Saturday, February 27, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: Is this the right book for an 11 year old?

There's been two different topics rolling around today about age-appropriate books. As the owner of a large classroom library, and the teacher of students ranging in age from 9 to 12, this is an interesting topic. As the teacher of many gifted readers, it's an even bigger topic.

The first topic deals with Barnes and Noble's new partnership with Common Sense Media, which basically gives an age appropriate rating with dot points about why is earned that rating. The big problem with this is a book like Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, is not 'green lit' until children are 14. This is a book written for, and most relevant to our 'tweens' who are facing the same thing Margaret and her friends face.

The second topic is about gifted readers. The writer comments on watching literature circles where eight year olds wrestle with The Giver. The gist of the piece is that just because students are able to read more advanced/complicated texts, they may not be able to fully comprehend them. (Mostly due to their lack of background knowledge).

This is an interesting and important topic to deal with. I, personally have a huge range of books in my room. Some of them are 'appropriate' for all students, some of them are more specialised and I wouldn't neccessarily recommend them to all students. But the power of choice, with students picking the books they read, is that they usually pick up a book that is appropriate and relevent to them - and they put them down if it turns out they're not.

I'm also very lucky that I have wonderful parents who have faith in what I recommend, often read along with their kids, and also provide books to their children. I have one student who is advanced in both reading and his thinking. Last year he read all the Dan Brown books after his mother bought them for him. He mixes adult books with a range of easy and more challenging (to him) childrens and young adults books, and is able to talk about all in an informed and sophisticated manner.

I read most of the books I put into the classroom. I know what issues might come up, and I'm prepared to talk to parents and children as required. I haven't, however, had any parents come in to ask about the books their kids are reading! There is one book I wasn't sure about, so I've loaned it to the parent to read for her to make the informed decision. On top of this I know the students quite well, both as readers and as people, which makes it easier to make sure the appropriate book is in the right hands.

I don't think that this is one true way on this. As a reader myself, I began reading adult novels when I was 9 years old. Sometimes gifted students want that extension or that peek into a different world that adult novels can give them. What I do think is that its important that a) we give readers the right to choose what they read - so that if something is not right for them they do not have to read it and that b) we read alongside our students and children - so we know what they are reading and they can ask us questions if they need to.

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2 comments:

Alison said...

As usual, I largely agree with your take on this topic. A couple things I'd add, however. 1) So much of matching books to readers is related to the timing. I've encountered several books that I didn't really like the first time I attempted to read them, but I later came to appreciate the books. My first grade teacher, for example, identified me as a gifted reader and made me read C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." I hated it then, but I really like it now. It's all so dependent on the timing and the individual reader, and I do think there's something to be said for the philosophy of just because they can read it doesn't necessarily mean they should. I'm all for letting students make choices, but I also want to make sure they're making good choices. A student may comprehend a book "well enough" and maybe even enjoy it, but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't have enjoyed it even more later on in his reading life. And while I'd love for my students to re-read all of their favorite books, I also know that's not very common, especially when there are so many great books out there competing for time and attention. 2) I think too many kids today are in a massive rush to grow up, and in the process, they miss out on so many great children's books. I would be a tad disappointed to have a student leap to the Dan Brown novels without having her first experience The Westing Game or some Nancy Drew mysteries. If the alternative is that the student just won't read at all, then I'd obviously say "read every Dan Brown book you can get your hands on, and here's John Grisham while you're at it," but that never seems to be the case. If the parents want to support that reading at home, that's perfectly fine with me. There are so many other books my gifted students could be reading now that are written for their age, though, so that's what I tend to keep in my classroom. My Twilight collection (which would spread like wildfire among my gifted girls) stays on my bookshelf at home.

I don't think our classrooms are the ones where this is really a problem. What scares me most are the ones where the teachers never read what their students are reading and make literature circle selections based on reading level only. I doubt the teacher in the article about The Giver had given much thought to how her students would interpret "stirrings," and it would be sad if the exposure to the book at a young age meant that they missed out on even richer conversations about it later on.

Just my two cents...

A Reader's Community said...

It's all so dependent on the timing and the individual reader, and I do think there's something to be said for the philosophy of just because they can read it doesn't necessarily mean they should.

I think this is the absolute key to it, and probably what I was trying to say but didn't quite get out :) It's got to be about the individual. Last year I had two young gifted readers - one was ready -maturity wise - to read some (younger) young adult books, the other consumed a heavy diet of classics and Trixie Belden. It worked so well for both of them. When we get to know our students and we provide them with choice, age appropriateness becomes less of an issue.

What I love about the student who read Dan Brown is that he'll read everything that hints of being good. He was fascinated by the themes in Dan Brown, but also by those in Totally Joe which he recently read. He gains a lot from both, because he has the choice to read them.

A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

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