Before school began I said goodbye to my leveled classroom library. I rearranged books to support independent readers – NOT Lexiles and labels. After a few weeks of getting to know my readers and my readers getting to know books they love, we started the long journey of choosing the right book at the right time for the right purpose.
All readers need books that meet their needs. With two volunteers we role play visiting the doctor. The first student has a broken arm and I (the doctor) put a cast on his arm. The second student enters with a broken leg, and I put a cast on her arm as well. All the children erupt “NO, that won’t help! She has a broken leg! Put a cast on her leg!” Engaging, yes. But my point illustrates that just as doctors treat patients based on their individual needs, the books we choose are based on our individual reading needs. All readers’ book choices must reflect their goals.
Good readers purposefully choose books they can read. I originally stole this from the background of a Twitter photo and later saw it blasted all over Pinterest. While I don’t generally rip off pre-created anchor charts, this one comprehensively illustrates the mindset of real reading. As we set the purpose for reading instruction the children immediately recognize it is to become better readers. Every book they choose is with the intention of growing as readers. As we spent the previous three weeks building interest, they are already familiar with their own reading tastes. The last two, comprehension and accuracy, go together. Real reading is reading the words and understanding the text. Read on to see how I spend the next few days teaching specific strategies for accuracy and comprehension.
All readers practice reading with books they can read MOST of the words. While I hesitate to give children a definitive limit on selecting a text, the Five Finger Rule can help young readers quantify books that really are too hard. If a reader encounters five (or more) tricky words in the first few pages, a book might be too hard. I was serendipitously away from my class for professional development this day and our reading specialist modeled the strategy for the kids. Upon my return, I had the children teach it to me and we co-created this anchor chart. Yes, they taught me to “Start with a book you think is just right” and try out the words. First graders get this – the Five Finger Rule can be one strategy to gauge readability, but NOT the only strategy.
Real reading is reading the words and understanding the text. In every lesson, I reiterate the main reason for reading is to understand. Comprehension Connections by, Tanny McGregor suggests using paint samples to monitor comprehension. After reading part of a new text, stop and evaluate. If your thinking or understanding is fuzzy its like the lighter color on a swatch. The clearer your understanding of the text the brighter the color. While my students in September don’t have the comprehension strategies or language to fully articulate their thinking, they now have a conceptual tool (and unique bookmark) to monitor understanding.
Readers make plans for books they want to read in the future. As students began to sift through their personal book boxes, select books from our classroom library and make critical decisions balancing interest, purpose and readability they had to let some books go. They used deep thinking to select books with the purpose of becoming better readers. I remind them these books are here for the whole year and confer with statements such as “Is this a book you might save for later in the year?” or “Remember that one in a few months, it will be waiting for you.” More advanced readers could even make a running list of future texts or log them on an Instagram or Goodreads account.
Here are some priceless thoughts from my 6 year old readers.
- “I really like David Shannon books and I really want to read about math. I think I’ll save the math book for later because I can’t read all the words yet.”
- “I am picking these science books because the words (text) are bigger and usually I can read those words better.”
- “These five books I think I can read. This other one has lots of tricky words, but I really like it. I think I’ll keep it for a challenge.”
With that being said, letting go of control in the classroom is hard. Some kids just aren’t developmentally there yet. But keeping the big goal in mind – growing independent readers – means we are headed down the right path.
Up next, helping readers set realistic goals to increase purpose and ways to monitor and informally assess independent reading choices.