11 Feb Slice of Life – Matching Books to Readers — Readers Matter!
Teaching children to read and providing them with something worthwhile to read is not a job for the faint of heart in this world. But I’ll keep at it, and I won’t be alone. You’ll come too. We’re fortunate, you know. Too many people in this world spend their lives doing work that doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things, but bringing children and books together does matter. And we get to do it.
– Katherine Paterson
When we talk about matching books to readers with teachers and administrators the conversation often turns to levels. There is always great concern over making certain that readers are accessing text that they can read easily. We acknowledge and support the research that demonstrates the importance of creating opportunities for our students to read lots of texts that they can read easily:
“Good readers read with accuracy almost all the time. The last 60 years of research on optimal text difficulty—a body of research that began with Betts (1949)—consistently demonstrates the importance of having students read texts they can read accurately and understand. In fact, research shows that reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent accuracy doesn’t improve reading ability at all” (Allington, 2012; Ehri, Dreyer, Flugman, & Gross, 2007).
We also know how important it is to think about a student’s interests, passions, and hopes when we are matching texts to readers.
Last weekend we had the privilege to experience being matched to texts. We visited a bookstore in Columbus, Ohio – Cover to Cover. We walked into the store without a “to buy” list and without expectations. We walked out with a perfectly matched set of texts for each of us. How did this happen? What were the essential components for creating a literacy environment that allowed us to find books that were perfect for us without us even knowing it was happening?
We tried to identify what made this experience so memorable:
There was no sense of time while we were there. We were not rushed and there was no pressure to decide. We created a pile of books. We added to the pile and took away from the pile. We even exchanged books between our piles. What we noticed is that, at first, we kept adding to our pile. We weren’t concerned about the number. Once we had our pile we then ultimately chose based on all the books in our pile. We balanced our choices. We did not decide title by title. We wanted to create a plan for our reading through the books we chose.
There were seven of us visiting the bookstore. When we entered the store we just seemed to naturally pair off in conversations. We shared books and stories of the readers in our classrooms. We talked about our reading lives and the reading lives of our family. The conversations were not planned and we were not partnered. We just found ourselves finding time to connect with each person. These conversations brought books into our lives and allowed us to introduce books into the lives of our friends. The things we learned about each other through these book talks also set us up for future book exchanges.
Sally and Beth, who work at the bookstore, were incredible listeners. They quietly moved around the store, listening to our conversations and using what they learned about us to suggest books. Whenever they suggested a text they always told us why they were recommending it to us. We loved how they thought about our interests, our job, and the important people in our lives. They never pushed a title. They simply offered their suggestion and moved on – trusting us to decide.
We loved how Sally and Beth continually asked us what we thought of books that we had read. They truly wanted to hear our thoughts about the books in their store. They even asked us to email them about the books we purchased. They valued our perspective and gave us the opportunity to think critically about the books we have read with each other. We became a community of readers discussing our thoughts and responses to books. Sally and Beth used our feedback to adjust their books recommendations for each of us. They did not expect us to just accept their opinion they wanted to hear our thoughts so they could understand us better as readers.
We had lots of recommendations from Sally, Beth and our friends, but ultimately the books we chose and the number of books we chose was our choice. We know the pace of our lives in the upcoming weeks, the types of books we have recently read, and the work we will be doing in the spring. We chose books based on our professional needs, our personal interests and the people in our lives with whom we wanted to share these books. We know we will be more engaged with the books we chose to read because we thought about each one and chose it for a reason that has a purpose for us.
Sally and Beth, from Cover to Cover, have clearly created an environment in their store that supports matching books to readers. We have been thinking about how we can bring these ideas to life in our classrooms. We can envision a time in classrooms that resemble a bookstore visit. Students mingling with one another in our classroom library. Talking, sharing, recommending and choosing. Teachers being a part of this community – listening, asking, sharing and recommending. Do we have a time in our classroom for students to create and plan their reading lives? Do they know what their peers are reading? Are they discussing the books they are reading? We would love to see more of this type of “bookstore” engagement happening in classrooms.
We are not suggesting that teachers should stop helping students find books that they can read – we are just hoping that choice, passion, and interest get equal attention in the process. If our students are not engaged then it does matter if they can read it? Bringing children and books together does matter, but it must matter to the teacher and the reader. We believe the reader’s perspective must be at the forefront in the process of matching books to readers.
Clare and Tammy