We trust that students come to our classrooms ready to be agentive about their own growth as readers. Making choices about what to read is a key part of that growth. Choice motivates readers to engage with text, giving them the chance to try the skills and strategies we teach. But choice also helps readers to understand who they are as readers, what their preferences are, and their varied purposes for reading.
Choice is much more than simply picking a book to read for the next 20 minutes or the next week. By creating a choice-rich classroom environment, you are supporting students in cultivating an active reading life beyond the classroom. Sustaining a choice-rich classroom requires you to have a tremendous amount of trust: trust in your students as readers, the alluring power of text, the learning that comes from mistakes and in yourself to support readers as they think through their choices.
As you begin to conduct running records to assess students’ independent and instructional levels, here are some thoughts:
False choice is not choice. When Jen’s son was in kindergarten, she would often say, “blue pants or black pants?” when it came time to get dressed. She gave him a false choice to speed up the process, letting him feel as if he had some control in the situation. ( Please note that “no pants” was not a choice as she knew full well that that choice would be the winner.) In the classroom, limiting a student to picking from only a certain basket is a false choice.
Choice is for all students. Due to the logistics of the school schedule, there are students who do not get Independent Reading in the classroom and who do not get to choose their books. They are “pulled out” during Independent Reading, and they are limited to reading what the teacher gives them. Meanwhile, students who are perceived as being “high” or “above grade level” are allowed the luxury of reading a wide range of texts.
Choice is not something that has to be earned or is tied to a particular reading level. All students should have a say in what they want to read.
Choice means making mistakes. As adults, we pick books in a variety of ways. We pour over book reviews and keep track of our favorite authors. We get recommendations from friends with similar tastes. We grab a book from the library shelf because the cover attracts our attention. In all these cases, we sometimes find that a book keeps us up reading all night and sometimes we abandon a book after one chapter. Students do the same. Not every book they pick will be right for them. This does not mean that we should pick books for them. The experience of picking a book that is too long, too boring, or too confusing is crucial because readers learn for themselves when reading feels right and what to do when it doesn’t.
Students deserve the opportunity and time to make those mistakes so that they can learn about themselves as readers.
Independent does not mean alone. You might have organized a schedule that allows one group of students to book shop on their own while you are working with another group of students. Although that might seem efficient, we suggest being actively involved in the classroom library. You might kidwatch to learn more about a student’s process of picking books. You might know that one student needs suggestions, and you have some books already ready for them. You might follow up on a conference with a student. And of course, students can recommend books to one another.
Choice means that we need to know the books in the library and we need to be conferring around book choice.
How are you ensuring that all students get to choose books?
What do you see as your role in student book choice?