Writer’s Workshop

What Matters Most For Struggling Readers… they have to have a lot of time with “just right” books.

If children read books above their level, they are struggling. This means…” reading is kinda hard”. Therefore, they can get turned off to reading and think they don’t really like it that much.

Assessments – finding students’ “just right” reading level
Teachers do periodic reading assessments. They concentrate on the following:

  • Decoding words (miscues or mistakes they are making)
  • Fluency (reading word by word or in longer phrases – smoothly sounds like talking)
  • Comprehension (ask to retell, ask details, and then inferential questions. What happened,

    then why did it happen? Something that isn’t stated in the text)
    Teachers have a reading assessment kit that tell them the characteristics of each level (A-Z). You can ask them about your child’s level.

    An example…Level “A” would be a simple pattern book. “Dad is painting. Dad is reading.” Sight word, sight word, then a new word that the picture helps to support.

    A lot of kids can read high level books and the way they read it sounds like they understand it all. However, if you ask them questions, you can tell they didn’t understand it. Reason for lower level is

    usually comprehension. Parents can help at home by asking questions, asking them to retell, and coming up with your own inferential questions.

    Kids will say it’s a “just right” book just because they want to read them. An example was her niece who wants to read Junie B Jones. Her niece is in first grade, but she doesn’t understand all the vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. She will eventually get there, but…
    If kids read books that are too hard for them, that’s not going to help them grow as readers.

    Why does it take so long to do assessments?
    Let’s say your child’s reading level is “N”. If you start at “H”, they’ll be taking tests “I”, “J”, “K”, “L”, and “M” before settling at “N”.

    Kids may have advanced and teachers haven’t gotten to testing them yet. A lot of kids (especially in first grade) move through a lot of levels quickly.

    How do kids evaluate levels of books themselves?

    Teachers tell kids to use the “Five Finger Rule”.
    Start reading the book. Every time they get to a word they don’t know, they should hold up a finger.

    If they quickly get to five or more, the book is too hard.

    Parents can use these websites to look up Guided Reading Level (A-Z) books:
    Scholastic Book Wizard – this one is good because it has age interest level as well (example: Level Q, but for 2nd graders)
    Permabound http://www.perma-bound.com
    Booksource http://booksource.com
    Fountas and Pinell http://www.fountasandpinnellleveledbooks.com
    Level It app $1.99 – scan the book https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/level-it-books/id584413429?mt=8

    This site has great book lists by level: http://readingandwritingproject.com/resources/book-lists-classroom-libraries-and-text-sets-for- students.html

    For higher level readers – books shouldn’t have characters that are more than 2 years older than the


Also important to let them read higher level books, but read with them.
There are different kinds of reading…Reading to them , reading with them, listening to them read to you, or reading by themselves.

Always helpful to read to your kids. With upper grades you think it’s not helpful, but it’s a good time to continue. They can pick whatever books they want, but you can take the difficult parts on and you can stop and discuss hard vocabulary or important issues.

Structure of Reader’s Workshop

Gather for mini-lesson 8 to 12 minutes. Teach one strategy – for example, how readers can make a movie in their minds. Think “have I ever been to place that looks like this?”. Then kids go on their own and teacher goes one by one to kids for conferencing. Or small groups. Teacher might notice their inferential reading isn’t so hot, group those kids together to work on that.

They can come with books from different levels and it doesn’t matter because the same strategy works for all the levels.

Likes to have kids work in pairs. It increases independence and gives the kids another audience (esp with writing). Kids are like “I want my teacher to read my piece” but there are 27 kids so she/he doesn’t have time to read all of them every single day.
In reading, also good to learn to talk about it together because that’s what we do in real life. Kids need to experience reading as a social activity. Might be a little idealistic, but still…
Book clubs are good because they encourage you to read books you would not have normally chosen.

Then it’s “teaching share” to close up the workshop. Highlight a student that did something great or a student that practiced what was talked about that day. Or talk about a lesson that was a while ago that a lot of kids are forgetting to do (punctuation). Or could be about management issues (like today it was really noisy and someone said they couldn’t focus).

Why is it important to build the classroom libraries?
Kids have choice (as opposed to everyone reading the same story in the textbook). They can follow their own interest and learn to read independently. Doesn’t matter what the mini lesson is about (character, how to make predictions and connections. Or, in nonfiction, how to determine important ideas, how to pull out new info, etc) the lesson applies to any levels and and any book.

There are different kinds of reading: Reading to learn, reading to share, reading to entertain, reading to relax, and reading to talk. Reading to talk is really good for parents.

Emerging reader… Model and practice with finger under words. Get a fun pointer. Use pictures at the point of difficulty. Don’t cover the picture. Use the picture. What would make sense? Don’t try to sound word out.

Example: A book about cookies. Use pictures – don’t cover them up. Say the word is “flour” and kid tries to sound it out and says “feathers”. Stop and ask, “Would that make sense?”
Say it’s a book about birds and they say word “feathers” and word is really “wings”. Ask them, “Does that look right? What letter would that word start with? Feathers starts with “f” so, does that make sense?” Let them try, but if they can’t get it – just jump in and move on. Or give choices. Like “Does it say onions?” Kid would think “No- that doesn’t make sense.”

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Fun idea…Creating your own simple books with sight words and patterns. Use personal pictures. Your child as the main character.

Common Core Standards – example “find text evidence”. Where in the text did it show me….
“What kind of character is in this book? Show me where in the text it says that about the character?”

How do you think the character is feeling? In low level books, it might not say but you can see by the picture. “Oh, he’s feeling sad. Well, why do you think he’s feeling sad?” Is there a connection to their life? “Do you know anyone that this happened to or did something like that happen to you?” Then …”Why do you think that? Is it in the text?”

Different kinds of reading: to find things out, poetry, stories, don’t forget about nonfiction. CCStandards also starting to focus more on informational text. By 4th grade they want kids reading 50% informational, 50% narrative.
School looking into getting online account access to guided readers where you can search by reading level. Know informational not always popular… but they do have more choice by level on these websites.
To help them find information books, ask “What do you like…dogs? Let’s find books on dogs.” Public library has free online books. Don’t need Kindle or reader of any kind. Non-fiction selection at library is good, and current (unlike a lot of what we have in our library).

Concern for higher level readers…all the new vocabulary. Have to have strategy –context clues, substitute another word, what would make sense right here? Or…don’t know it? Jot it on a post-it and look it up later. Get in the habit of that. Ask your reading partner.

Ask child to retell. What happened first, middle, end. Then, little kids esp will tell you every detail. So you have to say “the story is mostly about…?”
Prompt teachers use: “Somebody wanted ____, but ____, so _____.”

Big misconception; Picture books are not for older kids. Lots of sophisticated picture books. Should change the culture that picture books are not just for babies. Put them in the 4/5/6 classroom libraries.

Then, Dahlia read a picture book aloud and explained some of her stategies.
When she reads out loud to class, and gets to a place that she can say “how do you think the character is feeling now?” she doesn’t ask them all – she says turn to your reading partner and tell them what you think the character is feeling. Because in class, there’s usually the one or two kids who feel comfortable shouting out or raising their hands.

Sometimes, she has kids stop and write what they think the character is feeling (or younger, draw it) “So what do you think is going to happen now? Tell your partner. Write it down.”

Good for kids to understand that there can be different kinds of thinking about the same book and there is no right answer, different evaluations are valid.

Place and time for reading – sometimes right before bed is not good because they are so tired – could be 5 minutes.

Just as kids can read at home, they can write at home as well. Make sure they have a special quiet place they can do this.

Can we find out characteristics of our kids’ level? Teachers were all given a Benchmark Assessment Kit. Libbie would love to add that to website.

Children’s Book World on Pico is a great resource – nice people who can help you find the right books and great selection.

Things Dahlia heard from parents to take back to teachers:

  • Don’t be so stringent about levels. Allow opportunities to browse and pick whatever, esp

    during library time. Library choice should not be about “just right” books.

  • Upper reading levels (X,Y,Z) with good content will be an on-going problem for the school.

    Since high level readers are also usually avid readers, we will need more choices. Most hIgher level books with appropriate interest level and content are fantasy. Realistic fiction topics are difficult and sometimes not appropriate for younger kids. Maybe the old-fashioned books are good for high level? Parents and teachers will need resources, lists, etc?

  • Picture books are cool.