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September 23, 2009 Regarding "Just Right" Books By Victoria Jasztal

    This photo is of a student writing a journal entry.

    I am ready to be upfront with my audience. One of my biggest woes I have encountered so far this school year has been motivating students to choose "Just Right" books. I have watched many students make tremendous choices with the "five finger test" and by "interviewing" their books (looking at the front cover, back cover, and the contents inside), yet not all students have been making the greatest of choices.

    I have observed students for about a month now to see how they are making progress in this area. One of the boys in my class has done the "right thing" in this respect. A voracious reader of Harry Potter and fantasy books, he discovered the Nightmare Academy series by Dean Lorey. He read the first book, Monster Hunters, in the first few weeks of school and read another book this past week that challenged his thinking. He is now on the second book in Dean Lorey's series and is enjoying it. Another voracious reader who sits near him has read five or six books this year at school and home from a variety of genres from a 4th-6th grade level. She has read more difficult books before and knows that she wants to seek a book from our classroom library that will provide the appropriate challenge. They have written appropriate journal entries at home. On the other hand, I have looked at the three weeks of journal entries all my students have written and have seen where a few have changed books several times, writing basic summaries every time (despite what I have introduced in class). Perhaps that is what they have done in the past- or they have not journaled at all- so it is a great challenge to get them to make the correct choice without my guidance. I hope for my students to not just look at a cover and tell me that they chose the book because of the pictures or they chose Kingdom Keepers- Disney After Dark, for example, simply because they enjoy going to Disney World. It is also difficult to go to the school library, see students make good choices about their books, and never delve into them, returning them the following week. Unread.

    In the midst of stressing about this last night, I located a great article that encouraged me to think positively about this situation - This article included a wonderful letter I am going to distribute to parents at Open House tomorrow evening as well as a series of questions parents can reflect on with their children after they have read. I have also reflected on writings I have read from Scholastic contributor Franki Sibberson, who through her professional books and weblog entries encouraged me to work hard with my students this year to locate "Just Right" books in our classroom library. However, I wish I had as much patience as her!

    This year has been challenging because I have never implemented the idea of choosing "Just Right" books and journaling about it before. Sometimes one may look at the title of "Scholastic Teacher Advisor" and believe the advisor is somewhat of a sage on all playing fields, yet I am still a rookie in this respect. I am in my sixth year of teaching, and reflecting on the past five years, I was close to where I wanted to be in the second half of last year. However, I advised my students to choose all Newbery award winning books for a particular project and did not focus on choosing "Just Right" books earlier in the year like I should have. Those students were not required to read at home, which I wish I would have required because there is an extensive amount of research connecting independent reading time to achievement.

    Thank goodness I am focusing on improving this just after the first month of school rather than in the seventh or eighth month. To finish, I have a few questions for you-

    • Have you encouraged students to read "Just Right" books in your classroom? Have you experienced similar woes, and how did you work with your students to remedy them? If you conference with your students, how did you approach the conversation?
    • Is there a woe that you currently have where you would like to receive advice?

    I am positive all of us have been in a situation where we have been between "a rock and a hard place". I am also certain that at some point and time we have read extensively about a topic and have felt like we were prepared to implement the new ideas in our classrooms, yet it turned out the implementation was not like we originally intended. It may have turned out to be somewhat of a tedious or daunting task, causing us to "stress out".

    The greatest thing, though, is that we are in a profession where we are encouraged to voice our concerns and receive the greatest help we can from our colleagues to become more effective teachers.


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Susan Cheyney