Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

When One Size Does Not Fit All: Making Newbery Literature Accessible for All Students

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

When One Size Does Not Fit All: Making Newbery Literature Accessible for All Students

Article excerpt

Raymond, a fourth grade student, is required to read four Newbery Medal or Honor books independently during the school year, as are all fourth graders in his school. His teacher is experienced and well meaning: her research-based teaching methods demonstrate an understanding of the value of independent reading, and she appreciates the proven quality of Newbery books. Nevertheless, as a reluctant reader, Raymond is attracted to a narrow range of books and he has a specific mental checklist when selecting a book to read. Is the length of the book less than 200 pages? Are there illustrations? Are the chapters short? Is the story about a boy?

An unenthusiastic reader like Raymond is just one example of the students we nurture in our diverse classrooms today, students who bring their individual characteristics and backgrounds to the texts they read. We know that our students are changing. Birth rates and immigration trends are affecting the demographic makeup of the United States overall and our classrooms in particular. In 1970, students in K-12 classrooms in the U.S. were 79% non-Hispanic White, 14% Black, 6% Hispanic, and 1% Asian or other races (Crouch &c Zakariya, 2007); however, by 2010, the pre-K-12 student population was 59% non-Hispanic White (Frey, 2011). Some estimates suggest that non-Hispanic Whites may make up less than 53% of the U.S. population by the year 2050 (Day, 2001).

Not only are the faces of our students changing, our classroom expectations for them are changing. The demand for students who are prepared to succeed in college and in careers that reflect our global community is increasing, and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been touted as a response to these increased expectations. As full implementation of these standards nears in 46 states that adopted the associated English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the CCSS, many teachers are critically examining the kinds of texts their students are reading. Reading Anchor Standard 10 specifically indicates that students should be able to "[rjead and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently" (Common Core State Standards Initiative, "Anchor Standards for Reading"), suggesting that students need to be pushed to read more nonfiction alongside more challenging fiction texts. The Common Core ELA standards emphasize that readers need to extend their thinking about texts and demonstrate thoughtful literacy, which occurs when readers connect ideas in text to themselves, to other literary pieces, and to their environment and life experiences (Allington, 2006). However, as specifically stated in Reading Anchor Standard 10, matching reader to text and task requires considering "reader variables (such as motivation, knowledge, and experience) [emphasis added]" (Common Core State Standards Initiative, "Anchor Standards for Reading," 2010), alluding to the need for teachers to find texts that suit diverse students.

Few teachers question the need to provide students with more time to read, but in an instructional environment where program fidelity and standardized testing reign, it can be a challenge to dedicate precious minutes of instructional time to providing students with opportunities for meaningful interactions with books. In that vein, teachers understand that book choices, including those for their classroom libraries, warrant thoughtful consideration. Indeed, it is generally accepted that students need to have access not only to books they can read, but also to books in which they are interested (Stead, 2009). With this objective-to provide students with variety in an effort to spark interest, match ability, create engagement, encourage perseverance, and find joy in literacy-teachers are tasked with finding great books. Limited by time and resources, they often turn to readily available lists of books that have been vetted in some manner, whether by content experts or via national awards.

The Newbery Award and Honor books are among the most prestigious of these, becoming almost instant classics upon being named as award recipients. …

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