Ashley (comment #29),
You asked if my students are allowed to read books above or below their level if the book is of interest to them. The answer is yes, but let me explain.
First of all, students are always allowed to read books below their "just right" level, as long as they are not consistently reading books that are too "easy" for them. I encourage my students to choose books close to their "just right" level whenever possible, but reading below their level when they find a book in which they are really interested in reading is totally “allowed” and even encouraged. Reading for enjoyment is of the utmost importance, even if that means the book may be too easy at times. The goal is to help my students grow a love of reading.
Reading books above their "just right" level, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. As a teacher, I want my students to be able to read about the topics in which they are most interested. Choice is certainly a main component to any successful reading workshop. All teachers have students whose low reading level does not always match their high interest level. In these cases, both the teacher and the student can become frustrated when it comes to choosing books. However, I know that my students will not become better readers by reading books that are too challenging for them. There is so much research that shows that students who regularly read books that are too challenging become frustrated readers whose confidence and interest in reading begins to decline. However, if a student really wants to read a certain book above his or her level, I allow them to do so on a trial basis, as long as the book is somewhat close to his or her "just right" level. When finished reading the book, I these students to really reflect on their reading of the book and determine if they thought the book was too hard. Usually students realize the book is too challenging (and not enjoyable), and they are less likely to continue choosing books that are above their level. However, I do like to make my students feel like they are in control of their reading. On many occasions, students will begin trying out some books that are slightly above their "just right" level as a way to determine if they think they are ready to move up. After trying out multiple books at a higher level, I meet with the student to determine if the student is ready for a higher level. (Of course I also take into account my own observations of the reader based on individual conferences and guided reading groups.)
In some cases, I use our school library or public library to find more appropriate books for students whose low reading level prevents them from reading books about certain topics in my classroom. For instance, one of my lowest readers is especially interested in space, but many of the space books in my classroom library are well above his level. I found a great set of easier planet books from our school library that I checked out to use in my classroom for a month.
On some occasions, students will inevitably have to read above their "just right" level. For instance, my students are starting a research project where they will be studying a country of their ancestors. Since I can’t find enough "easy" books on the many different countries, it is my hope that they will use the strategies that they were taught during my nonfiction unit of study in reading workshop to compensate for increased difficulty of the texts they will be reading.
I hope this comment has answered your question!
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