New reading fight on ‘just right’ books

Common Core standards have opened a second front in the Reading Wars, writes Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee. Unlike most state standards, which were “vague and virtually meaningless,” the new standards ask that “all students be exposed to and asked to analyze grade-appropriate texts, with scaffolding as necessary.”

No one likes war, but this is an important fight that’s worth having. And it’s one that has been put off for too long.

. . . There have long been two very different schools of thought about the best way to organize curriculum and instruction in literature. On one side are those who believe that reading comprehension will improve if teachers assess students’ individual reading levels and give them a bevy of “just right” books that will challenge them just enough to nudge them to read slightly more challenging texts. Yes, teachers do provide some guidance and instruction, but that instruction is limited. In essence, the book choice is leveled to meet the student where he or she is; the “heavy lifting” of reading is placed squarely on the students’ shoulders.

On the other side are those who believe that reading comprehension improves as domain-specific content knowledge deepens and students are exposed to increasingly complex literature and nonfiction texts. Here the role of the teacher is more pronounced, and instruction more explicit. The instruction, not the text, is scaffolded to meet the students where they are.

Common Core’s call for teaching challenging texts to all readers is “a sweeping change that holds enormous promise for improving the quality of ELA curriculum in America’s classrooms, she writes. However, “just right’ advocates are trying to co-opt the new standards to keep their “existing — and poorly aligned — materials” in the classroom.

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.