Impact: Matching Books to Readers by Ona Feinberg
I got to help kindergartners pick books today.
“Bring over your book bins, friends,” I told each group. “Today, I get to do some of my favorite things! I get to hear you read books, and I get to help you pick ‘just right’ books.”
I wasn’t exaggerating, these really are a few of my favorite things.
Each group was different, of course: Made up of two to six 5- and 6-year-old individuals, each with 2 or 3 books in their book bins. These kindergarteners had varying degrees of loving books, sight word recognition, decoding skills, and motion and squirm while we worked on the carpet. Some children read smoothly, turning the pages of their memorized book at the right spot. Others read pointing at each word, practicing their sight words, and their word attack skills. After reading a little of their book to me, we would pick new books to add to their book bins. I asked them what they liked, and tried to help them find related early reader books. Even the kids who aren’t yet reading conventionally deserve to have books they love, and I was determined to match these readers with books.
“Oh my goodness!” I said. “You found a birthday book, on your actual birthday!”
“You have a pet turtle? Look at this turtle book!”
“Did you like the snow yesterday? I think I saw a book about snow… “
Often they would grab the book out of my hand, and start to read it, or put it in their bin and pick a second book. They didn’t always take my suggestions, though.
“I want you to put that book back in the bin,” one friend demanded, a slight scowl on her face.
Another one frowned and said, “I just want to play with my friends.”
One boy read his book to me with fluency, engagement, excitement…the whole package. Then, he refused to pick a book. He thought rolling around on the carpet was more fun. One child skirted away from me, no matter how many times I asked him to read with me or pick a book. He didn’t know me. Yet.
In my life before instructional coaching, I was a 6th-grade teacher. Matching a 6th grader to a book isn’t always easy, either. But it is just as fun. You get to know your kids, you know their likes and their readiness. You push in, you lean away, you listen; you read a lot of middle grade and young adult books. You become an expert — in books, but especially in your students. You build relationships with the learners in your classroom, and they trust you as you help them grow.
In my weekly email as a coach, I try to find a book or two to “book talk” to teachers. This is different than book talking for my class of 6th graders. In 6th grade, I tried to find books to match each of my 50 students. I book talked a variety of genres, and reading levels from about fourth to about ninth grade, trying to inspire their reading lives. As a classroom teacher, you can almost feel the significance every time a book is passed to a reader. In my coaching role, I am trying to impact hundreds of children in my work with about 35 teachers. Books are still everywhere I look, everywhere I work. I am constantly passing books to teachers — books they request for professional growth, read alouds, and mentor texts. I love having and sharing the very book they need.
In both teaching and coaching, book talks help to match books to readers, and sometimes open minds with reading. As I get to know my teachers, and as many children as I can, I want to find books that are mentors for reading and writing lessons, and books that can be mentors for much more than that: readers can find themselves, learn about others, have their heart filled with joy and even bittersweet sadness in books — mentors for life.
My time in Kindergarten today was a little different than my time in 6th grade classroom too. Beginning reader books aren’t quite as juicy as middle-grade fiction, and I’m just beginning to know these children. But, I dare you to spend 10 minutes with a 5-year-old and a basket of books and not smile. You will watch their faces light up when you say, “Oh my! I didn’t know you had such reading power! You were using the pictures, weren’t you? Using picture power is a great strategy!” Or, “You said you can’t read, but you just read me a whole book!” Sometimes it’s about catching kids and helping them see themselves as more.
Connecting kids to books was one of the things about teaching that I knew I’d miss once I left my 6th-grade classroom. I loved filling my library with all the “windows, doors, and mirrors” that I could, book talking new books and ones forgotten on the shelf, hearing what part of the book kids were in, helping them find their next favorite. But the other day, as I handed a book to a teacher, I realized I’m still connecting readers to books. The books are just a little different, now. I recommend picture books as mentor texts, I use professional texts for teacher learning, and today I helped the newest of readers pick books.
At the end of each of my Kindergarten groups, the teacher asked me, “Ms. Ona, who was a reader today?” and I would smile and gush a little about the amazing reading I had seen. As my last group was cleaning up, a little girl looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “I think we were all readers today, Ms. Ona.”
Ona Feinberg is a K-5 Instructional Coach in Central Pennsylvania. She began her teaching career in second grade, and started teaching 6th grade in 2001. She is passionate about teaching, reading, writing, authenticity, kindness, and her 3 children. When she isn’t at school you might find her writing, reading, or walking her dog, Finnegan Foxy Feinberg. You can follow her on her blog onathought.com, or on Twitter @OnaFeinberg.