Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Newsletter
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This issue focuses on teaching English language learners through the Reading Buddies Program and beyond. Find tips for teaching English language learners in your classroom, read an interview with the curriculum director for MARTHA SPEAKS, learn about a new ELL MARTHA SPEAKS research project, and more. In this issue you will find:

In the Spotlight: Reading Buddies for English Language Learners
Classroom Tips: Tips for Teaching English Language Learners
Pup Tales: Interview with Dr. Rebecca Silverman
More Fun with Martha: ¿Qué Pasa, Martha? and Character Cards
Links & Books: Useful Web Sites and Recommended Reading

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Reading Buddies for English Language Learners

As teachers and buddies alike have reported, the Reading Buddies Program is beneficial in a variety of important ways. The program offers leadership opportunities for Big Buddies, improves confidence in Little Buddies, fosters a sense of school community and social growth, and, of course, fulfils its fundamental purpose—building students’ vocabulary skills. As experts have said building vocabulary knowledge is vital for all students, but it is especially important for students who are learning the English language. Many kindergarten students who are English language learners (ELLs), or from low-income homes, have a much smaller vocabulary than their peers, and the MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program can help!

An evaluation of the MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program conducted by Dr. Rebecca Silverman at the University of Maryland (2009), revealed that the cross-age reading program is effective at promoting the knowledge of target words emphasized in the program for Little Buddies and Big Buddies. Through multiple exposures to words that are clearly and simply defined, Little Buddies acquire, understand, and use new vocabulary. Big Buddies, meanwhile, gain repeated exposure and practice with words through reading aloud and also improve their reading fluency and vocabulary knowledge.

This word repetition, reinforcement, and direct, explicit instruction are all effective tools for helping English language learners improve their vocabulary knowledge. Below, you’ll find more tips for teaching English language learners as well as information on efforts to adapt the Reading Buddies Program to focus specifically on ELLs.


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Tips for Teaching English Language Learners

There are many things you can do in your classroom to assist and engage English language learners.

  • • Watch this video featuring MARTHA SPEAKS advisor and Boston College Assistant Professor, Dr. Mariela Páez, whose work focuses on bilingual learners and early childhood education. Mariela explains the importance of vocabulary for English language learners and offers some tips and advice for teachers.
  • • Talk, talk, talk! Engaging students in conversation is a great way for them to listen to, understand, and use words.
  • • Be sure to support your read-aloud with active discussion. Take a look at these tips for reading aloud.
  • • Try this model lesson, “Enhancing Vocabulary for English Language Learners” designed by Mariela Páez. The lesson plan includes pre-reading and during reading discussion questions and activities, as well as post-reading review activities.
  • • Watch MARTHA SPEAKS! Students will hear new words explicitly defined and reinforced simply by watching the show.
  • • Create a class or a Reading Buddies word wall. You can add words highlighted in the Reading Buddies Program, words that students find challenging or difficult to remember, seasonal words, and more to your word wall. Invite buddy pairs to add words to the wall after they meet, and challenge students to use words from the wall in their discussions or when writing.


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Interview with MARTHA SPEAKS Curriculum Director, Dr. Rebecca Silverman

Rebecca Silverman knows a thing or two about vocabulary! A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an Assistant Professor in Special Education at the University of Maryland, Rebecca teaches college courses on reading and writing in Special Education and oversees grants on vocabulary and comprehension. As the curriculum director of MARTHA SPEAKS, Rebecca makes sure that the show is aligned with best practices in vocabulary instruction, and is currently working to research ways in which the Reading Buddies Program can be adapted for Spanish-speaking ELL students. She also keeps busy with her three-year-old son, who, she says, “learns more and more words everyday!”

How did you become involved with MARTHA SPEAKS?
My research interest is in vocabulary and comprehension. When I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education near Boston, Dr. Catherine Snow, an Advisory Board member for MARTHA SPEAKS, was my graduate school advisor. Knowing of my interest in vocabulary and comprehension, Catherine recommended me as the curriculum director.

What are some of the benefits of the Reading Buddies Program?
Children are highly influenced by their peers. When provided with great content to discuss and guidance on how to interact, children can learn from each other about new concepts and interesting words. The Reading Buddies Program leverages the power of peer interaction to help children grow in their word knowledge.

You received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to adapt the Reading Buddies Program for Spanish-speaking English language learners. What are some of the specific challenges ELL students face, and how will you modify the Reading Buddies Program to meet these challenges?
ELL students come to school with less English-language background than their peers.  They likely need even more opportunities to be exposed to and use new words then their monolingual peers, who have more background in English. The revised Reading Buddies Program for ELLs will have more lessons; lessons will be grouped in themes so that words can be reused and reviewed over multiple lessons; and lessons will include more opportunities for children to use new words in a variety of contexts. We will also focus on Spanish/English cognates (words that sound similar and have similar meaning in the two languages) and translation support.

When will this new resource be available?
We will develop and evaluate the program over the course of the next three years, at which time the program will be available to teachers to use in their classrooms.

What other tips or resources might you suggest for teachers participating in the Reading Buddies Program?
Reading Buddies sessions will be most productive when you build children’s background knowledge and support children’s use of words both in and out of buddy sessions.  Teachers’ facilitation of learning and word use is a key to the success of the program.

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Collectable Character Cards

Meet the characters of MARTHA SPEAKS! Buddies can collect all 10 character cards (which you can print in color or in black-and-white) and even create a card of their own!

Sit. Stay. Watch!
In the MARTHA SPEAKS episode ¿Qué Pasa, Martha? the Spanish teacher asks everyone to prepare a report—in Spanish! Luckily, Martha is there to lend a paw. Listen for vocabulary words like recite, memorize, bilingual, and pronounce.

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Recommended Links

A Bilingual Video
Watch this fun video to help students understand what the word bilingual means.

Colorín Colorado
Created to support teachers and parents of English language learners, this site contains numerous articles, resources, and ideas to support ELLs at school and at home.

Recommended Reading

¡Perros! ¡Perros! Dogs! Dogs! by Ginger Foglesong Guy and Sharon Glick. HarperCollins, 2006.
This story follows a humorous pack of excited, rambunctious dogs, describing their adventures in English and Spanish.

“The critical role of vocabulary development for English language learners” by Diane August, Maria Carlo, Cheryl Dressler & Snow, Catherine E. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice.
This scholarly article reviews the research on methods to develop the vocabulary knowledge of ELLs.

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Corporate funding for MARTHA SPEAKS is provided by Chuck E. Cheese’s®, Kiddie Academy® Child Care Learning Centers, and Chick-fil-A, Inc. Additional funding provided by Jennifer and Steven Walske and by public television viewers. Additional series funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Grant. ©2011 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. "Martha" and all characters and underlying materials (including artwork) from the "Martha" books are trademarks and copyrights of Susan Meddaugh and used under license. All other characters and underlying materials are trademarks of and copyrights of WGBH. All third party trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Used with permission.

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