Teachers for Teachers | It’s Monday! Jennifer Serravallo’s New Book is in Our Stack! #IMWAYR #BuildYourStack
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It’s Monday! Jennifer Serravallo’s New Book is in Our Stack! #IMWAYR #BuildYourStack

Here’s our stack this week!  If you want to read about some of the books we read last week, check out this post about books that inspire small moment writing and this post about books that inspire the love of reading.

This week we are blogging about Jennifer Serravallo’s new book!  There are so many ways Understanding Texts and Readers will support our work with students.  We can’t possibly list them all … so here are our TOP FIVE reasons you need this book:

REASON # 1:  Jennifer explains why we should NEVER level a reader. She gives research and explains the history of leveling to prove her point. She lists the variables in both texts and a reader’s experience that can impact the accessibility of a text.  We will use this research to continue to advocate for levels to be a teacher’s tool rather than a score to place on a report card, share with families, or label a student. This information will put conversations about levels in the proper perspective.

Jennifer looks at text complexity through a comprehension lens and models how to use levels to select student instructional goals or confer with a student about an unfamiliar book.  She uses the comprehension goals from her Reading Strategies Book (Fiction: plot & setting, character, vocabulary and figurative language, and themes and ideas. Nonfiction: main ideas, key details, vocabulary, and text features) to talk about the text characteristics in levels J-W.  The easy layout on these pages helps show when there are dramatic changes between levels so teachers can anticipate what to teach and where students may encounter difficulty.

REASON #2:  Jennifer provides lists of benchmark books. These are a helpful resource if you want to figure out the approximate level of an unfamiliar text. When you look at a new text, you can compare it to one of the benchmarks books on Jennifer’s lists.  She demonstrates how to preview an unfamiliar book, by taking a closer look at the specific text characteristics and asking, “Okay – regarding plot, setting, character, vocabulary and figurative language, and themes and ideas, what makes it harder or easier than the benchmark book?” This process will help you make your own professional decisions about text complexity rather than relying solely on a published list of levels.  This process can also help students understand the complexity of a text so they can choose books they both want to read and can access in terms of comprehension.

REASON # 3:  Understanding Texts and Readers gives teachers tools to assess a student’s comprehension of a chapter book.  After working with hundreds of teachers and reviewing samples of student work from classrooms, Jennifer shows how assessments that use running records on short texts can inadvertently elevate students’ reading levels. Her research revealed significant discrepancies between students’ comprehension on longer text versus short text.

Don’t worry – gathering data while students read a chapter book isn’t as overwhelming as it may sound. In part four of Understanding Texts and Readers, Jennifer walks you through a simple way to put a few sticky notes in a chapter book that you already have in your classroom.  You simply write a prompt/question (you can use Jennifer’s sample prompts or create your own)  on each sticky note and place it at certain points throughout the book. This way the student can respond and continue reading.  Once the student finishes the text, you can analyze their responses to plan your next instructional steps.  These whole book assessments give you insights into a reader’s thinking without disrupting their enjoyment.

REASON # 4: Jennifer gives us a goal-by-goal guide to readers’ comprehension of increasingly complex text with actual student-written responses. THANK YOU, JENNIFER!  We have never seen anything like this and this is just what teachers have been asking for!  So many teachers have students annotate as they read to support written responses and prepare for book clubs.  Now there is a new tool to lift the level of students’ writing about reading. The responses Jennifer provides can be put alongside student work to plan next steps. Students can also use them as exemplars to set their own goals.  Remember, even though the responses in this book are written, you can use them to analyze partner and book club conversations as well.

We love that the responses Jennifer shares demonstrate that longer responses aren’t necessarily better. The written responses in Understanding Texts and Readers fit on a post-it note, and they increase in complexity, not in volume. These aren’t literary essays, book reviews or blog posts about reading. These responses show the type of note a reader should create to help them prepare for book club conversations or compose a written response.

REASON #5: Jennifer advocates for readers to first think about their passions and interests when they choose a text. She urges all of us to reflect on the language we use as we match books to readers.  When our kids choose books, they need to ask themselves, “Who am I as a reader?  What kinds of books do I enjoy?  What am I in the mood to read this week?  What have I heard from kids that I want to check out?  What series am I working on reading?  What authors do I love?” (p.212)  Once readers have asked these questions, they can find a book that engages them and supports them.  Throughout the entire book, Jennifer shows how text complexity is a teacher’s tool, not a label for a child.  We advocate to keep levels off of basket labels in the classroom library, and so does Jennifer.

Jennifer, we love your new book.  Thank you for giving educators this resource. It is in our coaching bag and we can’t wait to explore it with teachers. A big THANK YOU to Heinemann Publishers for sending us an advanced copy so that we could delve into this book when it was hot off the presses.  We encourage you to get your copy now!  It is currently in stock for a discounted price at Heinemann.




  • Avatar
    Rose Cappelli
    Posted at 14:39h, 24 September Reply

    Wow! This sounds like such a powerful and important book for teachers!

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    Posted at 19:46h, 24 September Reply

    I love your top 5 list. Adding this one to my wish list. Thank you for sharing!

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    Patty Palmer
    Posted at 22:30h, 24 September Reply

    Ah…music to my ears. Excited to dig deeper together this year!

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    Lisa Maucione
    Posted at 22:40h, 24 September Reply

    I haven’t ordered this book yet because I have a ton of professional books in my pile that need to be read, but this book sounds super useful. You’ve convinced me I need it! Thanks for sharing.

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    Posted at 10:48h, 25 September Reply

    Cannot wait to dig into this book! I love both reasons three and four so I may have to begin there!
    Thanks for this brilliant review!

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 12:53h, 25 September Reply

    Jennifer’s book sounds like a terrific new resource for teachers. And I love all of Melissa Stewart’s books, including those “Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes & Stinkers” you have in your stack!

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    Michele Knott
    Posted at 00:00h, 26 September Reply

    I pre-ordered it and was so excited when it arrived. Now…. just need time to read! Way too many obligations on the plate now, hoping to get to it soon!

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    Myra from GatheringBooks
    Posted at 02:27h, 30 September Reply

    Looks like a really good PD text. We need more of those.

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