Helping Struggling Readers Find the Perfect Book

Michele left a comment on one of my posts last week and I have been contemplating an answer ever since.  

 

I am in my second year of using Reader’s Workshop so it still feels very new to me. Would you mind speaking about how you help struggling readers in your class? I have found that a few of my students are selecting books that are much too challenging for them just to be reading what the other kids are reading. I try to direct them toward more appropriate material, but they usually abandon what I suggest and head straight back for whatever is hot at the moment.

I am almost at the point of telling a few students that they have to read a book that I select for them. Does that defeat the whole purpose of Reader’s Workshop and choice in their reading materials? Is there something that you have tried or have heard about that you could suggest?

 

Every year I have a handful of students who choose books that only frustrate them.  It’s a difficult situation to deal with, because I do not want to discourage them from reading and I don’t want to stop them from reading about a topic that they enjoy.  However, if they can’t comprehend the novel or fluently read it. they may just end up hating the act of reading.  So how do I help them?

The answer for me is time.  I spend a lot of time with these kids.  We talk about what they like, authors they have enjoyed, their favorite topics, etc.  I really get to know them as people and as readers.  Because I read so many books over the course of a given year, I have a wide variety of texts that I can draw from as recommendations.  This is one of the reasons I force myself to read and review books that I might not normally read on my own.  I can better serve my students when I have variety of genres and authors to draw on.  I also read reviews from blogs and industry magazines like School Library Journal for even more ideas.  My media center librarian is my ally in this, too!  

It can take weeks to find something that a reluctant and struggling readers can read and wants to read.  There will be a lot of abandoned books along the way.  In my classroom, the rule is that a student must give a book at least 50 pages before deciding to abandon it.  However, I waive that for some of my struggling readers.  Depending on the student, I will give them a 20-25 page limit for abandonment.  And my kids feel comfortable abandoning books.  I share my own experiences with abandoning books that were not “just right” for me, so they know that real readers don’t finish every single book they start.  All I ask is that they can give me a reason for abandoning their book.  I have heard everything from “I can’t connect to the characters” to “The vocabulary is just too hard”.  Because I know my students as readers, I can usually judge how truthful they are being. :)  

To put it simply, time is your friend.  Make sure you have a lot of books to choose from.  And make recommendations.  But let your students make the final choice.  And when they do find something they enjoy reading, let them!  Even if that means they read six books in a row about kids who play baseball.  Keep building their confidence- in their ability to read fluently, their ability to comprehend their reading, and the ability to choose their own reading  material.  Choice in reading material for independent reading is the most important factor in my reading workshop and I firmly believe it is what has made my workshop successful!

Hot Books

Now that the school year is back in full-swing, it’s time for a new edition of “Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom”!  It’s always interesting to start with a new class, because their tastes can be so different than those of my last class.  

These are the books that are making their way from student to student in my room so far this year:

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Always a popular choice, the waiting list for this one is huge in my classroom library!

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) by Stephenie Meyer- Last year, I could not get my kids to read this. It just didn’t appeal to them for some reason. This year, it is the complete opposite! I have boys and girls reading the book and loaning copies to each other. Could it be related to the movie coming out next month? Who knows, but I’ll take it!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney- While it isn’t a traditional book, I teach Language Arts, so anything that get my students reading and writing is a winner in my eyes! I have quite a few orders for this in our latest Scholastic book clubs order and the word of mouth has been great.

Falling Up by Shel Silverstein- It’s funny, but poetry has never been particularly popular in my room. But this year, I have a few boys who LOVE to read Shel Silverstein. Falling Up is a big favorite this year and I have a small handful of students who read this a few times a week during independent reading. It’s an interesting phenomenon!

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen- A popular book with my students who love survival stories. This one is slowly gaining ground in my afternoon class.

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