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!