Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Independent Reading—Balancing Choice and Just-Right Reading Materials

We know that choice is an important component of independent reading. And so is having children read just-right materials. But how do we find the balance between the two, especially when we consider the challenges of children who are just learning to read?

Years ago, one of the ways I found the balance was by having two distinct independent reading times of day. During the first independent reading (the first 20 minutes at the start of the day), children were allowed to select and read any texts their little hearts desired. Too easy, too hard, just right—it didn’t matter. Then to counterbalance that, during the second independent reading time, children could read books from their book bag, most of which were just-right texts that I helped them select during their one-to-one reading conference. That worked just fine and both choice and just-right materials were accounted for.

More recently, I encourage teachers to consider this balance within the reading workshop itself since so few are able to make time for two independent reading times each day with all they have to do. This means that children will need to have a mix of easy, just-right, and “look” books in their bags.

Easy books: Since only half of the books in children’s bag are returned each time we confer to be replaced with new selections, the “older” half are ones they love and want to hang onto or those they need to get better at reading. At times they may be individual titles that somehow speak to children personally (we all have those kinds of books, right?) or they’re on topics they can’t quite get enough of.

Just-right books: These are books that children can read with 97-99 percent word accuracy. (Allington says 98 to 99 percent but I find that 97 percent is sometimes even hard to pull off.) Quite simply it’s difficult for children to practice skills and strategies they’re trying to acquire when texts are more difficult than this.

“Look” books: These are books that are too difficult for children to read on their own, but ones they can glean a lot from by simply looking at the pictures and reading snippets of text. Most often (since you can’t read snippets of a story and come away understanding it) these are informational texts.

[Considering the types of books children need to have in their bag to balance opportunities for choice and just-right texts, my next post will address reading conferences as the opportunity to provide for both.]

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