Quick Tip Tuesday: Helping students find the right books

September 8th, 2009

In her book, More Than Guided Reading, Cathy Mere shares her journey as she moved from focusing on guided reading as the center of her reading program to placing children at the heart of literacy learning. In this week’s Quick Tip, Cathy talks about how focused conferences with children help them pick the right books that meet their learning needs and improve their reading skills.

Books, of course, only help children learn to read if they meet children’s needs. Sometimes, as I make a teaching point during a conference, I also talk about books that might be helpful in learning this new strategy or understanding. Jade, for example, was able to read books with several lines of text and more complicated story lines. Many of them contained dialogue, but her reading was mostly word-by-word. During a conference, we talked about fluency. Before I moved on I recommended some titles that might help her to practice reading as if she were talking: books with dialogue that were a bit easier and more familiar and might therefore be good places to practice reading fluently.

I also try to help students learn to balance their reading time. John, a third grader, was busy reading an Eric Carle book as I walked by his desk. This was the second day in a row I had seen him spending all his time with picture books. I stopped to talk with him. “What are you reading?” “The Very Quiet Cricket,” he responded. “I have noticed the last few days that you have spent all your time during the workshop reading picture books.” John explained that he enjoyed picture books and that Eric Carle was one of his favorite authors.

Knowing that I too have a few easy books I like to read, I wrestled with myself about how best to approach this issue. I want students to read books they love, but I also want them to read books that will challenge them as readers. Picture books can challenge a third grader’s thinking, but Eric Carle’s probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. “Eric Carle is one of my favorite authors too,” I told John, “but I’m wondering how this book helps you to be a better reader?”

By asking the question I hoped to plant a seed that would help him use his time well during future workshops. After I had talked with him for a bit about balancing his reading, he finished his Eric Carle book and went back to another one he had started.

I met Brooke working in a second-grade classroom. Each day, she would place herself right at my feet during the focus lesson. She listened intently as I shared stories with her class and participated in our conversations. When students would begin to read independently, I’d look up from conferences to see her with a chapter book turning pages a little too quickly to be reading the book, and her eyes didn’t seem to be moving from left to right. When she wasn’t pretending to read chapter books, I’d see her roaming around the room, slowly moving from one basket to another. As I talked and read with her I quickly realized that the books she was trying to read were far too difficult for her. She wanted to read chapter books like her classmates, but chapter books weren’t helping her learn to read. We all have students like Brooke in our classroom. The more time they spend reading books that are just right, the better progress they will make.

Brooke and I had several conversations during our beginning weeks together. I was honest with her. “Brooke,” I said, “I understand that you want to read chapter books, but I have noticed that they are still difficult for you.”Brooke nodded her head as I continued, “Reading books that are a better match will help you with your reading, and it won’t be long before reading chapter books will seem easy.” But words alone did not solve this problem. We also talked about books she might like to read. I brought in books I thought would appeal to her interests that looked similar to the books her friends were reading. We even found some books she would be able to read that looked more like chapter books.

My interest in her reading seemed to help. She was always eager to see what I had brought for her. In our conferences we continued to talk about the importance of balancing the reading she was doing. Her teacher, Ginny Ryland, realized the importance of helping Brooke to make better choices and adjusted the classroom library to make easier books available to her. In addition to the basket containing a variety of books that might work for Brooke and for a few other readers in the classroom, she also met with her often to teach strategies for reading increasingly challenging stories and to introduce her to new stories.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Reading

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