I was sitting in a professional development class this spring where we were watching a webinar previously recorded from the Heinemann Group, and one of the instructors made this statement:
For so long I had been doing just that, teaching the book. For 10 years the bulk of my reading instruction was through guided reading. I would pick out books, preview them with my group, students would read individually (yes, I did have the common sense to know that round robin reading is NEVER OK!), and I would pop in and listen to them read, often asking comprehension questions during and after reading that were text specific.
Here's the problem with teaching the book: it doesn't grow the whole reader. Students answering surface level or even higher level comprehension questions based on a book doesn't help the reader when s/he reads his/her next book. And besides, teachers would never be able to keep up. We cannot possibly read and be knowledgeable of every single book that our students will read during the school year.
So how do we teach the reader?Instead of focusing on individual books, focus on what skills and strategies students need to work on at their reading level. Fountas & Pinnell, in conjunction with the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project has placed all guided reading levels A-Z into groups called text bands.
What is a text band, you say?A text band is a single or a small group of F&P levels that have similar characteristics. Within these text bands are instructional considerations related to decoding, word work, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and structure you can work on with your students. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard for students to make the leap from level M to level N? It's because they're in different text bands. And let me tell you, that jump is HUGE!
What's the difference between an M and an N?
In a nutshell...
Level M: Traditional story structure with one clear/central problem/solution in the text. Character feelings change but the traits stay the same.
Level N: Moves away from traditional structure with characters dealing with one (or more) complex problems that are harder to identify. Characters tend to be complicated and conflicted.
Of course there are many more differences between the two, but those are my big takeaways.
Wondering what the text band groupings are? I made this little chart:
So how can I use this information I now know about text bands to teach the reader, and not the book?If you are well versed in the characteristics of the text bands, you will know the skills and thinking work your students will need to do in order to move to the next text band. So, for example, I know that if I sit down with a student for a conferring session who is reading a level N book, that child is going to need to do a lot of inferring and putting the pieces together to understand the central story line and struggles & motivations of the main character. I might comment or ask questions such as:
- "Talk about why the main character does what s/he does."
- "What does the text seem mostly about?" (and teaching that this does and can change over time)
- "What is the big, underlying problem?"
- "How does the setting play a role in the the plot/character development?"
How can I find out more about text bands?
I got my information about the characteristics of text bands from the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project. Because I don't know the copyright of the document I have, I don't feel comfortable sharing it out on the world wide web. However, if you do a Google search of "text band characteristics," several links/documents are available for you to do your own research. Personally, I found the ones from Fountas and Pinnell to be the the easiest to locate and pretty straight foward. I also thought this site had some great information on what to work on for each text band if you click on her Band Aids section :)