Helping readers make appropriate choices for what to read during independent and paired reading is one of the most important lessons I teach in the beginning of the school year. Many students come into my classroom making appropriate selections and need very little assistance to continue doing so. Others, need lots of help and monitoring to help them find reading materials they can make sense of. In my experience with intermediate grade students, about fifty percent of my students will make appropriate selections for their independent reading with little support from myself. For them, my job is to get new books into their hands, challenge them to try new genres and expand their reading repertoire. Another twenty-five percent of my students will listen to our discussions about the criteria fro making an appropriate selection, and will begin to make better choices for independent reading. The remaining twenty-five percent will need more monitoring, and we will have conversations about why they choose to read what they select.
Making appropriate selections is contingent upon understanding that the purpose of reading is understanding what you read. Once readers internalize the fact that they are expected to make sense of what they read, they will begin to make better choices. Rather than focus on making choices for students, leveling and labeling texts, and creating book bins for students to limit students’ selections, I spend more time insuring that my students are reading for meaning and making sense of what they read. This takes time, but shortcuts, like leveling and labeling texts do not guarantee that students will make better choices. In addition, when we level texts we are taking away the responsibility readers have for choosing appropriately. Putting books in designated book baskets is all fine and dandy, but it will have little effect on students’ reading and selections until readers learn to read for meaning.
Additionally, if students are going to be asked to make appropriate choices, they need a wide range of books to choose from, time to browse, and to be exposed to new titles, authors, genres and topics to make more informed choices. It’s difficult for readers to make appropriate choices when there are only a few books to choose from. My classroom library includes books that range in difficulty from simple picture books, like Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, to complex novels, like The Giver by Lois Lowry. The range of materials in my library is wide, because so is the range of abilities of my readers.
Choosing a Book to Read
· open to a page and see if you can read and understand what is happening in the story
· read the blurb on the back cover
· ask friend for book recommendations and ideas
· look at the suggested age level
· read more books from the same author
· ask Dr. Serafini for some suggestions
· stop after reading a page and see if you can talk about what is happening
· be honest with yourself and pick a book you can read, it will be a more enjoyable experience
· remember that books will be available for when you are ready
Making an appropriate selection to read is dependent on why the reader is reading a particular text. Why we read something influences how we read something. When readers are making selections for independent reading, their purpose is primarily to enjoy a story. This means that a reader has to be able to understand enough of the story to engage with it. Knowing every word is not necessary to enjoy a story. However, when reading expository texts for information, knowing important vocabulary words would be very important. The types of selections we make is contingent upon our purposes for engaging with text. Browsing or skimming a text requires a different criteria for selection from reading for information or to complete a task.