Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rites of Passage... Chapter Books

The Babbling...
So, I have these ideas/thoughts/concerns all jumbled up in my head and need to get them out. And I am very curious to hear your feedback on all of it! :) I know that in upper grades, this probably isn't as much of a concern, but here in first...

Chapter books.

Why are they such an ordeal in first grade?! Is it such an ordeal? Is it okay for kids to be reading (longer) chapter books in first grade? Should there be guidelines for who can/can't add these books to their book tubs? Are first graders truly ready for the kinds of readers they need to be in order to successfully navigate longer chapter books?

These questions/concerns have been invading my brain all year. I know children MUST have choice in what they read. I believe this. My first graders have choice. But how much choice is too much?

After all of the reading and workshop-hopping I've done this year, I thought I might have an answer. Instead, I have more questions. (But that's a good thing, right?)

The Background
We have a full-day Kindergarten program in our district. 99% of our kids come to first grade after being in that full-day K. What this means is that most of them are already reading... so by January, there are quite a few who are at the point of wanting to be "chapter book readers." I know that many of them are absolutely ready to take on those longer books that require "stick-with-it-ness."

But what about the kids who aren't... and want to read those chapter books anyway? Am I hurting their reading development (especially comprehension) if they are reading those books but aren't ready? I've had conversations with students who are picking chapter books but aren't ever finishing them. I've had conversations with my one little boy who is barely ready for level E books (if I have to put a "level" on it,) and yet he insists on choosing chapter books.

We spend time each week discussing "good fit books." We know that involves much more than the level of text difficulty. My first graders are growing and learning. All but one are already meeting the end-of-the-year benchmarks for first grade. When we shop each week, I've asked children to choose most of their books from the "leveled" book tubs and then add just a few more from anywhere in our classroom library. My thinking is that this helps to add to the balance of what they're reading.

The Baskets
Right now, my chapter books are scattered across the classroom. Some are in the regular classroom library, in the "chapter books" bin or in a themed basket. A whole bunch are in my very generously "leveled" book boxes. I'm struggling with if I should keep it this way, or if I should start creating baskets of "series" books (for example, Geronimo Stilton, Magic TreeHouse, Puppy Place, etc.)

While I was thinking about this, I stumbled upon Beth Newingham's Third Grade classroom blog (wow!!) and her page on her classroom library. I think I need to give this a little more thought!

The Brilliance
Well, friends... here is where I need your help! How do you handle chapter books? Am I making more out of this than I need to? What advice do you have?


  1. I might be slightly biased. As a gifted resource teacher, I'm used to working with students who are already reading above grade level. I always find it frustrating to hear that there are books they "aren't allowed" to read yet. (Well, except for content, and that should be a decision that the parents weigh in on)

    It sounds like the chapter books you have scattered around the room are completely age appropriate, though. (Magic Tree House, Geronimo Stilton, etc are perfect for the little guys and gals) If they have already hit their benchmarks for first grade, then let them have at it.

    I like your idea of having them "balance" their reading by allowing them to choose some that you know ARE on their level and then letting them choose others that may be too hard.

    I've actually been thinking about this idea a bunch, and have a partially finished post discussing the idea of the "just right" book. Interest, background knowledge, all of these things factor in a LOT to the idea of what makes a book "right".

    If you have students who are frequently abandoning books, then have individual conferences with them.

    Anyway, just my two cents. :)

    1. We are totally on the same page, Maria! I always have those "gifted" kids on my radar and want to make sure they are getting their needs met (as we always seem to tailor everything towards the lower end of the class.) Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  2. I have been teaching first grade for eight years and still struggle with this! The first graders are OBSESSED with chapter books and it drives me batty! I let them look at chapter books during our morning work time which is what we do until everyone gets to the classroom. I also let them look at chapter books when they finish work early. However, during independent reading and Daily 5 I only allow them to read Good Fit books and teach them what this means and why it is SO important to read good fit books during independent reading time. Hope this helps :)

    1. Thanks for adding to the conversation! What made you decide to only let them read their good fit books during D5 time?

  3. I think it is perfectly ok for kids that are ready for them. Where I get frustrated (as a parent) is that at our elementary it is held up as a goal. You get to "move to" the chapter book section when you are a good reader. I think that sets it up as good (ch books) vs bad (picture books and early readers). I dislike that. At fifth I still have kids who pick books above their level. I do exactly what you are doing, conference w/ them ad nauseam. Good luck! I love that you are thinking about it.

    1. You made me feel SO much better, Katherine!! I totally agree that it shouldn't be held as the "ultimate goal" of reading. As adult readers, we still enjoy picture books! Meeting with them individually really helps me to have those conversations as needed. Thanks! :)

    2. Yes! Picture books and early readers shouldn't be seen as "less" than chapter books. As I mentioned, I have advanced readers. Even those kids - in fifth grade - will go back and read "easy" books like Big Nate and Bone. As long as their diet is varied, and includes more challenging books in addition to those books, I never have a problem with this.

  4. The guided reading piece of our workshop may make my take on this a bit biased...My first graders always have a ton of books from our guided reading groups in their book boxes so I let them have four books from our classroom library in their book boxes as well - those can be any four they want.

    I have one little friend who came to mind while reading this. He is struggling as a reader this year but insists upon having at least one chapter book, often a Time Warp Trio book, in his book box. I've noticed during independent reading that he will often try that book for a couple of minutes and then move on to a book he can read.

    Most of the time I think kids will choose to read books that fit them because it's not much fun to read books that are too hard. With the few that stubbornly stick to books that are too hard (or too easy, for that matter) I have conferences to address the issue.

    1. When I was doing guided reading in my room, kids did have those books to add to their tubs. Now that I'm working more from a conferring/strategy group model, I'm relying more on having them choose their own books. I have one little friend who sounds very, very similar to your Time Warp-loving friend! Continuing to confer with kids seems like the way to go.

    2. Hmm...I wonder how I would feel without their guided reading books. I love the idea of moving more to focusing on conferring but I'm not confident yet about how to manage that (on my end, not theirs!). This would be a very different question for me in that setting. Good luck!

  5. A couple of years ago I decided to embrace the idea of "chapter books" in my classroom by being a step ahead of my kids. I introduced the kids to "chapter" books like Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, Rex and Lily and other very early "chapter" books. I read these books in read aloud, I was able to talk about how to read "chapter" books, how they are similar and different, how some books have stand alone chapters, others have chapters that work together to tell the story, building stamina, and how to think about your reading. (Still Learning to Read by Franki is a great resource)

    These early "chapter" books are easily accessed in our classroom and in the media center. When the kids see these books as chapter books they choose them readily. I am happy because I know they are getting the support they need as they transition and the kids are happy they are reading "CHAPTER" books!

    This has worked very well 3 years running!

    1. Love this idea, Deb! I need to remember to focus more on these early chapter books in my read alouds. Your mini-lesson ideas are fabulous! I haven't read Franki's book but added it to my TBR list. Thank you!!

    2. I love reading those early chapter books (especially from series) to my class. Watching them all run in the school library over to the R section to find Henry & Mudge, Mr. Putter & Tabby, High Rise Private Eyes, and such by Cynthia Rylant or to find Fly Guy or Minnie & Moo makes my day.

    3. Jenny I agree watching the kids light up in these early chapter books makes me so happy! I hate to see them so eager to move away from all the great picture books, but at least I know they are making the transition with the tools necessary to take on this new reading.

      Of course I am hoping our time in PB was so exciting they will never truly leave our old friends!

  6. I am a fence rider on this one, Laura. All students see it as a goal to get into chapter books. Being seen with a chapter book is visual evidence that "I'm a good reader" to most students. The prior knowledge, inferring, visualizing and understanding of the figurative language and vocabulary are important aspects of reading chapter books. I've seen both first graders and fourth graders read the words and get the gist, but miss so many underlying peices of the story because they want to get through the book to get to the next book in the series. If we let them read without gaining all the meaning, not just the gist, this establishes their belief of what reading is. Your little chapter readers need very close observation to make sure they are getting it all. :-)

    " Just because they can, doesn't mean they should," I read somewhere once - Choice Literacy, I think.

  7. Laura,
    I really like this post. It's honest, and something we all have to figure out in our classrooms. Like wearing teenage clothes when you are in elementary school, my biggest concern about chapter books is that sometimes we rush kids there when there are so many amazing picture books. It seems often we forget that picture books can be as much challenge, and has much delight as picture books. I try to continually remind parents who often are the first to get excited about chapter books.

    That being said, I just try not to stress about this. I try to keep only chapter books out in the room that are appropriate for the readers in my classroom. Right now, they are mostly in character baskets in my classroom and I really don't make too much of a big deal about them. I try to talk about chapter books like they are any different than picture books except that they are longer and require a few adjusted reading strategies.

    This is a great conversation. As a matter of fact, as I was commenting I realized I was writing a post right here so I decided to go over to my blog to participate. Thanks for pushing my thinking Laura: