What Do Children Read? (page 3)
Emergent readers, like all learners, are encouraged by success. Success helps them gain and keep their momentum for learning. Thus, reading materials not only need to be worth reading but also need to be readable. Fortunately, these tend to be complementary rather than contradictory attributes (Moustafa, 1997). Old ideas of readability, based on controlled vocabulary and focused on specific skills, sacrificed meaning in the process. You may remember reading boring books in first grade; some people call them “dishonest books” because they are written to teach skills rather than to share ideas. Apparently a small number of youngsters benefit from controlled vocabulary readers (Cole, 1998), but most beginning readers get important decoding assistance from the context of meaningful content (Miller, 2002; Strickland, 2006). For instance, if Sukey is stuck on a word, Ms. Montoya asks her to think about what would make sense as the starting place for figuring it out. We also know that interesting content provides the motivation to press on. If a book was put together to give practice in certain words rather than to tell a story, it may be that nothing makes sense. Sukey’s attitude toward trying to figure out a word in such a book may be, “Who cares?”
Current uses of leveled books may be moving schools back into a focus on reading for skills rather than meaningful reading. Some teachers seem to have forgotten that the levels were created for the purpose of describing children’s progress as they read literature, not prescribing it. Those teachers use the levels to limit children’s choice of reading material, requiring that they read books at a specific level. Reading instruction should be driven by the reader’s interests and needs, not the leveled texts. Ms. Montoya values leveled books for the information they give her about what makes a book hard or easy for a child to read. She then uses this information as she helps children make wise choices, though she does not require that a child choose only from a certain level. Most children have a range of levels at which they can read. Sometimes these levels are described as instructional and independent reading levels. But the difficulty of the text is only part of the equation. The support provided to the reader is the other. The content of the story, the background knowledge of the reader, and the reader’s purpose and motivation all contribute to the readability of text (Miller, 2002). Sometimes, the interest or motivation to read a specific text, such as one of the Junie B. Jones books, becomes the catalyst for a child to read a book that is at a level above theirs (Strickland, 2000; Wickstrom, Curtis, & Daniel, 2005).
Familiarity with a book makes it more readable (Galda & Cullinan, 2006). In fact, anything that helps a child predict what comes next helps with reading. Predictability may be a result of knowing a story well, or it may come from having had an experience similar to that in a story. Pictures are another source of information that helps youngsters predict what the accompanying text will say. One type of predictable book that has recently become popular for reading instruction is the pattern book. Cumulative story patterns, such as those found in The House That Jack Built and The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly have been familiar for years. Books such as Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Taback, 2006), One Duck Stuck (Root, 2003), and Silly Sally (Wood, 1995) adopt that style and assist young readers through repetition of text. Probably the most easily readable pattern books are those such as Bill Martin, Jr.’s, famous Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1983), which have a repetitive text that changes only slightly from page to page. These changes are accompanied by picture clues and rhymes that further assist in reading. Patterns, picture clues, and remembered stories offer temporary assistance to beginning readers in much the same way that training wheels help the novice bike rider—providing the support during practice that leads to more independent performance. The below table summarizes what to look for in predictable books.
Types of Predictable Books
- Essentially memorized from repeated read-aloud sessions (The Three Bears)
- A known situation or familiar experience portrayed (The Snowy Day, Keats, 1962)
- Cumulative (A Frog in a Bog, Wilson & Rankin, 2003)
- Repetitive forms (One Monday Morning, Shulevitz, 2003)
- Picture clues in conjunction with familiarity or patterns can make "instant readers" (Let's Go Visiting, Williams, 2000)
Books the teacher reads at group story time are likely to be both enticing and readable for independent reading time. Children of all ages love to reread a story they have enjoyed hearing. Mrs. Thomas offers her first graders small copies of the big books they read together during shared reading. Students eagerly snatch these up for rereading after experiencing the story with the group. What makes these books desirable to youngsters and useful for reading practice is their familiarity. Familiar books are readable books. Each child will use such books to figure out new concepts appropriate to his or her own understanding. Learners use the known to make sense of the unknown. Some are perfecting their sight-word vocabulary, some are trying to make sense of the graphophonemic clues, and some are still reading pictures.
Quantity and Self-Selection
It is a challenge to find enough books with which beginning readers can be successful (P. M. Cunningham & Allington, 2007). Good teachers are always on the lookout for more good books for their classrooms; they know it is important to have many good books available (Morrow, 2000). Though Ms. Montoya includes predictable books, she doesn’t limit herself to them. She likes Bill Martin, Jr.’s, books and the Clifford books. Some of her students enjoy the Dr. Seuss beginning-reader books, but other children complain that the controlled vocabulary doesn’t really make sense. They like Eric Carle’s other books almost as well as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the children laugh with glee over Audrey Wood’s The Napping House. Martha Alexander, Margaret Hillert, Syd Hoff, Arnold Lobel, and Bernard Wiseman are some other authors who cater to beginning readers. In other books for beginners, Shigeo Watanabe writes about a very large bear cub, Rees Marshall writes about hippos, H. A. Rey writes about a curious monkey, and Cindy Wheeler writes about a cat named Marmalade. Ezra Jack Keats writes about children in ways with which they can identify. Rees Stevenson’s books range from humor and fantasy to realism. Miriam Cohen’s When Will I Read? (1977) is a favorite that seems to reassure beginning readers. Ms. Montoya is delighted that so many of her favorites are available in Spanish, too.
Many educational publishing companies are attempting to help teachers with the job of finding interesting and readable material for young readers. The Wright Group took the lead in publishing big books for the shared reading recommended by Don Holdaway (1979). Mrs. Wishy-Washy (Cowley, 1990) is probably the most popular of their books. Big books are accompanied by several smaller copies for independent reading or use in a listening center. Most textbook companies now offer big books, little books, and pattern books. It is important to remember that these formats do not come with any guarantee of quality or appropriateness.
Just as different children learn in different ways, so they have individual preferences in books. Not only are they interested in different topics, but they also are attracted to different genres. Some like fantasy; others prefer informative nonfiction. Some struggling readers blossom when they read nonfiction on topics of interest to them (Caswell & Duke, 1998). It is important to cater to all tastes and to allow children to self-select their books for independent reading (Moore, 1998). Choice increases motivation (Gaskins, 2003; Guthrie, 2002). One thing all young children seem to have in common, however, is the desire to take books home to share with their parents. They are proud of their ability to read and want to demonstrate their new powers to their families. Mrs. Hanna and Ms. Montoya both have checkout systems that allow their classes to take books home freely.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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