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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Selection for Independent Reading: Reading Conferences "Yes"—Book Shopping Days "No"

Let me state right off that while I’m a huge fan of shopping—for clothes, shoes, cosmetics, etc.—I’m not a fan of book shopping days where young children go off to select books for independent reading from a basket of leveled texts. Quite often the results don’t match our expectations. Even though the books are “at their level,” children often have trouble reading them “cold” with the recommended 98 to 99 percent word accuracy. And the teacher misses the opportunity to guide students’ selections and help them work out some of the books’ more challenging aspects. Words, organization, or design, for example. This absence of teacher guidance and feedback is unfortunate.

That’s why I build book return and selection into our reading conferences. If children are emergent and early readers I either go with them to the leveled pots or bring several baskets to the conference table. Then I direct the child to select a couple she might like to try, and I also select a few I think might be a good match. From these pre-selected titles, the child selects three of four she’d like to have in her bag. Then she might have a go at reading several pages of one of them. This gives me an idea of how challenging or supportive the text in fact is. When children are transitional or fluent readers, they anticipate that they’ll be exchanging books that day and come to the conference with several titles in hand.

During the reading conference, we also discuss nonfiction topics the child is interested in learning more about, or I refer to the book preference notes I’ve already recorded in her reading notebook or to the reading inventory which accompany the child to the conference via the reading folder. Children can select “look” books that, while too difficult to read word-for-word, can provide interesting information through pictures and other text features.

The ability to independently choose books that are a good match to ability, interest, etc., is a skill that develops over time with teacher guidance and feedback. I have more input into children’s selection when they’re just starting off and gradually hand over more of the responsibility to them. (Please recall from my post on April 26 that during the first independent reading time of day children can read any book they want, regardless of level.) In addition, I teach students how to select books throughout the year during mini-lessons, and I excite them about the possibilities through the book talks I provide.

10 comments:

  1. Well, I promised to comment, but I find it easy to read the posts and become interested in the topic, but harder to find the time to respond. Nevertheless... that's the point of a blog, right?
    I was very interested in this topic as I have seen teachers become frustrated with trying to give kids choice in their selection of books, to match their interests and keep them reading, only to then see the kids choosing inappropriate, often too-hard books. I begin each year early on with a lesson on choosing "good fit" books, an analogy I adopted from The Sisters (Daily 5). I do a lesson relating choosing clothes to choosing books (the sisters use shoes, but...). The lesson involves comparing how we select clothes on the basis of both fit and interest, and how we select books for the same reasons. The kids really enjoy the object lesson as they watch me attempt to fit into "their-size" clothes, or they try to wear my trench coat. They also have that lesson to draw on for their thinking about what they are selecting to read. But I like your idea about the "look book" because it honors kids' desire and interest to read those harder books. Your video also provides a great lesson how to show kids how to actually use their skills to read those books in a purposeful way. I like the idea of conferring and selecting books with them rather than allowing the "shopping day" that I see so many teachers use and then become frustrated with, as kids select those books with the beautiful pictures but too-hard text, or the hard books because their friend (often a higher reader) has chosen so they want it, too. Your approach really helps resolve that problem. In conferring with kids this way, I have seen them gradually becoming more adept at choosing "good fit" books for themselves. Thanks for refining my thinking on this!

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  2. hi stephen...thanks so much for you insightful comments. matching kids with the right books is so important yet often complicated to pull off. glad you've got practices that work for you and thanks for sharing them with us. (i've been away or i would have responded sooner.)

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  3. I appreciate this post so much. I have been using the Daily 5 "good fit" book lessons mentioned by Stephen, and after a "Lucy" training, I added "book shopping" days. This year for some reason has been particularly challenging in getting the "good fit" book lessons to 'stick'. I fear that the unintended implication of these lessons is that if I just teach it well enough, the kids should get it and something's wrong when they don't. I appreciate your approach and I'll go back and read your April 26th post.

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  4. sorry i lost track of your post and am getting back to you "late." yes...for sure matching kids with books is challenging indeed. but then it's one of the most important things we do: if the books are too hard they can't read them, waste their independent reading time, and get turned off to reading. if they're too easy, then there's not a whole lot of opportunity for learning.

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  5. I totally agree with you and discovered it the "hard way" this year! Helping an early or emergent reader shop and still have time for a conference sounds tight - or a longer conference. Your notes about conferring have me waiting with bated breath :) I teach first graders and am also interested in student written responses - more specifically, the fine line between responding in a thoughtful manner which doesn't take too much time away from reading and children who seem to get caught up in the act of filling in response sheets.

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  6. Hi Mary, You're right--some conferences will take longer. It may be that we can only confer with 3 first graders each day instead of a more desirable 5. there's no way around it--good teaching takes time. It's important to take a close look at our teaching day to see if there are any things we can eliminate. Sometime we do things just because "we always have" even when they don't add up. I understand your dilemma though--and it stresses me out just thinking about it!

    Your interest in children's responses to text is an interesting and important one. Let me get back to you on it. Perhaps on my next post. (I apologize for not posting as frequently as I should. It's just that I've been traveling a lot these past few months and the seminar preparation takes "forever.")

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  7. Thanks for acknowledging that conferring takes time. This helps me move beyond the idea that I "should" be able to confer with as many as 5 student a day! It takes time for 6 year olds to think, verbalize, read - and now added to the conference - choose & get ideas about their future reading!

    My team and I are enjoying your DVD collection. Thanks for your wisdom. (Speaking in front of a group does take a great deal of preparation so we all understand.) May all of your speaking engagements be successful!

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  8. Whew! I teach first graders and have been using the "shop for good fit books" approach for a few years now. It has been frustrating as I watch my students frequently choose not so good fit books and lose motivation after I try to steer them towards other books. There has been so much push for letting children "shop" for books that I felt obligated to use that approach in my classroom. I am going to change my approach. As a teacher, I would believe I have more insight into what a good fit book for a six year old would be than the child him or herself. I am going to stick with what I believe to be best for my students. Thank you for this post.

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  9. hi. thanks for the comment...i think the point here is that our goal is to "over time" teach children to select their own books. however this is a process that takes time. until then we can guide their selection—it's so critical that they read "just right" books during independent reading. there may be other times of day (other than reading workshop time) where kids get to choose their own books. for me, it was the first independent reading time. and then, of course, they can be selecting "look" books for their bag as well. lots of mini-lessons to teach here. good luck and enjoy the summer.

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  10. Thanks Sharon, I recently attended an inservice with you and you opened my eyes to the importance of reading comprehension. I also have been using the DAILY Five, and have problems with the "good fit" books especially with kindergarten. I loved your idea of "look" books. Do you have other articles or video's out there for kindergarten to assist me in getting off to a better start this fall?

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