Steering kids into the right books is something that I spend a lot of time on throughout the school year. At the beginning of the year, I introduce my students to novels by telling them they get to pick out the books they're going to read this year. However, this choice is not "free" choice, it's a "guided" choice.
To help "guide" our choices, I set some criteria that I want my students to follow. In their reading journals, I have them list our criteria for Choosing Good Books.
Choosing Good Books
- Choose a book that you can read easily and comfortably.
- Choose a book that you will be interested in reading.
- Choose a book that you will be able to pronounce most of the words correctly.
- Choose a book based on what others have said about it (reviews).
For our fist book, I ask that my students read a novel. We have brief discussion of what a novel is and talk about any novels they've read and enjoyed. I'll ask for a few students to share why they liked a particular book and ask that they not "spoil" any major event that happens in the book. I create a list called Novels We Like, and I tell them we can add to it at any time.
I then give a few Book Talks on some of my favorite novels as well. I like to have a copy of the book in hand so students can actually "see" the book I'm talking about. At the base of my white board, I line up a number of high-interest fiction books that former students have enjoyed. Some of these books would include: If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Afterlife by Gary Soto, Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, Right Behind You by Gail Giles, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac.
Once we have our Choosing Good Books criteria established and we've had a chance to talk about some good novels to read, we take a trip over to our school's Library. Before we begin searching for books to read, I have our Librarian give a few Book Talks about books she'd recommend, books students have read and recommended to her, or anything new. Because our Librarian sits on the Grand Canyon Readers Award committee, she often shares current and previous titles that have made the list. During her Book Talks, in my reading journal, I write down any titles and authors that sound interesting. I have my students do the same.
Before unleashing my students to the section of the Library that contains fiction, I remind them of our Choosing Good Books criteria and I say, "Before you check out your book, I want you to come read 3 sentences to me. This way, I can help 'guide' you into the right book." Then, I give them the remainder of the class to find their books.
The First Reading Conference: What I'm Listening For
After a student has found a novel to read, I ask, "What did you pick? Share the title and author with me." Then, I ask the student to read aloud 3 sentences in the book he/she hasn't read yet. As the student reads, I'm listening for two of the criteria we talked about earlier:
- Is this student reading easily and comfortably?
- Is this student able to pronounce most of the words correctly?
- If not, how many "glitches" or mistakes is this student making as he/she reads?
If a student does well, I say, "Okay, sounds good. Go ahead and check out this book." But for a student who isn't reading well, I keep track of the "glitches" in my head (or I count them on my fingers). If this student is making a lot of mistakes, I'll say this, "While you were reading, I counted how many times you mispronounced a word. You read 6 words incorrectly out of 3 sentences. How many pages are in this book?"
The student will respond with a number (let's say 212 pages), and I'll then say, "Okay, if you were to make 6 mistakes per page times 212 pages, how many mistakes would that be?" I often get a puzzled look and an answer like, "A lot." Then I'll say, "How do you think that number of mistakes is going to effect how well you read this book?" The student will then say something like, "I don't know." Or, "It's probably going to be hard." Then, I'll ask the student to go find another book.
Kids who haven't had much success with reading (or choosing books) will struggle a bit, and I may need to help "guide" them into a better choice with suggested titles. But I'm sending a very important message to this student, "You're going to have to read books in this class, and I'm here to help you get better at picking them out." It may take us some time to figure out what books will work for this student, but we'll figure it out together.
Sometimes, students choose a book that's too easy or too hard and the student won't take my advice about switching books. I have more tools in my repertoire to help kids find a book that's "just right." One of these tools is figuring out how to find a Reading Rate (the number of words your read per minute), which I'll talk about in my next post.
I feel strongly that if teachers and parents to follow the Choosing Good Books criteria, and we were firm in following this criteria, we would "guide" students into better reading choices. The range of choices I offer my students must match what I'm teaching as well. Being able to read well begins with being able to read books at a comfortable pace while pronouncing most of the words correctly. Choosing books that meet this criteria will provide students with more successful reading experiences, and will help build student interest in reading. Building student interest through "guided" choices is the first step in sound reading instruction.
For more ideas on Guided Choice and solid reading instruction see: READING ALLOWED: Making Sure the First "R" Comes First.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.