Have you ever picked up an article or text book, read a page or even an entire chapter, and then realized that you have no idea what you just read? When kiddos attempt to read books that are too challenging or above their level, they may think they are reading, but they may not be fully understanding the text. This can lead young readers to have a false sense of what it means to be a reader.
When they read "just-right" books, kiddos are simultaneously learning and practicing reading skills, including decoding, predicting, connecting, and analyzing. When they read books that are not just-right, they may think they are doing these things, but often they are doing just the opposite! Instead of decoding smoothly (blending sounds into words), they may skip over words that are too long or confusing. Instead of making logical observations, they may notice unimportant details. Instead of making helpful connections to the characters or situation in the story, they may miss details and nuance. Instead of analyzing the text as a whole, they may simply get the gist and then move on.
Early in the year, I use the analogy of riding a bike to help my kiddos understand the importance of reading just-right books. When you ride a bike downhill, you ride so fast that you don't have to work at all; similarly, when you read a book that's too easy, you read quickly and may not think about what you're reading. When you ride a bike uphill, you have to work so hard that you get tired easily. Likewise, when you read an "uphill" book, your brain has to work too hard and your reading sounds "bumpy." Riding a bike on a mostly flat path allows you to work your muscles and the more you do it, the stronger you get. That's how just-right books work too -- you "grow your brain" each time you read!
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