Challenge #11: Identify 3- 5 book finding strategies that are essential for students in the ages and stages you work with. Map out a quick plan for how you you might model each of them for your students in the early days of the school year.
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” -JK Rowling
How Does This Help Grow A Community of Readers?
To cultivate a thriving community of readers one of our first priorities is to nurture each readers ability to find one book after another.
Before readers can settle into engaged and purposeful reading, they must find their way to texts that they can and want to read. When we commit to intentionally support book choice we are committing to helping readers learn to consistently find texts that lead to high levels of engagement.
In their landmark article, Every Child, Every Day, Richard Allington and Rachel E. Gabriel state that “The research. . . is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read.” We agree. We’ve seen the proof year after year.
Yet, developing the skills to select and curate a personal collection of independent reading materials is no easy task. In every classroom, every year, there are students who arrive not yet having the skills to navigate book choice on their own. This, of course, doesn’t mean they can’t handle choice reading; it simply means we have work to do -teaching book choosing skills and strategies, just as we would print work or comprehension, with purpose, patience, and persistence.
Take some time to think about the ways you make your own book selections. Below we list a few of the strategies we’ve noticed ourselves relying on as readers.
- We ask a friend or colleague with similar tastes or interests for a recommendation.
- We study the front, back and inside cover a of a book.
- We page through a book and and give it a good two to four page try to get a taste.
- We are always on the lookout for books that feed certain personal interests. For example, Christina loves narrative nonfiction about challenges of endurance and musician biographies while Kari has a profound interest in the stories of refugees and immigrants. Being able to name our own topics of interest to ourselves and others increases our success.
- We rely on online sources such as blogs we follow, Goodreads, or the suggestions that pop up for us on Amazon or the iBooks store.
In our book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, we offer an entire chapter focused on unpacking the work of supporting readers with book choice. Within this chapter you can learn more about about the Book Choice Reflection Tool . This tool is designed to help facilitate reflection and talk about book choice, without the need to bring “levels” into the conversation with students. The tool supports the notion that “good fit” happens at the intersection of interest and readability, and that for every reader there is not one readability level that defines a “good fit,” but instead, there is a wide range of suitable possibilities that range from relaxed reading to stretch reading.
This tool can be used successfully with readers of all ages, and can be paired with other lessons aimed at helping readers reflect on interest or readability. Christina uses the tool during two to three whole group lessons at the beginning of the school year, and then follows through with students in conferences. Making copies for students to tape into their reading notebook or book box provides an easy reference for students and a tool to rely on during book choice conversations in the conference. You can learn more about strategies and uses for the tool in Chapter 5 of To Know and Nurture a Reader.
What strategies we teach our students isn’t nearly as important as the commitment to teach a variety of strategies for book finding across the year in a variety of instructional formats. In the initial weeks of school, you’ll want to offer a number of lessons for the whole class, highlighting the strategies you consider to be most high leverage. Later, as more students are successfully finding a steady stream of engaging texts, you might utilize small groups for students need additional strategies or practice. And, it’s not unusual to find a few students who need your ongoing partnership refining their book choosing skills across the entire school year. These students will definitely benefit from a frequent focus on book choice when you pull up alongside to confer with them.
Tips to Get Started
- Make a list of book-finding strategies that you suspect might be most important to model in the early days of the school year.
- Plan to build an anchor chart with your students (resist the urge to make it ahead of time), adding key language and visuals to represent each strategy taught. Choose a spot to post it where students can easily refer to it.
- Adopt a multi-text approach. Make sure your students have more than one book at the ready at any give moment. See Challenge #4.
- Don’t limit your students’ choices to books that fall only within a certain guided reading level. Remember, those levels are meant as tools for us as teachers, not limits on what kinds of books students can hold in their hands.
- Make room for books to be read in a variety of ways (study the pictures, retell, read pieces and parts, reread multiple times). By doing so you’ll open up a much wider range of possibility for book choice. By defining reading as engagement in meaning making, we can all outgrow the idea that books must all be ready word-by-word, cover-to-cover.
- Take a look back at Challenge #7, focused on modeling and encouraging a culture of book talk. For many readers, there is no more powerful strategy for book choice than following the recommendation of a peer.
- Be prepared to embrace the messiness of choice, viewing imperfect choices as formative data and a chance to get to know what additional supports readers need. Every book choice tells a story and helps us better understand the teaching we might next offer.
Questions to Consider
- What book finding strategies will you explicitly model for your students in the early days of the school year?
- How might you introduce each strategy to students? Whole group lessons, in small groups, or even with individual conferences that turn into group conferences for all the readers nearby?
- How might you help students remember the strategies taught? A classroom anchor chart? Student made notes or reminders? A page in their reading notebooks? A sticky note taped to their book boxes, perhaps?
- Do you have a space on your classroom wall, preferably in the library, to house a chart that lists strategies taught?
- How might you challenge yourself to be on the lookout for new book finding strategies to introduce across time?
- How will you leverage whole group, small group, and conferring to grow book choice skills?
We’d love to hear from you. How do you, as an adult reader, find books? What steps to you plan to take to help your students find a steady stream of engaging books this year? Come on over and join the conversation in our Facebook group.
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