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Libraries in Schools
Stories in Graded Readers
January 19, 2014
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The graded / levelled reader has long been criticized for its artificial chunking and arrangement of text. Readers of this nature have been cited as the texts that destroy the natural ability to make meaning whilst reading and often lead the ‘reader’ into a fine pattern of breaking up words and decoding them.

Sing Mother Sing

Mother can Sing

Can Mother Sing ?

Mother can sing.

Not simple when you think of the implicit understanding in each sentence. But perfectly simple to decode and often considered ‘read’ when the reader can articulate sing – mother – can.

Texts of this nature abounded at a time when the reading wars held a truce ( briefly) and accepted that whole words was the approach. Many research studies have since established that decoding and reading are not the same. Life itself establishes this for us, when millions of us can break up and sound out and put together sounds to make words that mean very little. We know now that the context is important and words themselves can mean different things to different people because of how we symbolize them in our brains.

So, reading is far from a simple process and all over the world the Reading Wars are begin waged in academic, policy, institutional battlegrounds and yet what we all have consensus about is that meaning is embedded in the process of reading. To read means to actively construct meaning.

But the process of reading requires is socio linguistic in nature and is also skill based. It requires a complex set of factors to come together stealthily in the mind to accomplish the feat of reading. The research community is still waging these wars, figuring out how and when. But in the real world we need to support our children to learn

If we place the Six Building Blocks to Literacy as our bench mark of a wholistic approach and remind ourselves that the story is central to everything we do at Bookworm, our report card will look like this

Print Awareness

Y Y YY

Vocabulary

Y Y Y

Narrative Skills

Y Y Y

Phonological Awareness

Y Y

Letter Knowledge

Y Y

Print Motivation

Y Y Y Y

Reading is heavily dependent on listening to language being read. We accomplish this with a good degree of success through our Read Aloud methodology.

We are now entering the phase of supporting individual reading through Graded Readers.

Why Graded Readers when they have been thrashed and burnt ? Where is the meaning in these levelled texts and are we really keeping the story alive when we choose these kinds of books?

The graded reader is based on the simple logic that shorter sentences are easier to read than longer ones. This has connections with the idea of fluency and comprehension. A child who is emerging into reading will make much more meaning from shorter sentences with simple words than from a rich vocabulary with poetic intent. This does not mean the latter are not significant. They are, but for now we read aloud rich vocabulary with poetic content and find that the children do not yet have the skills or the motivation to do it on their own. We are inching them along as bookworms must do, one reader at a time.

As we pilot a set of graded books with children we are able to discern and realize that one does not need to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some books that are levelled and graded keeping the story central and given what we know about word length, complexity, semantics, syntax this must place heavy demands on the writer. And writers do not disappoint.

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In the past week I have found some wonderful graded readers that have been simple enough for our 10 – 11 year old beginners to read and meaningful enough for us to have post story discussions and dip our feet into the pool of good literature.

Nicole digs a hole

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Our adventure begins with Nicole. This is an unfamiliar name to the children we work with through the Mobile Outreach Program and the illustration shows a character in jeans and T Shirt with hair of questionable length. Is Nicole a girl or a boy ? We search the text for clues and make up our minds. It is does not matter. What matters and captivates is that she likes holes. But why ? We search again and discover a dog in every illustration digging with Nicole, alongside Nicole. Perhaps that is why Nicole digs ? We are making meaning, the fact that ‘ole’ is being played around in the text does become central. The text is enriched by illustrations of a far more meaningful kind and they are adding great value to the reading as the new reader moves along with the text. Just when we are beginning to wonder where all the digging might get us to, we meet the new character in the story. Mole. He looks like a rat, is he? We talk about this character, we decided we will read further to see if we can learn about him and the Gail Seuss does not disappoint. Moles live underground, they like the dark and so they set out to be as determined as Nicole about filling up the hole as she is about digging them. The controlled vocabulary in the story is not too artificial to ruin it in the way older graded readers did and from the experience of using this book with children, they enjoy the story. They extend it from the last illustration of the moles coming out at night while Nicole dines inside and there are even discussions on when will this stop.

Sarkhej declared that it would stop when Nicole ‘ badi ho jayegi’. What I want to end with here is that Graded Readers have become ‘bigger’ they have become richer, less mechanical and with careful and discerning usage they can be handy tools to support independent reading.

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