By Tom White
Today I’m wrapping up my tour through the fourth grade literacy standards with standard 10:
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
So basically, this standard is about students reading and comprehending grade-level literature. It seems fairly simple, since most teachers have their students reading every day, and most of them focus on comprehension during literature lessons. When I read this standard, however, three questions come to mind.
First of all, what qualifies as “literature?” This a debate that’s as old as books. On the one hand, anything written is technically “literature.” But I think the Common Core has a more restrictive definition, reserving the label “literature” for those texts that have “literary merit.” In other words, they’re talking about good books. And to that end, they’ve included a list of “Text Exemplars” in Appendix B of the Common Core documents. It’s important to understand that this list is not a grade level reading list; it’s intended to give us a sense of the types of books we should be steering our students towards. I can’t help but notice that the collected works of Jeff Kinney are missing from this list. Does that mean we shouldn’t let our kids read the Wimpy Kid series? Of course not! It simply means that we should take them from where they’re at and try to steer them towards something a little less “wimpy.”
And that leads me to the next question: How do we do this? One of the best ways I know to get kids to read good literature is via the old standby: read alouds. Three of my favorite fourth grade read alouds are Holes, We Can’t All be Rattlesnakes and Flutter. These are all great books; literature by any definition. And whenever I read them to my class, I notice a spike in books by Louis Sachar, Patrick Jennings and Erin E Moulton when I watch my class do silent reading. Are some of my kids still reading Captain Underpants? Yep, but at some point they’ll move on. I eventually did. But for now, I’d rather see my kids reading trashy stuff than not reading better books. Another way to nudge kids towards better books is to employ the school librarians. They know books. And they know where they are. But remember, be patient. You can’t cram a good book down the throat of a “wimpy reader.”
And then there’s the third question: how do you check comprehension, especially when they’re all reading something different? I’ve found that the less formal, the better, when it comes to independent reading. I use very informal reading conferences. I talk to students about their book just to find out if they’re “getting it;” to make sure they aren’t lost in some book that’s way over their head. If they are, then I’ll gently steer them towards a more appropriate choice. But for the most part, I try to let independent reading be self-rewarding and self-regulating. I pay attention to who’s reading what, but I’ve never been a stickler for reading logs or journals. As far as I’m concerned, time spent writing about about a book is time not spent reading it.
Standard 10 is an important one; probably the most important of all of them. But fortunately, it’s probably the simplest and most enjoyable standard to implement.