Reading Workshop is in full swing! We start each workshop with a mini-lesson. This lesson gives us something to focus on as readers each day. Today we focused on the importance of reading "just right books". Research clearly shows that readers improve when they spend lots and lots of time reading texts that are "just right" for them. I asked the kids to imagine they were riding a bike. They start off coasting down hill. Then they begin pedaling harder to get back up a steep hill. Finally, they are on relatively flat ground. They hit a few bumps in the road, a small hill here and there, but lots of smooth sailing.
I asked the kids to imagine that reading different levels of books is like riding that bike.
When they are reading books that are easy for them, it's like coasting down the hill. The kids describe reading easy books in these words:
1. You can read all the words.
2. There are few (or no) mistakes.
3. You can read quickly.
4. You read fluently.
5. You can understand what you are reading.
When children are reading books that are too hard for them, it's like struggling up that steep hill. Your muscles start to hurt. The kids described reading hard books in these words:
1. There are lots of really long words.
2. You have to solve lots of words.
3. You don't understand what you're reading.
4. You don't know what's going on.
5. It sounds slow and choppy.
When children are reading books that are just right for them, it's like riding on flat ground. You hit some bumps, a few small hills, but there's a lot of smooth sailing. The kids described reading just right books in these words:
1. You understand what's going on.
2. You can read lots of the words.
3. It feels sort of easy, sort of hard.
4. It sounds mostly fluent.
The vast majority of the time children should be reading books that are just right. Research has proven again and again that just right books will help children become proficient.
Choosing "just right" books may feel trickier when your reader is a strong word solver. If your third grade reader dives into challenging text with strong accuracy and fluency, you may think they can read almost anything. However, third grade readers typically can't comprehend everything they can decode. Unfortunately, third grade readers are highly motivated to read big, fat chapter books. The beloved Harry Potter series is a great example of this. In fact, there are many third grade readers who can decode Harry Potter with a fair amount of accuracy and some fluency. Some of these third grade readers can understand Harry Potter at a literal level. They can tell you who the characters are and what they are doing in the story. However, Harry Potter is Level Z. Third grade readers can't comprehend the text with any depth, certainly not at the level that J.K. Rowling intended.
I was probably the least popular teacher in the third grade pod this afternoon. I shared with our readers that I will ask them not to read Harry Potter (and books like it) during Readers' Workshop or during the 20 minutes they are required to read for homework. I do not do this as any kind of punishment. I do not do it to be the meanest teacher in the universe. I expect readers to read books that are just right for them, because it will help them become the best readers they can be.
Ask your child tonight if the book they are reading at home is just right. Challenge them further to explain what makes it just right.