Even though the general tone in my reading class has settled into quiet reading, there are still problems that I need to deal with. My time is limited, so I have to triage. Right now, there are three main sets of readers that I am looking at: the quiet readers, the information book readers, and the "flitters".
In every class, there are some students who just seem to love reading. They have their books every day, sit quietly, and never misbehave during independent reading time. So, what's the problem? There are some of these readers who are not building a cohesive mental model of the text. That is, they read a page, and may understand some parts, but they are not really understanding the narrative from beginning to end. A book like Dragon Slippers is one that these readers are often drawn toward. There are entertaining bits on each page...but a struggling reader might not be able to put these entertaining bits together into a whole story.
These readers do not announce themselves. In fact, they are sometimes hard to spot. After all, they love books! But I need to find them and work with them. In order to do this, I try to check in with 3-4 of the quiet readers each day. These are brief, chatty talks in which we talk about the book. Over the course of several days, I can usually figure out if the readers are building a big picture of the book, or just going image to image. Then, on the next library day, I try to make sure that we browse together to find a book that has a nice, easy to understand storyline. Kids who are drawn to complex fantasy books that they can't yet totally understand will often enjoy reading The Secrets of Droon or The Spiderwick Chronicles. Both of these have a single storyline that readers can easily comprehend.
I have several students who lug around books filled with information. I've talked with them, and I'm satisfied that they are doing a decent job of understanding one paragraph at a time. But I want to get them to be able to find success in a chapter book. As fourth graders, they need to be able to follow a story over multiple pages.
These readers often need a lot of support. Today, I sat down and read the first chapter of a Horrible Harry book with a student who said that he didn't like chapter books. I read a paragraph, he read a paragraph. Then we talked about what happened. I glanced ahead a few pages and gave him a goal for reading. "In the next part of the chapter, you're going to learn about stub people. I want you to find out who the stub people are." Because he's not quite at the stage of finding a whole story interesting, I had to give him a tangible goal to get him through the next two pages.
I like the Horrible Harry series a great deal for these students, because it is so funny and easy to understand. Dan Gutman's My Weird School series also works well for these reluctant readers.
Flit, flit, flit. Every time I turn my head, it seems that these readers are up. "I finished this book," or, "I didn't like it," or "It was boring."
Diary of a Worm books. But I have to be careful with the picture books. On the one hand, picture books are great, with their interesting plots and lush artwork. On the other hand, I want kids to choose picture books, not just read them because they don't know how to read other books.
So I push kids toward deeper picture books, like fairy tale retellings and historical fiction. I happened to pick up Anansi's Party Time on sale last year, and it's been making the rounds in my classroom this fall. This is a fairly easy text, but as a trickster tale it can become a good background knowledge book for kids. Later in the year, when we talk about genre, I can pull this off the shelf and kids can say, "I've read that!"
Independent reading time is always a challenge. But I love being able to use this 15 minutes every day to help students discover the world of books. By thinking carefully about my readers, I can make sure that this time is used well.