Making a commitment to read a book is something most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about. For high school students, however, such a commitment sometimes doesn't come naturally. In my previous posts, I've spent a lot of time talking about the ways I "guide" students into making good choices in the books they read. In addition to this, we need to spend some time talking about when it's appropriate to Abandon a Book.
When It's Okay to Abandon a Book
Not all students know when to Abandon a Book. For many of my students, this isn't something a teacher has asked them to do before. But I consistently see students choose texts that are too easy while others choose texts that are too difficult. Giving students some criteria about the times when it's appropriate to Ditch a Book is another way I lead my students into making good choices in the books they choose to read.
In my classroom, shortly after we've chosen our first books and I've taught my students about Reading Rates, we talk about the times when we may need to change books. We use the following criteria for this:
Change a Book When...
- You cannot understand most of the words (vocabulary)
- You cannot follow a writer's ideas (content)
- Your Reading Rate is 100 or fewer words per minute
- You're not interested in what you're reading
- You don't know how to follow the format of what you're reading
When students come across a book they'd like to change, I ask them to write a short entry in their reading journals that answers this prompt:
I would like to pick another book because _____________________.
Once a student has written this entry, we have a short Reading Conference about why he/she wants to change books. In this brief Reading Conference, I ask the student the following questions:
- Why do you want to change books?
- Is this book too easy/too hard? How do you know? (If needed, I direct student to the criteria above)
- Would you like my help in making a better choice?
I document the answers to these questions along with the title and author of the book the student is changing. Such documentation allows me to monitor the student's reading choices and gives me information about the student's reading habits that I can use to monitor/measure his/her progress in choosing books. It also helps me remember that I must follow-up with the student once he/she has had an opportunity to choose a different book. Following-up is key to making sure the student has indeed made a better choice.
Make it a "Just Right" Book
If we allow students to continuously choose books that are too difficult, there is much research that suggests student reading levels can drop. Even worse, students who continuously struggle in reading texts that are above their reading level often view reading as boring, unimportant, or become disengaged to reading instruction altogether.
On the other hand, students who continuously choose books that are too easy will never be challenged as readers. They'll remain in their "comfort zones" with little exposure to books they might find as enjoyable as the easier ones they've been reading for quite some time.
Like anything else in life, we must allow students opportunities to practice reading texts that are harder than what they normally choose to read. This practice needs to be purposeful and students need to be taught how to handle "challenge texts". For a great strategy on helping students make sense of difficult texts, see: Improving Comprehension with Q-I-C: A Strategy That Really Fits.
Together, my students and I work on creating our own criteria for choosing books that are "Just Right". Our criteria usually looks something like this:
A "Just Right" Book is one that...
- I can read easily and comfortably.
- I'm interested in reading.
- is on or slightly above my reading level (or lexile).
- is going to make me a better reader.
- I have a Reading Rate near 150-200 words per minute.
- Appropriate for me to read (age-level)
Through modeling and practice, I've found that students make better reading choices when there are clear expectations and criteria in place that "guide" those choices. Because knowing when to change a book is just as important as knowing when not to.
*For more on Reading Rates see Getting Into the "Zone" with Reading Rates.
**For more on "Guided" Choice in Text Selection see: Selecting Books Using "Guided" Choice.
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 email@example.com.