As students are reading to themselves, I like to walk around and observe and conference with them. The one on one conferencing helps focus my teaching and gives me an idea of what strategies I can teach to each a student or strategies that the whole class needs. So these conferences drive my instruction.
Today, I noticed that one of my below grade level readers was attempting a book that I was sure was too difficult for him. It is my job to help him understand that a better book is on the shelf waiting for him. The trick is, how do we do this? You do not want to burst that reading excitement bubble telling a student that the book they thought was interesting and perfect is not really a good fit for them.
It is much easier to come to this realization together. The one to one conference is a great time. There is no calling attention to it and it is easier to guide them into coming to the realization themselves.
I start my conference with drawing attention to the book itself. I wanted him to feel that I was interested in it, the same way he might have felt when he decided to choose it. I want to validate his first thought that the book looks good.
Next, I want to know if he will read to me a few pages. Before we begin, could he tell me a little about what he has already read. This first check for understanding lets me know how he has constructed the story in his mind. Did he use the title or the cover to help him? Does he know character names and specific events? These two simple questions can give you a lot of information on whether the book is at their independent level.
I then allow him to have a second to find his spot, so he can pick up where he left off. In this case, he checked the book out on a Friday and is showing me that by Tuesday he has already read 7 chapters. This is where I have heard many teachers call a student out. I love it that he has attempted the book and has found an excitement for reading, so I go with it.
Once he begins to read, I notice right away that he is trying to sound out a characters name. If the book was a good fit, he would at least have given the character a name close to what the given name is. It next that I notice that he is getting stuck on about every fourth word. I encourage him along and prompt him with decoding strategies to help him.
After about a three to four sentences, I ask him to check for understanding and tell me about what he just read and how it ties into what he already know has happened. This is where most students realize that this is a hard task and that the reading I ma asking him to do is difficult and hard to answer.
There is a face that a student makes that is part confusion and part how do I get out of this. Once I see the look I ask about the difficulty of the book. The easiest thing to point out is the words. I might ask, "did those words seem hard to you or was it just me?" If I acknowledge their difficulty I take away the fear of admitting it. In his case, he answered that they were hard and he is having to work on them a lot.
This is that sneaky teachable moment. I go on to explain that maybe the book he has is a good book and perfect "GOAL" book or "AIM HIGH" book. That as he practices his reading he tries to work toward making this book the one he reads in the future. I will even write it down for him so he doesn't forget about it. This usually gets an almost relieved response, but also a bit of disappointment. I want to be clear that I can help him find a better fitting book, that will help him get to his "Goal Book." This does the trick!
I explain that to get a good book, that is just right, needs to be interesting to him. So I ask what books he might want to read and I will help him find one that he can read and practice strategies with easier. He explains that he wants to read a book about fish. He would like to read non-fiction but he "always finds too hard of ones." I then tell him that I will get a few books together and that we will try them out to find the best fit.
It takes a bit of time to gather some books that a student might be interested in and be a good independent read. When I bring books to work with him, I make sure their are some that are too difficult and some that are way to easy. The rest fit somewhere in between. He is going to have to try them out before he decides. A quick note, I try to have about four books available. Too many and it takes to long to choose.
I start by letting him pick one form the pile. I ask him why this book. He tells me he likes the picture on the cover. I validate his thought by adding that sometimes a good cover is eye catching and draws us to it. I also explain that sometimes books look cool but are not a good fit for us. I also remind him that what I like and what is good for me is not the same for someone else.
Once the book is selected, I ask him to open it to any page and choose a few sentences to read out loud. Before he begins, I want him to understand that if he has to decode too many words it might not be a good fit. A few tricky words are good for his brain and will allow him to practice his reading strategies. The other part is if understands what he read. So after he reads the few sentences, he needs to retell what he just read.
We do this method with all the books. I have included a picture of two different texts that show what might be easy and which might be too hard. The difficult one was easy to pick out and easy to say no to. The too easy book is always a bit harder. If the easy book is the choice, I might ask him to pick one more in case he needs another. That is a winning idea in this case.
When the book or books are chosen I validate his choice. I tell him that I agree that the two books are "just right" and that I can't wait to hear him read it to me. I go on to tell him that I am proud of him and for working so hard to get a good book, that is perfect for him. He will become such a good reader if he keeps finding good books he can practice good reading in.