Maria Selke is an elementary gifted resource teacher in West Chester, PA. A lifelong member of the Nerdy Book Club; she is also thankful for teachers who allowed her to tackle tough books early in her reading career.
So you have advanced readers, and you want to be sure you meet their needs this year? First, let me thank you for realizing that they won’t just “be okay” without anything from you. Even students who are already passionate, strong readers deserve a teacher who is invested in helping them grow each year.
I could go on for pages about my advice to parents and teachers, but I’ll stick with one main thing you can do this year that will make a huge difference.
Let go of Goldilocks
Over the years, teachers have created so many ways to help kids find those just right books. Whether you believe in the “five finger” rule, Fountas and Pinnell levels, or some other method of determining the best level for a child’s daily reading - your strong readers need you to let it go. There are valuable experiences just beyond those walls, and it’s your job to help kids find them.
“That book is too hard”
Longer books can be more satisfying for strong readers
A book may seem “too hard” because it is filled with challenging vocabulary. Often gifted readers can understand many of those words even if they can’t yet pronounce them all. Or they can glean the meaning from the rest of the text, which helps them begin to build their own mental construct. It’s okay if they can’t spit out a definition the first time (or the fifth time) they read it. Challenging vocabulary is also a hallmark of nonfiction texts, which can be a favorite genre for advanced readers. Guide them to the glossary, or help them find an approximate definition from context. Then set them free to soar.
“Too hard” may also be a rewarding experience, if a reader tackles it voluntarily. Your job is to make sure your reader knows strategies for monitoring comprehension. Be sure that you have also discussed how and when to decide to abandon a book. So many adults argue, “he’ll get more out of that book if he reads it later!” Instead we should remember that we get something different out of every book depending on when we read it. That book you want to take away now may be the one she reads again as a teen, and a college student, and an adult -- getting something new from it at each stage.
Some teachers and librarians also worry that if students jump into harder books too soon they will miss out on the books designed for their age group. Let me assure you that kids choosing to read challenging books is not the problem. Strong readers avoid books targeting their age group when parents and teachers say things like…
“That book is too easy”
Your reading level is never “too high” to enjoy Babymouse!
Come on - admit it. You’ve read many books below your “reading level”. Probably even read a few of them this summer, right? Just like there are many valuable lessons in a book that is too hard, a book that doesn’t tax her decoding skills can allow her to notice other text features. The same is true for a reread. A second or third reading of a book gives a reader the chance to pay attention to foreshadowing, lovely language, or other writing style choices he may have missed when he read the book for the plot the first time through.
“Just Right” means a well-rounded reading diet
Caption: Reading widely is so important!
Just like a healthy diet, a healthy reading life includes books of all types. This is especially true for advanced readers, who will frequently get stuck in a rut. They need some hard, some easy. Some picture books, some novels. Some poetry, some nonfiction. Respect their favorites, and allow them to have generous helpings of those books on their plate. Yet continue to nudge your strong readers into “taste testing” some new types of books this year, and you’ll go a long way toward improving their reading life.
Well, this post got much longer than I expected! If you still want more information, check out some of the following resources:
Some of My Best Friends are Books - a great resource book with tons of titles, categorized by theme and age level.
“You let him read WHAT?” - a post on my blog about not censoring readers, but teaching them to make wise selections.
Thank you, Maria! I'm not a teacher, but as a book-buying auntie/grandma, this was really meaningful!
If you readers want to read more of what Maria thinks about kids and books and reading, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter: @mselke01