Soon after they arrived, there was a terrible flu _______________ and my grandparents got very sick. My aunt was two years old at the time. (My father had not been born yet.) My grandmother was very frightened that her little girl would get sick and die. She did not speak English very well, so she used gestures to communicate with her neighbor. The neighbor wanted to help but she was afraid she would get sick, too. This was a terrible ______________. __________, they agreed on a ______________. My grandmother handed her little girl out the window to the neighbor, who took care of her until her parents recovered from the flu. My aunt wasn’t frightened. She thought it was a ____________________!

There were many _____________ between my grandparents and their neighbors. They had ______________ beliefs and ______________. But they shared a love of ______________. The flue epidemic was an ________________ my grandparents and their neighbors never forgot. They remained good friends until the day that they died.

  1. Closure: Call the class back together and go over the cloze activity (Key is in Appendix A). Students relate how they filled each blank and point out that all the words are Add/Change cognates and how that might have made the task easier. Finally, discuss the content of the story and have students relate their own experiences.
  2. Including students who speak languages other than Spanish. This is a good time to remind students who speak languages other than Spanish how the program will benefit them. Point out that Spanish is very close to Latin, the source of most academic vocabulary. As they participate in CSI activities students from diverse language backgrounds will learn Latin-based roots and word parts. This will help them acquire new Latin-based vocabulary, enabling them to better understand complex academic texts in English.
  3. Emphasize again that in your classroom, all languages and cultures are welcome. Encourage them to share words and phrases in their own languages. Explain that when students who speak languages other than Spanish incorporate their own languages into class activities they add to the linguistic richness of the class.

The Great Flu Epidemic is an American immigrant story. Nearly all students (except Native Americans) can relate to the experience of adjusting to a new country or community and have family immigration stories they would like to share. This translanguaging lesson welcomes students’ experiences, including those of students who speak only English and emergent bilingual students who speak language other than Spanish. In Lesson 16, students extend their knowledge of cognates into extended writing—working to tell their own stories or those of others they know. They may work in small groups by home language then sharing those stories with the class.


The CSI program is of particular value to students who speak Spanish due to the fact that Spanish is very close to Latin, which is the source of most academic vocabulary. However, CSI is also valuable to students who speak only English or languages other than Spanish. All students who participate in CSI activities learn Latin-based roots and word parts systematically. This will help them acquire new Latin-based vocabulary, enabling them to better understand complex academic texts in English. The sample lesson included in this blog demonstrates the principle of translanguaging—helping students ADD to their linguistic repertoires without subtracting from their home languages. Translanguaging welcomes the full range of students’ cultural and linguistic experiences into the classroom, building a more inclusive and potentially effective learning environment for all students.

Read more about translanguaging (click):


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life. New York: The Guilford Press.

Castek, J., Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Using Multimedia to Support Generative Vocabulary Learning. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice, 2nd Edition, (pp. 303-321). New York: Guilford.

Coxhead, 2000. Academic Word List. Retrieved: http://www.uefap.com/vocab/select/awl.htm

García, O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Guzzardo Tamargo, R.E., Mazak, C.M., & Parafita Couto, M.C. (Eds.), (2016). Spanish-English codeswitching in the Caribbean and the U.S. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D.L. (2008). The Effects of Cognate Strategy Instruction on Spanish-Speaking Students’ Cognate Identification, Vocabulary Acquisition, and Reading Comprehension. Paper presented at the 58th National Reading Conference, December 3-6, 2008, Orlando, Fla.

Lubliner, S. & Hiebert, E. (2011). An Analysis of English–Spanish Cognates as a Source of General Academic Language.  Bilingual Research Journal, 34, 1, 1-18.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing Powerful Literacy Tools to Spanish-Speaking Students. In J. Fingon & S. Ulanov (Eds.), Learning from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: Promoting Success for All Students (pp. 105-123). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2017). Translanguaging: The Key to Comprehension for Spanish-speaking Students and Their Peers. Washington, DC: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D.L. (in process). Debunking the myth of “false” cognates. To be submitted to Journal of Literacy Research, Fall 2017.

McSwan, J. (2017). A multilingual perspective on translanguaging. American Educational Research Journal, 54, 1, 167-201.

Scarcella, R. (2003). Academic English: A conceptual framework. The University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute. Technical Report 2003-1.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-144), English Language Learners.

Zwiers, J. (2008). Building academic language: Essential practices for content classrooms. San Francisco: J. Wiley & Sons.

Teacher Education Research Study Group

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey & Dana L. Grisham 

The Teacher Education Research Study Group, or TERSG, is a professional learning community of the Literacy Research Association that sponsors research in the field of (you guessed it) teacher education related to literacy.

TERSG members consider the preparation of excellent literacy teachers to be both a professional and a personal priority. In addition, this study group provides an opportunity for educators to come together for further study of effective practices in literacy teacher education. In this post, I want to tell you a little bit about a longitudinal project that examined the pathways from teacher candidate to student teacher to novice teacher. This project is the work of a subset of the larger study group who have published many other articles and resources related to teacher education, as well.

The research team has changed members as personal and professional demands have changed over time, but the work has continued since we first started the three-phase project in 2009.  The group has been incredibly productive, but one of the things that has come out of our work has been the opportunity to demonstrate that faculty members from small teaching colleges can work together to gather a substantial data set and mold that into multiple presentations and publications.  In addition our little band of researchers, a subset of the larger study group, has strengthened friendships, as a result of this project.

In addition to face-to-face meetings at the annual Literacy Research Association conference, the researchers met frequently using technologies such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and webinar software. We stored and shared documents on Box.com, Google Drive, and occasionally in Dropbox.  The Box.com secure site houses over 1154 discrete documents from raw data, to minutes of our meetings, to draft and final manuscripts.

This post will serve as a home base listing of the publications and presentations completed to date. We hope that our work will help inform the ongoing discussions about how best to prepare candidates as exemplary teachers of reading. Whenever possible, I have included a link to the presentation and publication resources, as well. The Wordle slide show, below, is drawn from descriptors of the teacher preparation programs that participated in the project.


Scales, R.Q., Ganske, K., Grisham, D.L., Yoder, K.K., Lenski, S., Wolsey, T.D., Chambers, S., Young, J.R., Dobler, E., & Smetana, L. (2014).  Exploring the impact of literacy teacher education programs on student teachers’ instructional practices. Journal of Reading Education, 39(3), 3 – 13.

Grisham, D.L., Yoder, K.K., Smetana, L., Dobler, E., Wolsey, T.D., Lenski, S.J., Young, J., Chambers, S., Scales, R.Q., Wold, L.S, Ganske, K., & Scales, W.D. (2014). Are teacher candidates learning what they are taught? Declarative literacy learning in 10 teacher preparation programs. Teacher Education and Practice, 27(1), 168-189.

Wolsey, T.D., Young, J., Scales, R., Scales, W. D., Lenski, S., Yoder, K., Wold, L., Smetana, L., Grisham, D.L., Ganske, K., Dobler, E., & Chambers, S. (2013). An examination of teacher education in literacy instruction and candidate perceptions of their learned literacy practices. Action in Teacher Education, 35 (3), 204 – 222. doi: 10.1080/01626620.2013.806230

Lenski, S., Ganske, K., Chambers, S., Wold, L., Dobler, E., Grisham, D.L., Scales, R., Smetana, L., Wolsey, T.D., Yoder, K.K., & Young, J. (2013). Literacy course priorities and signature aspects of nine teacher preparation programs. Literacy Research and Instruction, 52(1), 1-27. doi: 10.1080/19388071.2012.738778

Young, J.R., Scales, R.Q., Grisham, D.L., Dobler, E., Wolsey, T.D., Smetana, L., Chambers, S., Ganske, K., Lenski, S., & Yoder, K.K. (In press). Teacher preparation in literacy: Cooking in someone else’s kitchen. Teacher Education Quarterly. (scheduled for volume 44, 4 in the Fall, 2017 issue).

Scales, R. Q., Wolsey, T. D., Lenski, S., Smetana, L., Yoder, K. K., Dobler, E., Grisham, D. L. & Young, J. R. with Wolsey, J.B. (in press). Are we preparing or training teachers?  Developing professional judgment in and beyond teacher preparation programs. Journal of Teacher Education.

Scales, R. Q., Wolsey, T. D., Young, J., Smetana, L., Grisham, D. L., Lenski, S., Dobler, E., Yoder, K. K., & Chambers, S. A. (in press). Mediating factors in literacy instruction: How novice elementary teachers navigate new teaching contexts. Accepted: Reading Psychology.

1 additional manuscript is in preparation. These will be added to the resources listed here as they are published.


Wolsey, T.D., Grisham, D.L., Smetana, L., Ganske, K., Scales, W.D., Lenski, S., Scales, R., Wold, L., Chambers, S., Young, J., & Dobler, E. (2013, April). A longitudinal investigation of teacher education programs across the United States. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco, CA. Poster session 45-086-5 #14. Juried.

Wolsey, T.D., Scales, R.Q., Young, J., Smetana, L., Lenski, S., Yoder, K., Ganske, K., Grisham, D. L., Dobler, B., & Chambers, S. (2015, December). A longitudinal perspective on teacher development: Investigation of teacher preparation. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association. Carlsbad, CA. Juried.

Wolsey, T.D., Grisham, D.L., Smetana, L., Ganske, K., Scales, W.D., Lenski, S., Scales, R., Wold, L., Chambers, S., Young, J., & Dobler, E. (2013, December). From teacher preparation through first-year teaching: A longitudinal study through the lens of professional standards for literacy professionals. Alternative session paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Dallas, TX. Juried.

Scales, R.Q., Chambers, S., Wold, L., Young, J., & Lenski, S. (2012, November). Exploring the impact of literacy teacher education programs on teacher candidates’ instructional practices. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, San Diego, CA. Juried.

Dobler, E., Grisham, D., Lenski, S., Scales, R., Wolsey, D., Smetana, L., Young, J., Yoder, K., Alfaro, C., Chambers, S., Ganske, K., & Wold, L. (2011, December). Expanding the investigation: Exploring the impact of teacher preparation programs on the instructional practices of teacher candidates. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Jacksonville, FL. Juried.

Scales, R.Q., Chambers, S., Wold, L., Dobler, E., Lenski, S., Smetana, L., Grisham, D., Wolsey, T.D., Young, J., Ganske, K., Alfaro, C., & Yoder, K.K. (2011, November). Signature aspects of literacy teacher education programs: A national study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Literacy Educators & Researchers, Richmond, VA. Juried.

Lenski, S., Wolsey, T.D., Alfaro, C., Chambers, S., Dobler, E., Scales, R., Smetana, L., Grisham, D., Wold, L., Young, J., & Scales, W.D. (2010, December). The impact of teacher education programs on the instructional practices of novice teachers. Alternative format paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Ft. Worth, TX. Juried.

Literacy Beat Friday at ILA

Friday, July 17

Presenters:   Bernadette Dwyer, Jill Castek, Colin Harrison
Title:             Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Presenter:    Bridget Dalton
Title:             Transforming Literacy Instruction through Online Inquiry (Institute 01 Session # 0997)

Presenters:   Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Dana L. Grisham, Linda Smetana
Title:             Academic Wordplay: Digital Strategies for Active Vocabulary Instruction In Vocabulary Collaborations: Pathways to Vocabulary Learning for All students, Grades 2-12 (Institute session #0986)
Title:   Vocabulary Self-Selection Strategy Plus (VSS+):Post-Reading Concept Development Using Digital Tools in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Join Literacy Beat at the International Literacy Association

Literacy Beat Goes to ILA

If you are planning to attend the International Literacy Association July 18 to 20 (with Institute sessions on July 17), we would love to meet the friends of Literacy Beat in St. Louis. Please stop by one of our sessions and say hello!

Here is where you can find us:

Friday, July 17

Presenters:   Bernadette Dwyer, Jill Castek, Colin Harrison
Time:            9:00 AM–5:00 PM  (session 1:15 – 2:00pm)
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-230
Title:             Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Presenters:   Bridget Dalton
Time:            9:00 AM–5:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-263-264
Title:             Transforming Literacy Instruction through Online Inquiry (Institute 01 Session # 0997)

Presenters:   Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Dana L. Grisham, Linda Smetana
Time:            9:00 AM–5:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-100-102
Title:             Academic Wordplay: Digital Strategies for Active Vocabulary Instruction In Vocabulary Collaborations: Pathways to Vocabulary Learning for All students, Grades 2-12 (Institute session #0986)

Presenters:   Dana L. Grisham, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Linda Smetana
Time:            9:00 AM–5:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-230
Title:   Vocabulary Self-Selection Strategy Plus (VSS+):Post-Reading Concept Development Using Digital Tools in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Saturday, July 18

Author Signing:        Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Diane Lapp, Maria Grant.
Time:            12:15–1:15
Location:       Corwin Booth (#1138) in the Exhibit Hall

  • Mining Complex Text, Grades 6-12: Using and Creating Graphic Organizers to Grasp Content and Share New Understandings
  • Mining Complex Text, Grades 2-5: Using and Creating Graphic Organizers to Grasp Content and Share New Understandings

Author Signing and Presentation:       Bernadette Dwyer, Jill Castek, and Colin Harrison
Time:            3:00pm
Location:       Shell Education and Teacher Created Materials in the Exhibit Hall

Text:   Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

Sunday, July 19

Presenters:   Bridget Dalton
Time:           9:00 AM–10:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-123
Title:             Guiding technology integration policy:  How do we do that and why does it matter for schools and communities # FR02  Featured research session chaired by Annemarie Palincsar

Presenters:   Blaine E. Smith
Time:            11:00 AM–12:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-Second Floor Atrium
Title:             Composing Across Modes: Urban Adolescents’ Processes Responding to and Analyzing Literature # DP01 ILA Outstanding Dissertation Research Poster Session

Monday, July 20

Presenters:   Bernadette Dwyer
Time:            11:00 AM–12:00 PM
Location:       America’s Center St. Louis-265
Title:             Supporting Literacy and Learning With the internet: Nurturing Collaborative Classroom Communities (ILA Board Session # 01342)

Recommended Preschool Apps for Literacy Learning

By Dana L. Grisham (with thanks to Darah Odelson!)

In this blog, I have focused from time to time on the literacy experiences of my own family. You probably know I am a grandmother with twin granddaughters who will soon turn five and that I have a grandson who is almost two.  Having been both a teacher and a professor, I have long been fascinated by the acquisition of literacy in our young and the changing literacy landscapes as technology becomes more prevalent in all our lives. Most of us, myself included, struggle with the rapid and dramatic changes. The field of education is similarly in flux.

My granddaughters will attend kindergarten next fall, but they have also spent two years in a good preschool environment. They are lucky to have parents who are actively involved in providing them with rich language experiences, too.

In my September 18, 2013 post, I showed a photo I called “Digital Morning” with the twins and their dad engaged on iPhone, iPad, and laptop. The girls are adept at using electronic devices, but they have traditional literacy skills also.  I decided to find out what is out there for preschoolers and write a post on the preschool apps that my family likes (and thos that are recommended by “experts”). So here we go!

First, let me emphasize that there are MANY (!!!) apps for all age levels.

I want to review two that I particularly like here.

Reading Raven is one of the Apps that I, personally, love.  The cost for the app is $3.99, which makes it more expensive than most, but it does a lot for the money. It has been reviewed favorably by many review sites.Reading Raven 1

There are five levels in the app as shown in the screen shot below:

Reading Raven 2

Level 1 is relatively easy, but fun. In the first part, a bird flies over the top of the screen with a letter in its beak. Then letter is dropped and a voice makes the sound of the letter. The child uses a finger to touch the letter as it falls  (there is a voice that makes the letter sound) and drag the falling letter to a flower at the bottom of the screen with the same letter. If the child does it correctly, the voice says the sound of the letter, the name of the letter, and a picture of a word that begins the letter (example: “n” is “net”). The raven smiles from the bottom of the screen as he moves through the levels with you. The part my granddaughters liked most was tracing the letter on the screen. A green arrow tells you where to start and end. A child’s voice encourages you.

Level 2 features a circus motif where letters are dropped from a high wire into the mouths of hungry lions. Level two also adds small decodable words such as rat and mat.  Also beginning in Level 2, children can record their voices reading the words and the program reads the child’s voice back (hat, mat). The focus moves to onsets and rimes. (h-ot, c-ot). Toward the end of level 2, the child has the opportunity to read and record a short connected sentence such as, “ant in can,” where the words match the patterns already learned. Level 2 finishes with  multiple word sentences to read and record. See the screen shot below:

Reading Raven 3

Children can earn stickers to decorate a treehouse when they complete portions of a lesson correctly.

The colorful scenes with animated movement and narration  (as well as childrens’ voices that encourage the learner, are all attractive features.

A second app appreciated by my daughter for her twins is Hooked on Phonics.Hooked on Phonics 1

 Based on the original Hooked on Phonics (the print version), this one has been updated with the same types of interactive reading games as Reading Raven along with embedded eBooks with audio, musical soundtracks, and the ability to track the child’s progress. This one is also rated 4 Stars plus, but costs a great deal more, ($49.99 for the entire program, although you can purchase portions for as low as $4.99) aside from the free trial offer. In the trial, I listened to the sound of “t” to the doo-wap sound of Earth Angel:

Hooked on Phonics 2

Like Reading Ravens, a great deal of time is spent on phonological awareness and phonics, with catchy and engaging ways to make words.

HOP Staircase HOP word families

The student goes up a staircase to each new level.

HOP Staircase

As mentioned there are numerous (!!) apps for literacy learning on the iPad. There are also groups that are dedicated to helping the consumer judge which apps are good quality for the money that parents will spend.  A brief and partial list of such websites concludes this post.

I hope that parents and educators can agree that today’s children need both traditional and digital learning for their development as literate beings!

A Brief List of Websites for Preschool Apps:

1. Parents.com 10 Best Apps for Preschoolers


2. Apps for Homeschooling


3. KinderTown Educational App Store for Parents


4. Slideshare (50 free apps & early literacy)


5.  I can teach my child! Top 10 Educational Apps for Preschoolers


Literacy Research Association Conference 2013

All five authors of this blog on literacy attended the Literacy Research Association’s 63rd Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas this past week. All of us are long time members of LRA, with my attendance dating back to 1992. This year’s conference theme was Transformative Literacy: Theory, Research, and Reform, a theme to which the five of us can really relate.

In our posts over the past three years, we have discussed many of these issues and contributed what we can to the discussion. The conference offered a broad spectrum of literacy research–from more traditional elements to the latest thinking in technology applications for literacy. The conference was amazing–the Omni Hotel is new, clean, elegant, and most important–FRIENDLY. There were numerous instances of kindness and care from the staff of the hotel that touched us–particularly as we all became somewhat “housebound” by the freezing weather front that swept down from the arctic.

When most of us arrived on Tuesday, December 3, the weather was a balmy 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but by Thursday, the temperature never rose higher than 27 degrees and by Friday, the high was 23 degrees with winds that exacerbated the cold. It was ironic to look out at the heaters on the outside patios and see icicles!  Contrast these two views  a view from the hotel. The first is Wednesday and a similar view on Thursday. Brrrr!



Inside, it was another story. This conference was put together with wonderful sessions–thanks to all the Area Chairs and Reviewers who selected the sessions and to all the presenters for their literacy research!

A highlight of the conference included a Presidential speech by Rick Beach of the University of Minnesota on the possibilities and affordances of online literacies. In addition, the speech was broadcast live to YouTube and links were provided during the speech so the audience could follow along. http://tinyurl.com/pgnbp2u Log in an take a look at a very valuable resource for online and multimodal composing! If you want to try Google Hangouts, go to Ian O’Byrne’s test flight at https://plus.google.com/u/0/111576401886299659895/posts/aKsxDawviHA?cfem=1 

The President’s Reception was held on Wednesday evening and the Literacy Beat bloggers were there. In addition, many of the people who work hard to make the conference a success, such as Board members and committee chairs were in attendance. Ian O’Byrne and Greg McVery, both essential to the new technologies for communication at LRA and Andrea Boling (Chair of the Technology Committee and e-Editor at LRA) at the President’s Reception on Wednesday evening.

kThree Tech

The next picture is of the five of us–Literacy Beat authors:  from the right, is Bernadette Dwyers, Bridget Dalton, Jill Castek, DeVere Wolsey, and yours truly. We always treasure the opportunities to interact in the same space and time (as we mostly always communicate from afar) and this conference was no exception. It should be noted that Bernadette is on the Board of the International Reading Association and that DeVere is the incoming LRA Publications Committee Chair. photo(4)

We all made presentations at the conference, caught up with our colleagues, and participated in various interests group throughout the conference.

Because of the freezing conditions, getting out of Dallas was somewhat challenging. One group of colleagues from Vanderbilt University, their flights cancelled, rented a car and drove home–a trip of 12 hours! Almost everyone experienced a delay, a cancellation, or a complete disaster. One colleague went to the airport in the middle of the night, put herself on the standby list and waiting almost 12 hours, eventually making it home.

For those of our readers who attend conferences, we’d like to encourage you to attend next year, if possible–on Marco Island in Florida, December 3-6, 2014. Hope we won’t have snow and hope to see you there!

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Plus (VSS+)

by Dana L. Grisham (with Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana)

The Need for Vocabulary Learning

The need for breadth and depth of vocabulary accelerates through the grades as students encounter more challenging academic texts in print and on the Internet (CCSS, 2010). Improving students’ vocabulary is critical if students are to develop advanced literacy levels required for success in school and beyond, in the world of higher education and the workplace (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008; Lubliner & Grisham, 2012).

Research suggests that students with a well-developed vocabulary learn many more words indirectly through reading than from instruction (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001). If wide reading promotes vocabulary development, then conversations about their reading with adults and peers also strengthen students’ word learning (Biemiller & Boote, 2006). The goal of effective vocabulary instruction is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008). As we have noted in this blog, the impact of technology on vocabulary development also needs to be considered (Castek, Dalton & Grisham, 2012).  In other contexts, we have suggested that technology integration should be generative in the sense that learners should use technological tools to satisfy their curiosity and to generate creations for learning and for the demonstration of learning (Grisham & Smetana, 2011).

Vocabulary instruction may occur before reading (preteaching important vocabulary), during reading (teaching what emerges as needed), and after reading. Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy or VSS (Haggard, 1982), is an after reading strategy.

The Common Core (2010) requires that technology be integrated into instructional and independent learning sequences.  Research has shown that the use of technology and technology-based instruction enhances student learning. In the post-reading vocabulary assignment we explore here, teachers may use use several forms of technology to increase student interest in vocabulary and a variant of the VSS strategy to engage students in more robust vocabulary learning.

Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus (VSS+) occurs after a selection has been read and is based on the principles of VSS (Haggard, 1982), a researched-based strategy that captures the essence of vocabulary learning:  multiple exposures to a word, multiple readings of a text, collaboration of students and teacher, oral discussions and presentations, selecting words that are important to know, writing a script and recording a podcast, Internet search for illustrations, and building semantic webs. Recently, two colleagues (Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana) and I worked in a fourth-grade classroom in a public school in Northern California, to teach the students how to make an online dictionary (e-dictionary) page using the VSS+ strategy. The three of us spent three hours with Mr. D’s 33 students, first in the classroom, then in the computer lab at their school.

VSS+ is a structure that becomes familiar to students so they can use it with more independence over time. It takes more time in the beginning as teachers and students get used to the technology, the time, and the process.  To teach VSS+ we wanted to use text with interesting or unknown words or text dense with academic language. Mr. D provided us with a passage from the Science textbook in use in his classroom. Mr. D pre-taught some of the vocabulary and students had already read and discussed the package when we arrived.

Collaboration and peer learning are essential to the VSS+ strategy. Mr. D had the students divided into cooperative groups of 4 students. In order to differentiate instruction to meet the learning needs of students, they may be grouped heterogeneously or homogeneously as needed. Mr. D’s students were grouped heterogeneously.

To teach the VSS+ strategy, we began in the classroom with a PowerPoint slide and a demonstration of the strategy.  Using a think aloud protocol, I modeled the strategy by presenting a nominated word to the class, and provided suggested answers to the following questions. In the demonstration, we used an example that we constructed on “continent” (see below). These are the three elements that students must consider as they nominate a word.

a.     Where is the word found in the text?  (Page number; read the sentence aloud)

b.     What do the team members think the word means?

c.     Why did the team think the class should learn the word?  The team must tell the class why the word is important enough to single out for emphasis (a rationale).

During the team presentations of nominated words, we facilitated discussion, listened to students’ projected meanings of the word, and invited class members to contribute additional clarifications of the words. A chosen target word was allocated to each team to prepare an e-dictionary page.

 Then came the fun part!  We adjourned to the computer lab where we asked students in Mr. D’s class to use two formats for their e-dictionary pages:  PowerPoint (like our example below) and a program called Thinglink.

In the lab, under teacher supervision, team members used the Internet to locate images and or definitions for the target word and then collaboratively determined which of the images/definitions best fit their prediction of the word meaning.

We proposed the following formatting for the eDictionary:

Word and Written Definition

Image selection from the Internet, Photos, Illustrations or Student Drawings (if a scanner is available)

Semantic web (we used WordSift)

Student audio recording about the word (critical thinking about own word learning)

Arrangement of the PowerPoint or Website page

Audio recording by students of the main elements of the word exploration

Posting to website (classroom e-Dictionary)

In the following example, the three of us used PowerPoint to make a sample e-dictionary page using the word “continent.” In the PowerPoint page is an audio recording that cannot be loaded into WordPress. To hear this recording, please visit



Next week in Literacy Beat, Linda, DeVere and I will talk more about the work we did with Mr. D’s students and share examples of their PowerPoint and Thinglink pages with you.


Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Biemiller, A. & Boote, C. (2006). An effective method for building meaning vocabulary in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 44-62.

Blachowicz, C. L. Z., & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. In R. Barr, P.

Mosenthal, P. S. Pearson, & M. Kamil (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, vol. III, (pp. 503-523). White Plains: Longman.

Castek, J., Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Using Multimedia to Support Generative Vocabulary Learning. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd Edition). New York: Guilford.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: CCSSO & National Governors Association.

Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K. E. (2001).  What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 1/2, 8-15.

Graves, M.E. & Watts-Taffy, S. (2008).  For the love of words:  Fostering word consciousness in young readers. Reading Teacher, 62, 99.185-193.

Haggard, M. (1982) The vocabulary self collection strategy: An active approach to word learning.  Journal of Reading, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 203-207.

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing Powerful Literacy Tools to Spanish-Speaking Students. In J. Fingon & S. Ulanov (Eds.), Learning from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: Promoting Success for All Students (pp. 105-123). New York: Teachers College Press.



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