Arrested (Reading) Development?

Is it possible to skip developmental levels in reading?

My classes of accelerated sophomores read books of their own choosing for part of each class period. I’ve noticed that quite a few of them choose books below their reading level, not to mention that being in an accelerated class presumably means that they have above average interest and ability in language arts. Reading books for pleasure that are below grade level doesn’t particularly bother me. Maybe they just need something easy in their intellectual lives. Still, I would prefer to see them reading above grade level rather than below it.

Many of these sophomores told me that they stopped reading for pleasure somewhere between fifth and seventh grade. Now I see students picking up where they left off, although they are chronologically older than the reading level of the books they are choosing. This makes me wonder if students who read for pleasure follow a certain developmental pattern that, if interrupted, simply resumes at the point of interruption.  Because I’m going to try this same approach with regular-level senior next year, and the differential is likely to be even more stark, I’m interested in how to go about helping students bridge this gap. 

As teachers, we want to challenge young readers to move toward more difficult texts while not messing up the pleasure of their pleasure reading.  These “resuming readers” need books that are at their grade level in terms of reading difficulty but at their maturity level in terms of content.

Teri Lesesne’s brilliant book Reading Ladders delves into various ways to link what a student is currently reading to books that are increasingly challenging. The ladder metaphor is also useful in thinking about whether skipping developmental reading levels is possible or valuable. When climbing a ladder, we need each rung in order to reach the top. Skipping rungs while climbing a ladder is both dangerous and maybe even make the climb impossible. Maybe we’ll reach the top if we skip a rung or two, but doing so makes it more likely that we will slip backwards or suffer a fall that makes future climbing attempts less likely.

I’m glad these sophomores have resumed reading. That’s the most important thing. Now how do I move them toward reading more challenging books that they will still enjoy?

Cross-posted on English Companion Ning

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2 Responses to Arrested (Reading) Development?

  1. Karen says:

    What a great conversation this would be with them.


  2. Julie says:

    I came to the same conclusion about students reading for pleasure 2 years ago. I teach 2 sections of 8th grade literature and run the school library. I noticed that the kids were soldiers about reading their assigned texts, but they rarely read for pleasure. Some could not tell me the last book they read but were earning great grades in literature and could easily define personification. I read Nancy Atwell’s book and decided to change my class to exactly the format you’ve described. I really enjoyed it, and kids that never wanted to check out a book were finishing book after book–even talking about books. Then we bean To Kill a Mockingbird as a class and temporarily dropped independent reading time. The kids by in large told me they preferred the classroom novel. I was very disappointed to hear this. They certainly read more during workshop, I just wish they enjoyed it.


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