Monday, April 9, 2012

What About Chapter Books?

This weekend I was looking through my twitter list of grade one teachers and I stumbled across a conversation between @Komos72 and @CathyMere around chapter books in grade one.  While I was trying to read their conversation (it took place before I was on line), it wasn't that easy because others were in the conversation too but not on my list.  This meant I couldn't read what they were writing.

I tweeted to them to let them know of my intrigue and they sent me to their blog posts.  Laura's post was written first, and it inspired Cathy to write hers.  Well to no surprise I need to add to the conversation too (yes, another side effect of twitter for me - I like to put my two cents in every where these days).  So here goes...

What About Chapter Books?

Laura writes about her dilemma with chapter books in her grade one classroom.  Some of her students are ready for them but others are not but are choosing them anyhow. Kathy adds to the conversation by talking about how that jump to chapter books may be too soon even for those that are ready for them because it means the departure from quality picture books being read.  She also talks about what the "developing readers" are really doing with the chapter books that they have chosen and are obviously too challenging for them.  She continues by talking about balancing reading.

Then there's a third person that has been playing with my thinking on this topic,  Carrie Gelson.   Carrie works in an inner city school in Vancouver and  is very passionate about literature, picture books in particular. She is so passionate in fact, that her husband proposed to her via picture book.  She's helping me look at books another way too.

So where do I stand on the topic of chapter books entering just right book boxes even if my students aren't ready to read them?

My students all have their own just right book boxes.  I fill them with their guided reading books, and they fill them with books that intrigue and interest them.  We have worked on how to chose a just right books.  Unlike Laura we don't go shopping every week for new books, but I think maybe I should add that into my program some how.  They are free to add and change as they see fit. For some that happens regularly, for others not regularly enough.  Mind you I'd freak if I was asked to return weekly the books that I want to read and just haven't gotten to yet.

What I do stress about their boxes is that most of the books have to be at their just right level.  But I also stress that it's okay to hold onto a book that is obviously too easy for them because it's an old favourite.  In addition they know that it's okay to have a book in their boxes that is too hard for them too because it's a book they are curious about.  I can't imagine telling my students that they can't have a book in their boxes that they would love to be able to read but just aren't there yet.  If they are internally motivated to want to learn to read a book that is too difficult for them, I say go for it!

That's where I sit on the chapter book in our just right book box dilemma.  Since I'm okay with my students having a book in their book box that is obviously too difficult for them, I should be okay with that book being a chapter book.  The key is that most of their book box is filled with books at their just right level.

The more I think about it the more I actually like the fact that they have one challenging book in their book boxes.  Twice a week I invite all their  parents (and younger siblings) into my classroom to read with them.  What a perfect time to share that "too difficult for the student but the student really wants to read it" book.  In addition we have free reading time where children can choose to read with one another.  How powerful it is to see a further developed reader share a challenging book with a less developed reader.

So how does Carrie and what she writes on her blog fit into all of this?  As I said above Carrie is passionate about books, and to be perfectly honest Laura and Cathy are too.  The focus of Carrie's blog is about sharing great (picture) books she discovers.  I've only been following her blog for a short time but already I feel like I'm doing  a disservice to my students by not sharing this incredible literature with them.  Reading Laura, Cathy, and Carrie's blogs I realize that as passionate as I am about teaching, and teaching reading in particular, I'm not as passionate as I could be.  When my students are choosing books for their just right book boxes I want them to be as passionate about books as Carrie, Laura, and Cathy are.  I want them to be able to choose a more challenging book because it motivates them to want to become a better reader so that they can truly enjoy what that story has to offer them.  I want them to continually strive to become better readers, and to read better quality literature. If enticing them with really good literature that may be too difficult for them to read on their own then so be it.  It's the passion we are all after in the end isn't it?  Passion is what keeps us motivated and happy.

How do you deal with just right book boxes in your classroom?


  1. So glad you joined the conversation. I love when conversations go across blogs, and I can read someone's thinking in more than 140 characters. I like that you say students fill their bags with books that "intrigue and interest" them. I think "just right" can mean a lot of things so I've been trying to rethink my definition a bit --- expand it, I guess. Being interested in something can make a book more within a reader's grasp. Having background knowledge can make a book that might be challenging a little easier. There are just so many factors. I think you're right, we just want our children to be excited about reading and want to spend time with books. I love that you have families in to read with your students. What a terrific idea! I can tell you are already passionate about reading, books, and your students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Karen

    First of all thanks for all of the positive feedback. My class is a Grade 2/3 so there is a real variety of readers in my room. I have everything from picture books, to non-fiction, to graphics, to comics to early chapter books to full out middle grade readers available. I find that I am always working with students to have a balanced reading diet. Sometimes they choose what is beyond them and quite quickly figure that out. We celebrate the trying and the longing to read something that might just be a little out of reach. I also feel that many picture books have concepts and words that are more challenging than say an early reader such as Nate the Great. So really a chapter book does not always signify a progression to a "harder book." On my blog I have a section of titles for children ready to move a little beyond and I like to start with these type of titles with many kids: Ease into Reading Ready for Chapters -
    As for the passion for reading that is the key thing. The devotion of time to book talk, share and be crazy passionate about books in our classrooms. I believe we need to create an environment where students are swept away by book love. That requires us to know our books and always be excited to share something new! New is always new to our readers - not always the latest and greatest. keeping up with book blogs where book passion is shared is one of my favourite things. Becoming part of a reading community transfers to our students. I'm sure our future conversations could be all about books and we would find much to talk about!

  3. Thank you ladies for being so passionate about books. It truly keeps me inspired to do the best I can for my students. :-)