Words from the books curl
around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow
the teacher says.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
But I don’t want to read faster
or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too
quickly from where
it’s settling inside my brain,
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the
tenth, hundredth time.
-Jacquelyn Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
I recently wrote a post about the importance of all children having the daily opportunity to interact with worthy, grade-level or higher text. I received a lot of positive feedback and additional ideas for how to support students in this endeavor, but I also received a bit of thoughtful criticism (something I always welcome!). To clarify any and all misconceptions regarding my opinion on the topic:
I absolutely believe that all children should have the daily opportunity to read text of their choice, including text that is at or even below their level.
The importance of one doesn’t negate the necessity of the other. What it all comes down to, I believe, is balance. That being said, here are compelling reasons that support the inclusion of both within the school day:
Choice Text (at or below level):
- Giving students choice in their learning activities and materials increases motivation and ownership of learning.
- Students feel successful. A friend of mine shared a quote she heard at a conference once. Something along the lines of, “who’s going to run for a bus they don’t think they can catch?” This absolutely applies to the classroom. By allowing students to “catch buses” every day, they’re building the skills and mindset to catch some of the buses a little further down the road.
- On or below level topic-specific text is a great way to build background. As I mentioned in my last post about scaffolding complex text, the use of books rich with illustrations, images, and accessible words helps immerse students in a topic before diving into a new unit of study.
- Reading accessible text gives students the opportunity to apply the literacy or thinking skills they are developing through both guided small group and whole group instruction.
- Reading independently accessible text is a powerful way for students to build both fluency and stamina.
- In addition to increasing motivation, it is often when students are given text choice that they fall in love with a series, character, or the act of reading itself.
- When interacting with worthy complex text, as they read it with support or even listen to it read aloud, students are exposed to nuances is language, text structure, and/or content that might not be present in text that they are able to read independently.
- Incorporating complex text along with thoughtful and intentional scaffolds will begin to address the widening college-readiness gap that many students face.
- In order to continue developing their literacy skills, students need to be intentionally pushed (and supported) with text just out of their independent reach but not so far out or with inadequate support that frustration ensues.
- Often, students feel a great sense of accomplishment and empowerment when they are cognizant about their successes when conquering a complex text.
- Content area (social studies, science, etc.) is an authentic way to incorporate complex text outside of the traditional literacy block.
The excerpt at the beginning of this post is from one of my favorite young adult texts. One that I could (and do) read again and again (and it’s safe to say it’s definitely below my independent reading level). Not only is this quote a perfect example of what goes through many of our students’ minds as they begin to identify themselves as readers, but it’s also an example of that fact that as adults, we too, enjoy taking time to read books for no other reason than enjoyment. What a great reminder, for us all, about the importance of balance in life.