Like most areas of public interest, education is one of those topics subject to ongoing chatter about “what’s best” and “what’s most likely to reform or transform learning for all students.” Exchange the words “how to teach reading” for the word “education” and you’ll find yourself raising the volume on the noise. Amidst such cacophony, it can be hard to distill the information that most profoundly impacts our work with children.
In the years since the introduction of the Common Core, there have been literally thousands of articles written about text and its role in helping children become stronger, better readers. In fact, when we searched our own website, we found ten pages of articles related to this topic! Through the noise (ours and others), however, there is one strong signal: text selection matters. The books we select for students and the books they select for themselves make a difference in how much and how well students read.
Because we consider text and text selection second only to relationship in teaching children how to read, we sifted through what we’ve had to say about this topic and have condensed our advice about choosing great books into the following five tips.
1. Texts need to be crazy engaging!
It seems obvious, but we still encounter thousands of children each year in texts that are boring and/or poorly written. Children are much more willing to embrace the challenges that accompany learning to read when the texts they are reading are interesting, colorful, and thought-provoking! If you have students who are reluctant or unmotivated to read, look closely at what you are asking them to read or what they are selecting to read for themselves. Very few people get jazzed about reading dry, lifeless, or boring texts and for this reason, we recommend that you choose (and teach them to choose) text very carefully! For tips on selecting engaging texts, see this infographic.
2. Know your students as readers and as people.
In order to select books that your students will find engaging, it is important to know them as readers. We offer a simple illustration of student reading processes in Who’s Doing the Work? We must also know about students as people! While there are many ways to learn about students’ interests, one of our favorites is the Heart, Head, Hands and Feet Lesson from Reading Wellness. By reading aloud picture book biographies, children learn to see the connection between a person’s passions and their life’s work. As they are immersed in reading these books, they begin to think about their own passions and interests which helps to inform us, their teachers, as we select books to read aloud and help guide them in selecting books for themselves. For great insights into developing relationships with students as a pathway to supporting reading growth, see the work of Justin Dolci and Susie Rolander at “Let Me Shine.”
3. Read aloud to students.
While the benefits of reading aloud to students seem endless, we think there is nothing more powerful for helping children learn to select texts for themselves than read aloud. When we read aloud, we help children to know what’s available for them to read by introducing them to new genres, titles, and authors. If you’re looking for short, but powerful read alouds to share with children, be sure to check out this list compiled by Mary Howard’s Good to Great group (2% of purchases from list go to some kids in desperate need for books in their homes). Also, once you know a lot about your students’ reading interests, make a habit of reading aloud short excerpts to individual students as we recommend in this post, The Urge to Read Aloud: “This Book Made Me Think of You.
4. Understand that all early emergent texts are NOT created equally.
In order for children to develop balanced, integrated reading processes, as we describe in Who’s Doing the Work?, it is important that books for young children give them something to think about and understand. We use this text complexity rubric to help us identify the richest, most engaging texts for our youngest readers. If we want children to develop good comprehension skills out of the gate, the goal should be for students to be reading books that are mostly threes and fours on this rubric!
5. Let books do some of the work of scaffolding students.
When text is complex, oftentimes, our instinct is to talk a lot to fill in whatever background knowledge students lack. However, when we pair texts, particularly informational texts with fiction texts, we can support readers in deepening their understandings without overdoing the teacher talk. Beware, however, not all paired texts offer strong connections. We talk more about this idea in an article titled The Choreography of Paired Texts: Working Together vs. Tripping Over Each Other’s Feet.
If you are not already a part of our Who’s Doing the Work? Facebook Page, join us there for upcoming, regular posts about great titles for readers of all ages.
Text is the backbone of great reading instruction. If you want to know more, we encourage you to join us for one of our upcoming full-day workshops sponsored by Okapi Educational Publishing in Chicago (April 28) and Houston (May 19)!