Choosing Books for Reading: An Analysis of Three Types of Readers

By Kragler, Sherry | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Choosing Books for Reading: An Analysis of Three Types of Readers


Kragler, Sherry, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. This article will present the findings of a project that examined book choices made by three types of readers involved in a literature-based instructional reading program. Three below-average, three average, and three above-average students were randomly selected from a 4th-grade class, which was using a self-selection literature-based reading program. At the end of the self selection component, these students' records of conferences with the teacher were analyzed to determine what types of strategies they used to choose books and to determine the levels of books they were choosing (i.e., books at their independent, instructional, or frustration levels). The author found that the readers chose books for similar reasons, but these reasons were mentioned at different frequency with the below-average readers, whose criteria included looking at pictures, reading familiar authors, and using friends' recommendations. In judging book difficulty, the students mentioned looking at the length of the word, siz e of print, length of the book, and other book-related factors. The above-average and below-average readers showed similar patterns in that they consistently chose books that were inappropriate for their reading levels. For example, the below-average students were choosing books at their frustration level, while the above-average students were generally choosing books that were too easy.

Self-selection of books by students can be a component of a literature-based instructional reading program. While self-selection has been an option for many years in recreational reading programs, such as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), it is less likely to occur in the instructional reading program. As teachers begin to use literature more often than basals during their instructional reading programs (Giddings, 1992; Hancock & Hill, 1988; Jipson & Paley, 1992; Ohlausen & Jepsen, 1992), it becomes important to allow students choice and freedom in selecting some of their reading material (Dellit, 1984; Raskinski, 1988).

Students are generally more motivated to read when they are allowed to choose their own materials (Palmer, Codling, & Gambrell, 1994; Spaulding, 1992). Self selection allows students more latitude to be deeply involved with the learning process, thus fostering an interest in, as well as developing an ownership of, the reading process. This independence facilitates reading growth along many dimensions (Dellit, 1984; Harmes & Lettow, 1986; Jenkins, 1955; New England Consortium, 1976). Self-selection helps students make decisions about their reading: for example, the types of reading they are going to do, the types of ideas they will gain from their various reading experiences, and the reading levels of books or other materials; it also provides students with real purposes for reading (Harmes & Lettow, 1986; Lazar, 1957; Ohlausen & Jepsen, 1992).

Having students choose their own reading material is supported by Olson's (1959) theory of child development, which states that children are "self-seeking, self-selecting, and self-pacing organisms" (p. 402). According to Olson, children will seek and select from the environment experiences that are consistent with their developmental levels. With teacher guidance, they will pace themselves through these learning experiences. Relating Olson's theory to reading, students, given a wide array of books from which to choose, will self-select books at levels appropriate for them. Furthermore, these students will pace themselves appropriately as they read their chosen selections.

The literature concerning students' ability to self-select reading materials is mixed. Some research has indicated that poor readers are generally reading books that are too difficult for them (Anderson, Higgins, & Wurster, 1985; Bristow, 1985; Kibby, 1995; Mork, 1973). Hiebert, Mervar, and Person's (1990) study, however, indicated that the reverse was true. …

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