Friday, May 13, 2011

The Library for Struggling Readers/ Pt. 1

This way to the Bedford Public Library.

Although my classroom was considered a total loss, our library rode out the storm with all of our collection in tact.   If I had ever to choose between the survival of the two, the library would win every time.  

If you have not yet created an alliance with your librarian, now is the time to rethink your relationship.   If you are a language arts teacher, your librarian can make your job a whole lot easier for you.   I know that sounds tantalizing.

The middle school has a big case of middle child syndrome.   And being in the middle means that some kids are really more "high school" or more "elementary school" when it comes to literacy, so the library has to be all-inclusive and downright spectacular.   There needs to be something in your library for every one of your students to read independently and successfully.

There's something called the ZPD in the educational world...the Zone of Proximal Development.   Stay with me; it's simple to grasp.   There's a range in which each reader can function independently and grow.   Additionally, there's a higher range in which each reader can function with support and grow.   In math terms, you would not hand a child who had conquered pre-algebra a math analysis text and expect mastery without providing support.  

It's also good to remember that your struggling readers are hungry for success, even if they don't show it.   How would you feel about getting on the school bus every day to go to a place that pushed you past your frustration level hour by hour, a place where you never felt like you knew anything, a place where it looked like no one was having the difficulties you were having and a place that gave yearly standardized tests that you consistently failed in spite of your best efforts?   That sure could eat away at my soul.

I'm not saying that schools should lower our standards, but as teachers, we need to meet struggling kids where they are when it comes to independent reading.   Leave whole-class instruction for stretching least until they get their sea-legs.   Give them some pre-reading strategies to help them tackle the stories in the literature book.   Model the skills that a good reader possesses.   Eighth grade is year that we need to zoom below-level readers as close to being on-level readers a.s.a.p.   The high school literature book waits for no one.   You know that for sure!

By eighth grade, most teens have entered the developmental stage during which they want to start focusing on who they are and what they think about their world.   This is why the teen problem novels fly off of the shelves.   It doesn't matter that the problem is not the reader's current problem; they want to see realistic portrayals of teens negotiating the world independently.   You'll notice that young adult novels are often devoid of adult main characters.   This would be too easy.   In reality, most children do have some adult role models to turn to for help, but in literature, readers want to see characters solve problems on their own.

If you have limited library funds, I would start with the teen problem novel to beef up your collection for 8th graders.   You would also need to investigate high-interest/ low-level books.   Now, teen problem novels aren't always great literature, but sometimes they are.   So, don't turn your nose up at them too least, not in front of the students.   The Hi/Lo Bluford Series of books is well-loved by many students who are not quite ready for reading a longer novel on their own.   Girls love Sarah Dessen, Lurlene McDaniel, Beatrice Sparks and Jacqueline Woodson.   Boys love Gordon Korman, R.L. Stein, Neal Shusterman, Dav Pilkey and Todd Strasser.   And vampires...anything short with vampires, since Twilight is probably too big for them right now.   Besides, they already saw the movie.

If you are really low on library funds, then focus on Gordon Korman.   His writing covers a lot of ground, and girls will read his books.   If you are choosing a title for a novel study, No More Dead Dogs will appeal to a variety of readers.    Here's his official website:

In closing, everyone loves to be able to decide how they would like to spend their days.   For the most part, school is not designed that way, nor would it be able to function successfully that way.   Creating a time for free-choice self-selected reading (within reason, of course) helps teens on their journey to self-discovery.   It gives them practice in decision-making and a voice in their course of study.   By meeting them where they are, we honor who they are today.  

Note: If your school is looking for an assessment to identify students' reading levels, I recommend the Gates-MacGinitie.   It gives you a vocabulary and comprehension level separately.   Ignore the composite score because it can muddy the issue.   It's a great tool to measure growth from year to year.  
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