Tuesday’s Teaching Tip

“Just Right” for Independent Reading

Like the beds in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, books can be too hard, too “soft” (easy) and just right.  In order to become a more fluent reader and comprehender, students need to be reading “just right” books, particularly during independent reading time.  Does this mean kids should never look or read books that are too easy or too hard?  No, but a steady diet of these is notorious for producing two kinds of readers: bored or frustrated.

How exactly is a reading mama to know if a book is just the right fit for your reader?  It boils down to these two things: word recognition & comprehension

A “just right” read for your reader (during independent reading) is one that…

  1. your child can read 98% or more of the words by himself (word recognition)
  2. your child can understand what he’s reading  (comprehension)

More About Word Recognition:

One way to verify if a book is too hard for a reader is to count how many words she misses.  When I was teaching, we did the five finger count: If you miss 5 or more words on the first page, it’s too hard for you.  This is assuming that the book has more than 1 sentence per page.  Children can be taught how to do the five finger count for themselves.

Just the other day in tutoring (yes, I have 3 students again…two 3rd graders and one in the 2nd), one of my students began reading a chapter book to me that he was reading for AR (Accelerated Reader).  On the first three sentences, he missed 7-8 words; substituting other words that did not make sense.  After he read these sentences, I asked him to tell me what the sentences were about.  He was unable, hence the reason that word recognition is so important- it can have a direct affect (positive or negative) on comprehension.

More About Comprehension:

Word recognition is not enough.  Comprehension is the end goal of reading because reading=thinking.  If a child cannot comprehend a text (even if he can recognize all the words), he is not reading on his independent level.  Some kids have the amazing “ability” to recognize almost any word in the text, yet not comprehend what they are reading!  For more on this, click here.

How do you know if a child is comprehending?  Sometimes kids will just come out and say, “That didn’t make any sense.” or “I have no clue what that just said.”  These cases are a closed case.  But most of the time, comprehension is silent.  So a good way to find out what a child understands is to ask questions.  Even a “lower-level” question will sometimes meet you with a blank stare or an “I don’t know”.  When this seems to be the pattern, a simple solution may be to pick books that are on an easier level so comprehension isn’t compromised.  Choosing easier books is not always the right solution, but it’s a start.

How do you check for comprehension when you haven’t read the book yourself?  Below are a few general questions (for fiction texts) you can ask your child in this case.

  1. If you could be any character in the story, who would you be?  Why?
  2. What is the setting (where and when) of the story?  How is it like or unlike where you live?
  3. Which character in the story reminds you of someone you know?  Tell why.
  4. Is there a part of the story you would change?  Tell why.
  5. If you were the author, would you have solved the problem in a different way?  Explain.

I hope to post some online resources for you tomorrow regarding book lists on different grade levels.


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