“How do you know they are reading books at their level?” the visitor asked.
This is the question I hear the most often from visitors to my classroom, students in graduate classes, and colleagues at workshops. The urge to control what kids are reading during independent reading is hard to let go of, or even loosen. It’s as if teachers are afraid that students’ skills won’t grow at all unless they are reading books that we determine are the right level for them. But reading on-level books for long periods of time doesn’t guarantee fast progress on reading skills, doesn’t guarantee high reading engagement, and definitely doesn’t encourage the development of lifelong readers that workshop strives to build. So much research has been done on the benefits of students reading texts they have chosen from a well-stocked library that I find it amazing that I still get the question!
I have several reasons for being okay with not knowing what level of book every student is reading at every moment:
I can walk around the room and have a good idea of the appropriateness of the book choices of the majority of my students. I know my students well (their levels, their interests, their strengths, and their needs), and I know my library well. As I walk around for an observation, I can quickly make note of any changes or nudges that need to be made, or of students who need to be checked in on.
I’m striving to lay the foundation for a love of reading, and I want my students to emulate reading behaviors of lifelong readers. I don’t always read at my reading level. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a quick-read novel or lighthearted magazine that doesn’t take much thought to get through. Other times I’m devouring a new professional book that challenges my thinking and takes a lot of time to get through. Both kinds of reading are appropriate at different times. It should be that way for children too.
Conferring is the foundation of my reading workshop, and through these conferences I am able to continually formatively assess. These conferences allow me to continue to get to know my readers and also help me guide students during book shopping on Fridays. During book shopping I can help students who need extra support and be assured that students have a few books in their book box for that week that match their interests and give them a chance to practice reading the words. Conferences also give me an opportunity to check their book-box choices and decide if and when I need to give additional book-choice lessons to the student or class. And in some cases, I can give the lessons right during the conference!
I trust my students! I teach multiple and continual lessons on using the classroom library and choosing good-fit books. I keep my library choices fresh with new and rotating book tubs all year. I book-talk all the time, read aloud all the time, and have a library full of high-interest books that span many levels. After all this, there really are only two to four students who struggle to choose good-fit books, and I can check in on them as needed.
Like everything else in the classroom, some days and weeks are better than others. Some days I’m giving lots of reminders and knowing looks, and even passing out some new choices. Other days, we are all in our groove and deep into focused reading.
I recently got the following email from a parent in my classroom thanking me for introducing Ricky Ricotta to her son. Technically, Ricky Ricotta was several levels above his reading level, but the appeal of reading a book such as one in the Ricky Ricotta series inspired this student, and off he went! His engagement and motivation pushed him, and he was able to read it with accuracy, fluency, and great comprehension. And he grew reading levels by leaps and bounds through the experience.
I just wanted to say THANK YOU! I’m so thankful that you have the Ricky Ricotta series in your classroom. Max has been talking about it for several days! I’ve been looking and looking for some books to spark his interest and begin a real love and excitement for reading. I had never heard of this series before, so I am just so happy! These books have already helped his confidence, and for the first time he really feels like a reader!
Thank you again! I just wanted to share our excitement with you!!
Have a wonderful Monday!