Thursday, May 14, 2015

Age Appropriate Books

The other day I was in a hurry and I ran to our school's book room to grab a good book for my fourth grade reading group. They are reading on a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) level 3 (the level expected for the end of kindergarten). These are students in the intellectual disability program, so their reading is significantly below grade level, although they are making slow but steady progress. It is hard to choose books for them because so many of the books at the lower levels are written for kindergarten and first grade students. I flipped through the pages of a book about models, saw some pictures of objects like a real boat, a car, and a house and decided it would be OK. Models are something older kids can get into. 

Sitting down with the reading group I quickly realized there were pages I hadn't read. As we walked through the book to work on the vocabulary my students and I saw the juvenile pictures of toys in the book at the same time. We looked at the picture of a real boat and we assumed there would be a picture of an exact model boat on the next page. The book, after all, is called, My Models. Yet when we turned the page we didn't see a model at all. We saw a plastic baby toy. We all sat staring silently at the toy boat on the page, as though it was giving us the middle finger. I apologized to the students, and explained that I thought the book was going to be about actual models- not toys. Especially not toys for preschoolers. 

All I have from these kids is their effort. They have been reading at a level 3 all year, and while I will try to push them up level 4, 6, and 8, we often fall back to the level 3. They are applying all the strategies readers  need to be able to read- checking the picture, the first letter, thinking about the story, looking for parts of the word they know. Reading is significantly harder for them than it is for other students and they know it. The one thing I don't need to do is remind them that despite how ridiculously hard they are working, they are still reading on the level of a kindergarten student.

Finding age appropriate books at their reading level is surprisingly harder than it should be. And it isn't just a problem for the students in the intellectual disability class. We often get students who are brand new to the country and to speaking English, sometimes from war-torn countries where they were not able to go to school in their home language. These kids also use the lower level books. You can imagine what it's like to hand a street-smart, new-to-school fourth grader a book like this and expect them to happily read it. If we want these kids to buy into what we're selling, we have to give them something worthwhile.

My school has an amazing book room, and we are frequently updating it so it's not that we aren't looking for age appropriate books. It seems they just aren't out there. If you know of some that are out there, please share.

Otherwise, my plead to the publishers is to please make some books at lower levels that will appeal to older children. I'd be happy to help. In fact, I have lots of ideas about topics older students would like. 

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