This is a guest post by blogger Elizabeth Hall, originally published in March 2013. If you like what you see here, you can check out her blog, Kickin' It in Kindergarten, for more of her writing, or you can click here to see her other contributions to our blog!
The Importance of "Just Right" Books
My favorite part of teaching reading is that moment when a student reads a sentence on their own. They look up at you like, “Did I just do that?” Sometimes, the light-bulb moment is as astonishing to us as teachers that we look back at them with the same look of wonderment. We sit back and heave a sigh of relief that they have actually been listening and participating in shared reading, practicing sight words, and just being the little sponges that they are.
From my first year, I got it that “Just Right” books are vital to have in the classroom. They have to be at the tips of those little fingers on a weekly or even daily basis. Growing little readers isn’t an easy business. It takes time and patience, but it also takes some teacher savvy.
My favorite cringeworthy sentence I read on a blog was “I just watched them read and took notes and gave them books.” Just Right books aren’t passed out on a whim. We use DRA (Developmental Reading Assessments) to determine their level; I know other schools use other assessment tools to place their students in reading groups. It doesn’t matter which assessment piece you use, just as long as you have some way to keep data on their progress and their levels. It also is important that you have this information so that you can show parents and administration. Just “watching” them read is not a valid or reliable way to evaluate their reading levels.
There are many reasons that “Just Right” books are important. One of the reasons is confidence and another is fluency. That look that your student gives you when they read that first sentence for the first time is confidence. If a student feels like the book is too difficult, then they will give up. Frustration starts to build after each page is turned. Sentences like “I hate reading” might start flying out of their mouths. We want to build confident readers.
Fluency is the other key piece to building strong readers. I always tell them to use their “roller-coaster” voice and not their “robot” voice. As students start to become more confident in their reading, then they will start to sound like readers. Applaud them every time you hear them using their “roller-coaster” voice because they will start to use it more often!
In groups, I like for the students to evaluate the books that they read during reading groups. The general rule is if you don’t know more than five words, the book is too hard. If they fly right through it, then it’s probably too easy. We make the final decision as to what level they are reading at, but you always want to hear from them and find out how they feel about their book. You can download a rating card for students to use to let you know what they think of their book's level of ease and their comfort with it—you can find it at the bottom of the page.
If you don’t have an assessment system in place at your school, I can’t stress enough how important that it is that you go to your administration and fight for it. There is a surplus of research out there that supports “Just Right” reading. If you already have an assessment tool that you use, find ways to group your students and make your reading instruction as intentional as possible!
This is my fifth year as a kindergarten teacher. The best part of kindergarten is watching a child fall in love with reading. It has become my passion to show children the possibilities and amazing adventures literature can offer. I love watching their eyes light up when they tell me they can read their favorite book, or they can’t wait to go back to the library! I have the best job in the world!
I am so lucky to have such a wonderful support system in and out of school. My family lives close and I get to spend a lot of time with them! While I am not at school, I enjoy running, teaching spin class, swimming, playing kickball, spending time with my husband, and traveling. I also have a sheltie named Maggie, which is spoiled rotten. I am married to the best guy in the world, work with wonderful people, and have fabulous students!
To download Elizabeth's "Just Right" Rating Card, click the image to the left below. For more information on the Joy Cowley Early Birds Series pictured above, click here to visit our website, or click the image to the right below to download an information sheet with key features and series highlights.