Reading is such a complex skill. It is a set of behaviors that work together to help a person gain meaning from text. Decoding, fluency, comprehension, connections to prior knowledge, predictions, evaluations…. all these are a part of reading. Sometimes we mistake decoding for reading. Decoding is part of word calling. Word calling is an essential piece of reading, but not the entire job.
There is a wide body of research that shows that children need to be reading at the correct independent or instructional level to make progress and improve as readers. When we push kids through text that is at their frustration level (as “grade level” material often is for some students) we don’t improve their reading skills. To the contrary, their reading skills actually get worse! This is because they know so few of the words that they cannot use the most powerful strategies (context clues, syntax, word analysis, connections to prior knowledge,…) instead they are reduced to using phonics only. Now phonics is a fine strategy, but if that’s your only strategy, you are not reading. You are word calling. On the other hand, when we guide children though books that they could read independently, we do not challenge them to improve. They miss opportunities to develop more advanced literary analysis skills and to be exposed to a variety of literature that could inspire them.
We must find the appropriate instructional level for each child in our class and respond to it with appropriate quality lessons. That’s a tall order! If you’d like to create a nimble, responsive reading program for your class you can join Targeted Reading Instruction for Student Success (EDUO 9231) this summer. It’s a great chance to learn several different assessment and teaching systems as well as plan for the year. It also includes a brief meeting after the school year has begun so we can discuss how to respond to the specific needs of the individual students you have this year.
However you assess and teach reading, you need books. Lots and lots of books! In a class of 30 students you probably have 25 different reading levels. Each of those kids needs access to many titles at her/his reading level. That’s a lot of books. That’s hundreds of books!
A great source for cheap books is the Friends of Library book sale. The next Santa Cruz Friends of Library book sale is Friday, May 27, 5-8 pm,(members) and Saturday, May 28 10-1:30 and 2-4 (general public). Come and build that class library!