I thought about using the title "Teacher Selected vs. Student Selected Literary Choice," but I realized that they don't stand in opposition to one another, they must work together to form the literary experience for any student in any classroom. That being said, let's get into today's topic.
Teacher selected literature, sometimes referred to as read aloud, shared reading, or teacher led reading (although even in those alternate definitions, there are different approaches to the method), serves purposes that self selected, self read books cannot. First of all, the shared reading experience is in large part about the teacher modeling good reading, something I've talked about time and again in this blog. Here are some ideas/focuses of what teacher selected reading should be about:
- The book you choose should ideally be above the reading level of the majority of your class, but not to an extreme point above their level. There should be opportunities for new vocabulary, more in depth story telling, and you should have opportunities for many questions, predictions, etc.
- Know your class, don't just choose a book because you like it. I cannot stress this enough, if your students find the book boring and/or tedious, they're going to tune it out. Your selection should have many points for class discussion, journal work, and other extensions.
- The book should be something that you are familiar with. Too many times in my short career I have seen teachers pick a book because they've "heard it's good," or "my kid read it," or something else along those lines. I've also heard too many teachers say that they don't have time to read the books beforehand. Well, that's nothing short of laziness and a cop out. How are you going to lead discussions and ask probing questions if you're experiencing it for the first time as well? It's important, imperative, to know your content.
- Vary how the book is read. This depends upon whether or not the students hold a copy and are reading along, or if you have the only copy. It's ok to have the only copy, I do this often, and my students enjoy those books equally. But sometimes it is important that they read along and get chances to read together. This can be done through round robin, popcorn (where they read and choose someone else based upon pre-set rules, boy chooses a girl, etc.), partner reading, small group, and anything else that I failed to list here.
Now that I've discussed a little bit about teacher selected reading, let's discuss student selection. Self selection is something that I am a very big fan of, and believe is a cornerstone of a well run reading class. Self selection takes time and effort on the part of the teacher, and requires a few things. Here are a few of those requirements:
- An understanding of the reading level of the student and the ability to find them appropriate books. If you teach 6th grade, you might have a student who reads on a kindergarten level and wants to read Harry Potter. There's a difference between letting them "give it a shot," and knowing that there is 0% chance of them succeeding with a given book. Set parameters, or if you're lucky enough to have a school program like Accelerated Reader or something, teach students to look at book levels. If you don't have that option, you can see my post on How to Determine the Reading Level of a Book at a Glance for some clues on how to do this on the run.
- Have clear expectations. Are you going to have students do a reading log, book reports, or some other kind of progress monitoring? How are you going to know that they're reading and comprehending their book? These are important questions that you must have the answers to.
- Have your students read at home. Have them read at home for 30 minutes each night. I send home a calendar, and the students must put how many minutes they read that night, and have a parent sign off for that night. Remember, the only way to become a better reader is to read, it can't be done through worksheets, snazzy presentations, or tests, it's all about practice, the more the better. If you find students balking at this idea, help them find books that interest them, work relentlessly to get that perfect book in their hands.
So, there's some ideas that should get you started. I tried to stay pretty well on the surface with this whole discussion, it can get deep into theoretical models and approaches to methodology, but I wanted this to be a resource. Let me know if there's anything else you need help with or have any other questions (or want to add to this in any way). We (teachers) learn from each other, and take ideas from each other, that's the only way to improve ourselves.