Why Knock Novel Studies?
Once the mainstay of Language Arts classrooms, the whole-class, one-size-fits-all novel study is falling out of favour. In our increasingly diverse classrooms, having everyone in the class read the same book at the same time with the same response tasks fails to tap into either their interests or abilities. In fact, many students may miss some of the very content and craft that makes the book a classic because it’s simply too hard for them.
Betts’s classic reading levels research has been the subject of some controversy lately, and, let’s face it, “frustration level” is different for different readers and circumstances. However, it’s generally agreed that reading a book with less than 90% accuracy doesn’t do justice to the reader or the text. (For example, think of the book by your bedside. It probably has at least 200 words on the page. If you were to read that book with 90% accuracy, you would struggle with at least 20 words on every page!)
If you feel that none of your students should get out of Grade 5 without reading Bridge to Terabithia or pass Grade 10 without reading To Kill a Mockingbird, why not read it to the students? Teacher read-alouds can be an excellent model of fluent, expressive reading and we can teach a lot about the reading process through our think-alouds as we read. Then we can pause strategically and guide students to discuss the content and craft of the book, as well as their own reading processes and opinions.
As with everything in education, balance is key! Students still need plenty of opportunities to apply those reading strategies while navigating the print themselves. That’s where Literature Circles (aka Book Clubs, Literate Talk, etc.) come in. Literature circles offer an element of choice; students are invited to choose their reading from a set of options provided by the teacher. Teachers can form groups that support students reading texts that are accessible to them. Best of all, students are empowered and encouraged to discuss things that matter to them from the readings.
When we use structures like teacher read-alouds and shared reading to model and practice comprehension strategies and hold guided discussions that demonstrate higher level thinking and respect for others, we establish routines that empower students to direct their own conversations about reading.