Teaching reading when one size does not fit all
I love the experience of reading a novel together as a class. We laugh together, we feel sad together, and together, we develop a shared love for brave characters who face significant challenges with humor and grace. It’s also a useful touch point as we develop our understanding of literature. When a student draws a connection between a poem and Charlotte’s selfless acts to save Wilbur, we all know what she means.
What to do when one size does not fit all
A drawback to an entire class reading one novel is that it won’t match the reading level for each student.
I tackle this challenge in two ways.
Read the novel aloud
We “share read” about half to two-thirds of the novel. Students read along in their individual copies while the text is read aloud by a fluent reader. Also, I get the audio book version from the library because I think a professional actor is much more interesting to listen to than me, but teachers can also read the text aloud as students read silently in their own novels. Playing a CD also allows me to circulate the room easily without pausing the flow of reading.
Before we read the novel, I have read it myself and marked the sections that are most critical to the plot, theme, or character development. I make sure to read these parts together so all students have the best chance of comprehending them. During and after reading, we discuss and respond in writing to text-based questions. Because we have read the text aloud, all students can participate in the discussion and feel success in drafting their written responses. My class has had some wonderfully insightful conversations about the text in which students of all reading levels feel confident participating.
Carefully select portions for independent reading
To challenge my students who are on or above grade level, I select portions of the novel to read independently. We do not independently read portions that are essential to the theme or plot as I want to give developing readers every chance at comprehending these sections. Reading independently gives advanced readers a chance to move at their own pace and puts the heavy lifting (brain-wise) on the students. I have found that sprinkling independent reading into the middle of a novel also benefits students who may be just below the reading level of the novel. Their comprehension and background knowledge developed during shared reading provides strong supports as they read independently. Students respond to text-based questions after reading independently. These responses help me understand and monitor their independent reading levels.
I have found that mixing shared and independent reading helps our class get the most out of a class novel. It’s also extremely important for students to read books at their level and to choose their own books – more posts to come on these topics!