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Continuing Discussions on Social Reading and Reading Levels

Posted by Jen Robinson on June 29, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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herson.JPGIn recent posts at Booklights, I've written about the power of social reading (kids sparking enthusiasm for books amongst themselves) and the joy of light, self-selected summer reading (as opposed to heavy required reading lists). The latter was in the context of a larger discussion about letting kids read what they enjoy, instead of pushing them to read at ever more advanced reading levels. We've had some wonderful discussions here at Booklights, in the comments on both posts. Parents, teachers, librarians - quite a few people have taken the time to share their experiences. These comments are well worth a read, and I will certainly be revisiting them for insight. [Image credit: photo by Taliesin, shared via MorgueFile.]

I've also run across a number of posts on these topics around the Kidlitosphere. I'd like to share some of those links with you here at Booklights. These posts are all from blogs that I read regularly - people whose opinions I value - and they are pretty much universal in their encouragement of letting kids read what they enjoy, regardless of reading levels. This week, I'll share some posts about social reading and reading ahead of grade level. Next week, we'll focus on the defense of self-selected summer reading.

Sarah Mulhern has a follow-up post about social reading at The Reading Zone that is not to be missed. She describes a specific example of a series of books that spread like wildfire through her class, sparked by one boy's enthusiasm. She also shares some concrete recommendations for getting kids to talk together about books. One point that I particularly enjoyed from the post was when she said, about a previously dormant reader, that "He talked (a book) up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book." No adult is going to be crazy about every book. Recommendations from their peers have the ability to reach more kids, simply because each person is going to love a different set of books. But do go and read Sarah's entire post.

Here at Booklights, children's literature professor Ann said: "research done in the early 1970s on how children make their choices of what books to read. And while these findings were taken from studying children who likely now have little readers of their own, it may still be relevant to our discussion. It turns out that when making the decision of what book to choose, children rely on the recommendations of others, the availability of books, and returning to the same author or illustrator whose work they have enjoyed in the past. Sounds a lot like adult readers, doesn't it?"

JGS_mF_CurrentEvents(2).jpgSee also this two-part post in which former teacher Kristine from Best Book I Have Not Read addresses the question of kids reading above grade level. She says: "I am embracing the idea put forth by Lucy Calkins in The Art of Teaching Reading regarding independent reading... Calkins recommends that "every teacher of reading starts the year by steadfastly directing children toward reading a lot of easy book, and reading these books fluently and smoothly, with clear comprehension, and at a good pace" (p. 339)... so clearly puts in words what I have known about students, but had a hard time explaining to parents who fret about their fourth grader loving Babymouse or insisting that they are ready to reading Twilight at the beginning of fourth grade." [Image credit: photo by Gracey, shared via MorgueFile]

Librarian Bibliovore at Kid Tested, Librarian Approved chimes in with her "greatest objection to pushing kids to read farther and farther above their grade level. Not that kids will encounter sex and violence, but that they may be in the presence of genius that they're not ready for, and in missing it, dismiss it for the rest of their lives."

Middle school librarian Paige Y. from Reading and Breathing shares her thoughts on reading above grade level and re-reading, lamenting the fact that "books on grade level (or above grade level) is the answer, according to many. I can preach until my lips fall off that reading below grade level improves fluency and comprehension, but to no avail." Paige also makes a neat point in defense of kids re-reading books, sharing her own personal experience: "I also go back to books whose characters show me the person I want be. I have learned much from Atticus Finch and Marmee and Elizabeth Bennett, among hundreds of other characters." It's certainly been like that for me, too.

And finally, Daphne Lee at The Places You Will Go writes a defense of picture book reading for people of all ages. She adds: "Author/illustrator Anthony Browne feels that way too. Browne has just been chosen as Britain's new Children's Laureate. He takes over from poet and picture book author Michael Rosen, and will hold the post for two years. Browne is looking forward to championing picture books which he said, in an interview with The Times, "are being marginalised and forgotten about"." It's great stuff!

I hope that you found some food for thought in these excellent blog posts. Next week, I'll share a smorgasbord of posts dedicated to keeping summer reading fun.


Terry Doherty writes...

This is a great post, Jen. It's nice to have a mini-index of ideas and reminders about making reading fun for kids.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Terry! It's amazing how much discussion there has been this summer, about reading and grade levels, and about keeping summer reading enjoyable. I am encouraged!

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