Quick Tip Tuesday: Characteristics of transitional readers

In Beyond Leveled Books, authors Karen Szymusiak, Franki Sibberson, and Lisa Koch, offer their perspective on moving transitional readers from the basic supports of leveling to independent book selection. In this week’s Quick Tip, they describe the basic characteristics of transitional readers and how these characteristics impact instruction.

In our work with transitional readers, we have found certain characteristics that are common to many. We have identified six areas of skill development that most often require explicit instruction and support from teachers.
Learning to Select Appropriate Books
Transitional readers often struggle with recognizing books that are appropriate to read independently. They often choose books that are either too easy or too hard. They tend to choose books on the basis of an inviting cover or a topic of interest to them. These can be good reasons for selecting books, but without a more sophisticated awareness of a variety of strategies for choosing books, transitional readers sometimes spend a long time picking a book and often waste time reading books that turn out to be inappropriate, given their skills or interests. Teachers often see these transitional readers wandering aimlessly in front of the bookcases. Or they may notice that these students make frequent trips to the bookcases and baskets because they have failed to make a good choice and quickly return for
another book. Part of our instruction with these readers needs to be spent in teaching them ways to select a book that is a good fit at a certain time. Students need their own strategies for selecting books that will help them throughout their lives as readers.
Sustaining Comprehension
Difficulty in sustaining comprehension for a longer text is another common characteristic. These students struggle with monitoring their comprehension, so when faced with reading a longer text, they often lose comprehension as they continue to read. Because their monitoring strategies are not as sophisticated as the books they are reading, they often push forward, continuing to read the text (decoding the words), but never stopping to think about what they are reading. They frequently get to the end of a chapter and cannot recollect what they have just read. Sustaining comprehension over an extended period of time can also challenge transitional readers. They may struggle to remember what they read the day before, so they need a set of strategies for remembering. This is often an issue for students who are just starting to move from single- story texts to short chapter books.
Maintaining Interest over an Entire Book
Early or emergent readers take up books that are simple and brief. As children move into longer texts, they need to develop persistence in their reading. Only then can they maintain interest in a text long enough to complete it and understand what they have read.
Understanding Many Genres
Transitional readers may enjoy feeling comfortable in their reading and may therefore be reluctant to explore new genres. They revisit books they have read before, they read books that the teacher has shared with the class in a read-aloud, and they may limit their choice of books to those that are similar to the ones they have already read. If these transitional readers are going to move to a higher level of independence, they need experience with a variety of genres, texts, and authors. Because each genre has unique features, transitional readers need strategies for making sense of any text. They cannot make the leap to independence until they have thoroughly explored a variety of genres and learned a wide range of reading strategies for each.
Decoding and Fluency Skills
Many transitional readers are skilled at decoding but still need to develop more sophistication as they read texts with more complex vocabulary. They are ready to look more closely at the structure of words and patterns in language. Although many of them have developed decoding skills, they may need to become more fluent in their reading. Very few of the transitional readers we encountered had decoding problems that got in the way of their reading. But as texts become more complex, children need instruction to support their fluency.
Using Text Features
As transitional readers move from simple books to a wider range of reading material, they encounter texts with new structures and features and often lack the strategies they need to make sense of them. As plots become more complicated, the number of characters increases, and issues of changing time and place become more prevalent in the books they are reading, transitional readers struggle with comprehension. As they encounter nonfiction texts, they struggle with the variety of ways content is presented (text, graphs, pictures, tables, charts) and how to find relevant information.

Some transitional readers lack skills in only one of the categories just described, but that one problem may be serious enough to stop their growth as readers. Many transitional readers have needs in multiple categories and will need a wide range of instructional and support activities to continue to develop as readers. All transitional readers need to build their own identity as readers.

Add comment October 19th, 2010

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