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.

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