Although students are taught every year to find “good fit” books, I’ve found that - every year - they always struggle to do this independently. It seems as if we spend several days, if not weeks, talking about how to determine if a book is right for them, yet it never fails that a month into the school year, I still have kids “reading” books that are simply too difficult for them.
This failure has caused me to rethink the old “five finger rule”. After attending a few conferences and doing some research of my own, I now find myself as part of the growing group of educators who feel that five errors on a page is simply too many. As adults, would we continue to read a book if on every single page there were five words we didn’t know? I suggest that we would not. So this year I’m teaching my kids the two finger rule and I’m hoping they learn to find “STAR” books - not just “good fit” books. I want them to find books that truly match them as readers - both in independent reading and in interest levels.
I begin by displaying a chart with four labeled boxes: singers, actors, athletes, and leaders. I ask students, “Tell me about some stars or celebrities you know that would fit into each of these categories.” Students give me names that would go in each. I’m always amazed at how old I feel doing this - half of the names I don’t recognize and have to ask students who they are!
We talk about why these people are considered “stars”. Typically they answer with something close to, “They’re the best at what they do.” I choose someone from the “athletes” box to use as an example, such as a football or basketball player. This is usually the easiest for students to visualize and talk about. I ask students to think about how he became the top in his field and what tools he needed to get there. They tell me that he had to practice and I ask, “How much? A little?” And they enthusiastically tell me, “No! They have to practice all the time!” (I love this - they’re setting me up so well and don’t even know it!). “What kinds of tools or equipment would he need to perform at his best?” Students tell me the usual - a ball, pads, uniform, etc. I ask “Well, what kind of ball? A flat ball with holes?” Students laugh and look at me like I’m ridiculous. They tell me, “No, it has to be a new ball that is inflated,” etc.
After I sense kids are getting a complete picture of what a star needs to be successful, I tell them that becoming a star reader works the exact same way. In order to become great at reading, you have to practice - not just a little, but all the time! You must have great equipment - not boring books or books that are too difficult, but books that are “STARS” just for you. In my room, I have many books and all, in my opinion, are STARS. But, not every book in this room is a STAR for me and not every book is a STAR for you. Our job today is to learn how to choose STAR books for ourselves so that they rest of the year we can work on becoming STAR readers.
Each student gets a bookmark to hold and read while I go over each part on my chart. I read the STAR acronym and explain each letter. I really spend time on the “A” section and get a little dramatic here. When I was in school, I don’t remember this being an option and now, as a teacher, I want to be sure kids understand this part, perhaps most of all. I tell them that I don’t want them to ever torture themselves by reading a boring book. Now sometimes I will have them read something that may not be the most interesting thing for them. But when choosing books to read independently - I never, ever want them to force themselves to read a book that bores them. I want everyone to enjoy reading - maybe even love it! And that won’t happen if you’re reading a book that is so boring you can’t get through it! So - if you’re reading a book and you find yourself constantly trying to refocus your attention - shut that thing immediately! Walk it straight back to its home and pick something else! It’s a STAR for someone else - but not for you!
I set out loads of books in various spots around the room. I ask each table to go to one area and pick up two books that look interesting just by looking at the cover. (I know we’re not supposed to “judge a book by its cover,” but come on - we all do it! And they have to start somewhere, right?). Once they select two books, they come back to their desks and start practicing the STAR rules. After some time, I allow students to return any duds back to their home and then go to a new area and choose two more books. This continues until each table has a chance to visit all of the book areas. Sometimes, depending on how seriously they take it, this can take more than one day. So be it! The more they practice this skill in the beginning of the year, the better!
As students are working, I walk the room and listen in on them practicing the STAR rules. To close the class, I have a few students share. I typically have a couple share who were able to find “duds” and a few share who found “STARS” so that the entire class can hear the thought processes behind their decisions.