Teacher Scholar Voices

What Are You Talking About?: Partner Reading in a Spanish Immersion Reader’s Workshop

Teacher Scholar Voices

Partner Reading is one of the key elements of our Reader’s Workshop.  Students read books at their reading level, side-by-side with partners.  They can take turns reading the same book, or they may take turns reading their own books.


On the rug, I finish my mini-lesson about problems and resolutions in stories. I point to the Partner Reading anchor chart and have the students review the partner reading expectations that I’ve taught one at a time as mini-lessons.

I send them by pairs to their seats and the room erupts with a cacophony of chairs being turned around, jostling book bags, and students negotiating who will read first. As I walk around supporting the partnerships, I begin to listen in on their reading.  I take video recordings of what I’m witnessing using my laptop and iPad.

Students Aren’t Doing What I Want Them to Do…Or Are They?

As I walk around, I hope to see students discussing their books using the discussion frames that support the reading strategy I’ve taught during my mini-lesson that day.

During this session of partner reading, what I notice initially are a few students who are not following the partner reading expectations or are arguing about who will read first.  (Note to self; reteach expectations!) I notice few students using the discussion frames.

Later, when I finally have some quiet time to watch the video footage, what I see is something completely different: Partners interacting in ways that I had not previously appreciated.

Example 1:

Two students are reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  One student struggles with a word using the correct initial sound.  In this case, she says “balls” instead of “bowls” of porridge.  The second student chimes in with the correct word and the first students makes the correction herself.

Example 2:

Students are reading a Clifford book.  The student reading comes across a less frequently used synonym for the word tail in Spanish.  The student stops and asks, “What does rabo mean?” The listener points to the picture of Clifford’s tail and replies, “I think it means tail.”  The reader continues.

Although only one or two students are using the targeted comprehension strategy, every child in the video is reading or listening.

In their conversations I notice that they are talking about the funny parts, making connections with their own experiences, discussing the pictures, helping one another with tricky parts. These were all reading activities that I had taught as part of our class expectations, but not what the new mini-lessons were about.

Watching those videos, it occurred to me that my learning goals for Partner Reading were the real issue.  What do I want students to be doing at this time? Do they need to be using primarily the strategy that I have just taught? Or, am I looking across a broader array of strategies that have been taught in the recent past to see how these are (or are not) incorporated?

A New Definition of Successful Partner Reading

Ultimately, through my Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry I realized that what I really want to see are readers  engaged in their books, enjoying them, and sharing them.  While students need protocols for this practice, they certainly don’t need to be told exactly what to discuss at this point in their reading careers!

For the rest of the year, I continued to collect video as a data source for student learning. My expectations, or rather my indicators for success, had changed.  While I want students to be using the reading strategies I am teaching them, I now understand that Partner Reading is not the central time for that.

Partner Reading is a time for practicing reading aloud together, for listening to one another, for supporting one another when needed.  In a nutshell, Partner Reading is a time to engage in reading together.  Simple. Watching video of my students, this is often my take away: simplify.


Michelle Contreras is a first grade two-way immersion teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary in Berkeley, CA and is a Mills Teacher Scholar teacher leader at her school site. For the past several years she has been collecting video as a routine data source for her Mills Teacher Scholar inquiry work. Video analysis has helped her capture easily missed aspects of student learning and has led her to re-examine her assumptions of what success looks like for students in her classroom.