Be the change, Reading, student choice

The Danger of the "Just Right" Books and Other Helpful Reading Interventions

My mother never told me what to read.  Neither did my teachers.  Sure, I was an insatiable reader, a child that loved riding her bike to the public library only to return with the biggest bag of books my handlebars could handle.  Sure, I would sometimes stay up past midnight just to see what would happen next.  Sure, I used to be able to read in the car without getting carsick.  And yet, it wasn’t because I read just right books. It wasn’t because I logged how many minutes I read at home and at school so that I could see the pattern.  It wasn’t even because my teacher told me I would love this book and I had to read it next.  It was simply because I loved the freedom of reading.

The freedom of reading….

How often do we discuss that in our classrooms?  How often do we just let our students read whatever they choose and then let them discuss however they want why they just loved reading whatever they chose?  How often do we let them sing the praises of a certain book even if it is not just right for a majority of the class?  How often do we let them try that book even if we think it may just be a tad too hard, too long, or too boring?

The freedom to read….

We seem obsessed with the particularity of reading.  Of breaking it down into nothing but strategies so that students understand what great readers do.  Of logging every minute and every page.  Of finding “just right” books through levels and forcing them upon children because we know best.  Yet the problem with breaking something down is after a while all of those pieces become just that; pieces, and we lose sight of why we did it at all.  When reading becomes a strategy to master, we forget about the love that should be a part of it as well.  When we take away students freedom to read, we take away a part of their passion, a step of the path to becoming kids who just love to read.  And when we continue to tell them what to read, we take away part of what it means to become a great reader: knowing thyself.

So when we discuss “Just right” books don’t forget that that may just mean just right for that kid.  Just right for their interest.  Just right for their passion.  Just right for their curiosity.  Just right for their need.  And that may have nothing to do with their reading level.  When we discuss strategies don’t forget the big picture and what the goal is.  When we discuss logs and minutes and genres, well, just don’t discuss reading logs, please.  In fact, do your students a favor and gt rid of them.   If you want to see why, read this post by Kathleen Sokolowski titld “How Do You Know They Are Reading?” and then think about it.

Give students the freedom to read so that they may want to read.  How powerfully simple is that.

6 thoughts on “The Danger of the "Just Right" Books and Other Helpful Reading Interventions”

  1. I was this child. My children are this child. My daughter hates to "discuss" books in high school and always has. But she routinely reads 10+ books every 2 weeks. We love to read for the sake of reading and breaking it down to strategies and steps only frustrates us. Maybe some students need the breakdown but some don't and end up hating literacy time because they don't get to read.

  2. When reading becomes a strategy to master, we forget about the love that should be a part of it as well. When we take away students freedom to read, we take away a part of their passion, a step of the path to becoming kids who just love to read.Amen, sister. I'm slow clapping this. We can't let reading turn into an end, in and of itself. Rather it's a means with which we experience and enjoy life.I've recently written two pieces in this same spirit over on my blog. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for putting into words exactly how I have been feeling about book logs and the like. Reading for fun is not something that kids even feel they have time for anymore with all that they are assigned. My own sons are very different types of readers, one reads for the love of books and stories and learning. The other would rather listen to me read than do it himself and he is not interested in reading because the teacher says so. They have both had to keep logs and it becomes more of a burden on the parent than a responsibility of the student. Having logs in my classes, I have come to the conclusion that they are ineffective even if you are only asking the students to tell you what they read each night with no other expectation other than to read. We need to build their passion and the strategies will come. Thank you for sharing!

  4. This past year none of the books I had were marked with levels or tagged in any way. As a new teacher, I didn't have time to get to that. (I was just working to survive and get things done.) So kids just picked they wanted, regardless of level. I encouraged lower readers toward some simpler books, but didn't make a big deal out of it. (And I never did logs.) Your post tells me that maybe that's something I should continue to do.

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