As often happens these days, my personal and professional lives are focused on the same topic. At the moment, that topic is the reader’s right to choose their own books.
When I began working with a new group of teacher’s last week, they were overwhelmed by the thought that their students would be choosing their own books. Overwhelmed both with confusion and with excitement. As teachers they understood instictively that this was the right way to encourage a love of reading in their students. But as teachers they also struggled to understand how to guide each of the many, many children in their class to the right choices.
The next time I see this group of teachers, I will have my own version of their story to share. Caroline has the most amazing teacher this year. She is a woman who is clearly a gifted teacher, able to meet each of her students where they are academically and encourage them to grow. She also places an immense value on learning who her students are as people and understanding how their social and emotional lives impact their time in the classroom. We really couldn’t feel luckier to have this woman in our lives.
She is challenging Caroline in new ways, causing me also to think about and tackle new things. Caroline has always, always judged a book by it’s cover. She will only read books that look ‘cool’ and are about children, usually girls, living in the present time. No animal books, no fantasy, no historical fiction. And no ugly covers. Of course, I have tried my hardest to work around this but to no avail. And honestly, without a Ms. K. to push me, I have choosen the easy road and let Caroline read only what she has choosen.
Currently, Ms. K. is tackling Caroline’s incredibly fast reading rate. While on the surface, reading fast may seem like a gift, I knew that Caroline was missing parts of what she was reading and sensed it was why she was tying herself to one kind of pretty simple book. During assessment, Ms. K. bumped back Caroline’s reading level to focus on her comprehension skills. A change in third grade is that Caroline is encouraged to read books at her level at home. Because Ms. K. is the greatest, she did say that if kids choose, they can read other books as well but she would like some of their reading time to focus on books at their independent reading level and not above.
This change encouraged me to go out and find some new titles at Caroline’s level. Seeing as she’d read at this level before, I really had to stretch myself and find books outside of Caroline’s comfort zone. I knew what would happen when I got home and I was right. She quickly made piles of acceptable and unacceptable books.
But then, thanks to Ms. K., I sat down with her and explored the books a bit more. As simple as it sounds, sititing with Caroline and reading the back covers of the books worked. Her piles changed and she added a few new types of books to her acceptable pile. As always, I was amazed at how just a smidgen of time could be, in a sense, a mini lesson. This one about book choice and at least choosing a book by it’s back cover.