Nuts & Bolts: Renee Goularte's Independent Reading Program

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Independent Reading Program

by Renee Goularte

In January of 1997 Renee Goularte posted on a multiage listserve a description of her independent reading program. It is one way that literature based independent reading can be successfully structured in a multiage classroom. With her permission I have reposted it here.

The books on our classroom library shelves are very informally leveled, using "sticky dots" on the spines: red for easy picture books, blue for harder picture books, green for picture books with a lot of text; yellow for easy "chapter books" (i.e., Frog and Toad), orange for longer chapter books (i.e., Beezus and Ramona) and purple for even longer or more sophisticated books (i.e., the Little House books, etc.). We use white sticky dots for reference and science books (Magic School Bus, Eyewitness series, etc.) and black for poetry. Not only does this leveling system help children find appropriate reading material to read, it also helps them know where to put things away. Because it is such a "loose" leveling system, it also allows for a great deal of flexibility in what children can read. For example, students who can read orange chapter books can also appropriately read green picture books, but should not be spending a lot of time on red picture books.

...there are some children who seem to have no sense for choosing an appropriate book to read. We have found that this system, while not perfect, is very helpful for those students. Oh, and by the way... we did not do all this book leveling ourselves. We grabbed four fifth grade boys one year, two days before school started (they were former students of mine and I felt confident about their judgement), explained what we needed, and let them do it. Our instructions were to look through each book and decide if it would be better for first, second, or third grade students (this was with the picture books only... we did the chapter books ourselves). Believe it or not, those boys did a great job, and we have only found ourselves switching the color dots on a few books. And there are some books for which even we couldn't decide, and we have multiple copies with different color codes (i.e., How Many Days to America is green and blue).

The way we find out, on a day-to-day basis, if our students are reading for understanding, is by having them discuss the book with another student (they have to answer questions about the story), then write a synopsis (beginning, problem, solution, ending) and personal reflection (they have "prompts" for these on their individual checksheets). They do this for each book they read, (which one of us has to have approved) and we discuss this work with each student after everything on the checksheet is completed (about a dozen different tasks, including things like reading poetry from the wall with a partner, illustrating favorite parts of a story, working on penmanship, writing a story, etc.). All written work must be proofread and discussed with and by two other students before they are allowed to sign up for a teacher discussion. In the meantime, while they are working, we do little guided reading groups (sometimes parents do this), and have personal interviews / read alouds with students on a rotating basis (alphabetical), and do language experience activites or concentrated direct instruction-type things for those students who need more guided help. This probably sounds complicated, and I'm sure it looks complicated to people who wander through (we work in an "open" school... no doors) but it does require and teach students to become more self-directed.

We like it. :-)

Renee Goularte
Multiage Primary
Blossom Valley School
San Jose, CA

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