Book choice, differentiation and the beginnings of goal setting

After I removed the reading levels from my classroom library I taught readers how to make independent book choices based on a variety of strategies. Last week, with daily lessons in selecting texts and focused time to pick books, they could do it. This next week our instruction shifted to increasing stamina and the volume of reading. When the children went to self select books it all fell apart. Without the whole-class scaffolding and attention on the strategies, many struggled to select texts independently.

I did what any teacher does when a lesson flops.  I reflected on the failure. My readers weren’t all making the same mistake. Some picked books they could read but not comprehend. Some picked a huge range of text difficulty. Some were copping out with easy books. Others were independently selecting appropriate books and ready for next steps in instruction. Giving students choice requires me to differentiate more. I have to know what each individual learner needs, group them with similar peers, and scaffold learning based on their needs. And beginning readers have a wide range of needs. I looked through their book baskets and evaluated their choices. I grouped and identified reading goals based on my assessments of their reading levels and abilities and the types of books they were picking.

Before setting goals, readers need to know what they are struggling with and when it feels just right. Giving them sample texts that closely match independent levels, allowing them to read independently and then talking about how that book ‘felt’ as a reader is one way to help them construct the abstract idea of a “just right book”. Asking them to focus on their potential goal – such as read to see if you can clearly understand – is another way to help them recognize what is challenging and what feels right.

For example, one reader commented after reading that the book was too easy, while I knew it was an exact match to her independent level. As we talked, she learned that a just right book shouldn’t feel confusing – it’s a goal to have crystal clear thinking when reading. Another student thought the words were too hard, but in reality he uses limited decoding strategies with unknown words. These readers were assessed at the same reading level, read the same book and had vastly different learning experiences when getting the feel of a just right book and information for what is challenging for them as readers.

Now, as we explicitly set reading goals for learning they will have a sense of the books they need and background knowledge to understand on their individual goals.

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