Sunday, September 27, 2015

Just Right Book

Most of us know the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears...

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the woods. Soon, she came upon a house. She knocked, and when no one answered, she walked in.

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

"This porridge is too hot!" she exclaimed.

So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

"This porridge is too cold," she said

Then, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.

We all love that "just right" feeling. None of us would like to wear a pair of shoes that are too small or too large. The thought of the pain caused by those ill fitting shoes makes my feet hurt!

If we aren't interested in food that is not "just right" or shoes that aren't "just right", why would students enjoy books that aren't "just right"?

All reading teachers in the elementary schools have been assessing students using Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking System to determine the current level of text to use for instruction with your child.  These levels are denoted by letters of the alphabet. For example, your child may be working in class using level H texts.

That means that the teacher believes the student will make the best progress if she uses level H texts with your child. For independent reading, your child is likely to be most successful reading texts that are two levels below her instructional level.

There is a lot more to reading and finding a just right book than determining a child's reading level, though. Here are some things to consider when helping your child select a just right book:

1. I believe the most important consideration in helping your child select a just right book is his interests. How many times were you forced to read a book you absolutely hated? How motivated were you to pick up that book every night? I'm an avid reader and enjoy many types of books, but I still have a list of books I hated in high school.

2. Consider the amount of text per page compared to the number of pictures. Pictures actually serve a purpose in reading. They are a great support to less skilled readers. Often, pictures can help beginning and early readers figure out unknown words and comprehend the story. Graphic novels can be a great choice for readers who are self conscious about reading thin books but still needs the support of pictures.

3. Vocabulary is incredibly important to reading. A traditional, easy test for students to perform to determine if a book is too hard is the "Five Finger Rule." A child should turn to a page in the book and hold up a finger for every word they do not know on a page. If there are 5 or more words, the book is considered too hard.

I want to make two points about the five finger rule, though. We have to be careful when we help a child determine that a book is too hard. If it is about something she is really interested in, she will be more motivated to use her own knowledge and other resources to comprehend the text. We definitely don't want to discourage that.

On the other hand, the most current research says that a reader needs to understand 98% or more of the words on the page to truly make meaning from the text. Usually, that is fewer than 5 words.

When in doubt, read the book side by side with your child if she is interested in it. That experience will help broaden her vocabulary, increase her background knowledge on the topic, and give you a few one on one minutes with her.

If you feel like your child is reading books that are way too easy for him, you can work with him to find books that might be more appropriate, but remember, text level is not the only consideration. There is a lot of value in a child reading books that are below his level. That will help him build fluency.

I'm sure you remember the phrase, "practice makes perfect!" Really, though, it is perfect practice that makes perfect. There is not much value in a child skipping over all of the words she doesn't know.

Remember, a book cannot be "just right" if your child won't read it. Help your child find books he likes, so he will spend time reading.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I don't like that kind of book!

Genre gap is a fancy way of saying that we don't like to read a certain type of book and have a limited experience reading those texts. Teachers work hard to craft well rounded readers and convince them to read across genres, or styles of writing.

I personally have two genre gaps in my recreational reading. I do not enjoy reading poetry as a rule. I prefer the description and development of prose, non-poetry, writing.

There is something comfortable to me about paragraphs with sentences that have a predictable structure. In poetry, authors have a lot of leeway in how they structure their writing to express themselves.

My second genre gap would be non-fiction. This is crazy, really, since my first love is history.

I am sure many of you will groan, or even roll your eyes, when I say that I prefer the textbook version that is direct and to the point. There are few biographies or other non-fiction works for adults that capture my attention.

I share this with you to let you know that being aware of your personal preferences is half the battle. The other half is to make sure you expose yourself, and your child, to many styles of writing and encourage them to find the books that are the exception to their dislike of a certain style.

Poetry for kids has come a long way since I was in school. I remember what I think of as "academic" poetry. While I love poems by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, I don't sit down and read poetry for pleasure.

Children's poetry, though, is so much more than just nursery rhymes. Charles R. Smith has published many poems for sports fans. Judith Viorst who wrote Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, has published poetry for children and parents. Shel Silverstein's poems appeal to children of all ages.

Go to No Water River site for a "Big List of Children's Poets."

Non-fiction for children, specifically what we call informational text, is a great genre. Children's authors have written many books about real world topics that are educational and interesting.

These authors make facts attainable for young readers. The pictures and graphics in these books are designed to capture the attention of children.

If your child is interested in a certain hobby, take them to the library to find books about that topic. You may even find a few that interest you, too.

Check out Reading Rockets for great information on non-fiction that is available for children.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy International Literacy Day!

September 8 became International Literacy Day in 1965 to raise awareness of the importance of literacy and the obstacles faced by those who are not literate.*

According to, 775 million people in the world are functionally illiterate. Likewise, a study conducted in late April of 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read. 

That's 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read. **
This means that about a quarter of the adults in the United States can't read and write well enough to perform the duties of a job, or help their children with homework.

What can we do?

We need to do everything that we can to encourage students to learn to read and to make reading pleasurable for students.
Teachers work hard to create a literate environment for children. We have to go a step further and help create a love of reading outside the classroom. Try a few of the tips below to help your children become readers:
  1. Read to your children. 
  2. Give books to your children as gifts. Let them know how important they are.
  3. Talk to your children. Not all literacy has to do with reading and writing. The more conversations you have with your children, the more words they learn and use on a regular basis.
  4. Tell stories. Like conversations, students will learn a lot about how words are used and how a story is told when they listen to someone tell a story. What a great way to pass on family history and share a few funny stories about your siblings!
  5. Go to the public library. It is a great resource for books, and libraries offer free programs that promote literacy. There are a couple of branches for the Lancaster County Library. Check them out by clicking on the link.
Soon, there will be some exciting new ways to encourage  reading and share literacy experiences with your children in Lancaster. Check in again soon to find out what they are.


** "The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn't Changed In 10 Years,"