Are ‘just right’ books wrong for readers?

Common Core Standards have set off a debate about what students should read in class, reports Education Gadfly. A new book, Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading, argues against  assigning “just right” texts written at a student’s individual reading level. Instead, it calls for assigning “grade-appropriate” texts with special help for below-grade readers.

“Just right” texts don’t frustrate struggling readers, but they don’t challenge them either, the book argues. Teachers can help poor readers understand challenging texts, the authors write.

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  1. Perhaps that makes sense if you don’t expect children to read outside of a school context; or if you don’t think that’s important. But if your goal is to create students who want to read, unless the teacher is going to be following the kid home to help, it seems appropriate to try to get books into the kid’s hands that excite him about reading. As close to grade level as possible, above his reading level if possible, but if the book isn’t engaging you may be narrowing down the child’s reading to whatever limited number of minutes the teacher has to coach the student in class.

    You get better at reading through practice.

  2. palisadesk says:

    Well, whatever they’re doing now sure isn’t working. Data show the weakest readers spend on average 6 minutes a day reading at school. That’s less than 10% of instructional time.

    “Just right” books are for independent reading, while more challenging reading is quite appropriate for the classroom, especially if supportive technology (e-readers, text-to-speech software, online reading programs) and pre-teaching of vocabulary and background knowledge make the text accessible to students.

    • palisadesk says:

      Oops, that’s supposed to be 2% (approximately). Exact number of instructional minutes varies by district.

  3. I really like the “No Fear Shakespeare” series that offers the original language on the left page with a “plain English” translation on the right page. I think they are a great teaching tool and wish there were similar books for other challenging literary classics.

    • lightly seasoned says:

      I know I’m a horrible snob, but “No Fear Shakespeare” makes me cringe.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    lightly. I suppose jamming renaissance english down a fifth-grader’s throat would make you feel better?
    Hell, I got a lot out of Classic Comics going on sixty years ago and when I got the real thing in school, I had some context to help me through long, convoluted sentences and scenes.
    I tried, some time back, to go through all of Shakespeare. Sat in the den with my pipe and some easy music and after about ten minutes, I found I was subvocalizing the text without actually understanding it.
    So give us plebes a break. Performances I can follow.
    That being said, the key to getting kids to read during times when they’re not being coerced–in school–is get them books which interest them and pushing PC themes which are counterintuitive even to fourth graders will not do it.
    I used to live for the day of the month my Landmark book arrived. Are they still around? Anyway, there were stories about Mounties, D-Day, Gettysburg (by Mackinley Cantor, not too shabby) pioneers, all kinds of interesting stuff.
    I think my parents had a choice each month from a considerable number of titles.
    I recall reading about conditional absolution and the Irish Brigade, which is not to be sniffed at when presented to a sixth grader.
    A little older and there’s my favorite, Sutcliff.

    • lightly seasoned says:

      Um, yes. I think kids are smart when it comes to language.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “I used to live for the day of the month my Landmark book arrived. Are they still around?”

      Sorta. Some of them have been reprinted (e.g. “The Wright Brothers” by Quentin Reynolds). And the imprint has been used to issue new books (that are not, in my opinion, on average up to the quality of the originals). But most of them are out of print 🙁

      A lot of the older ones are available via e-Bay.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Mark. Thanks. I have a couple of grandkids whose parents are trying to wean off the video games, and a couple younger for whom I might assemble some of the good old ones.
        Some years ago, my wife was assigned to teach some kind of remedial reading in HS, probably because it was closer than juvie. She wheeled in a cart of the paperbacks provided by the school and let the kids read, as long as they were quiet. I looked at some of them. What crap. “Catcher in The Rye” had been done but there was no shortage of the theme of how the world is cruel to kids who are bullied. Not sure why that was news to HS kids.
        Kenneth Roberts might be a good one for the older types.
        Cohen had some this and that, one way and another, to say about him in “Conquered into Liberty”. I’ll have to think about that.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Lightly. You have me there. To disagree would be to say Bad Things about the sainted Kids. Boy, that’s a tough spot to be in. You know, the Kids who have a passive vocabulary half that of fifty years ago, according to a Time mag article and my wife who’s taught since the early Seventies.
    Shakespeare wrote for adults. The lowest class was the groundlings, which is to say the cheap seats, probably middle-class tradesmen. Not, try to follow here, children. He wrote five hundred years ago. He referenced affairs in the Med. You’d have to have a Bulfinch handy to catch some of his references. He spoke of varieties of royalty whose hierarchy is not at all clear to educated American adults today.
    “not so deep as a well” What’s a well and why is it deep? It’s kind of a stupid thing to say if you’ve been gutted, isn’t it? Anybody know why men try to go out with style? The Few of Britain faking heedless good cheer and puking behind the hangar before burning to death in their cockpits? I know, I know, the Battle of Britain came after Shakespeare. Sorry to beat you to an obfuscation. It’s an example of a way of dying. Or at least how we’d like to, if we could.
    You’ll note that, as kids progress through school, they’re supposed to know more at each stage, which is to say if you go back through the stages, they know less.
    Well, if you think kids can and should read stuff written for adults because they’re “smart” about language, you can probably get one of the gizmos California will no longer be using on geese to make foie gras.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Lightly. I’ve helped chaperone trips to the Shakespeare biz at Stratford, ON. I think the kids–jrs and srs, self-selected for the four hour bus ride–got something out of it. But the plays chosen were lighter ones, Much Ado, so forth. And played wide and, as the actors said in the Q&A afterwards, these performances were gaited to the kids, since this was a performance for school kids. Apparently these pros can make such adjustments. Amazing. But the heavy ones, Macbeth, were not on the schedule.
    Teach it, don’t teach it. IMO, better to teach various issues like history and some old, if not archaic, English vocab, among other things, so that the kids can understand the stuff when they get old enough to read it.
    “not so deep as a well”. Nice line. You ever go into the idea of men wanting to go in style, to be remembered? No? What the hell do you think it’s there for? “Molon labe”. “We will make up” from HMS Ulysses. “East today, Skip?” “Berlin’s that way, isn’t it?” My guess is that at least some of your colleagues would get the vapors at the very idea.