By: Kate Lechtenberg
For a teacher or librarian, summer reading is not just fun and relaxing; it’s research for our future work with young readers. As part of this research, it’s also a good time to take stock of our individual selection strengths and weaknesses, our leanings and our blind spots as we choose books. Summer is a great time to reflect on how we can broaden our reading and selection habits so that we make sure we are serving all our students and patrons.
Recently, I’ve been researching different approaches to choosing texts for classroom instruction, specifically, how teachers and librarians supplement “standards-aligned” textbooks in schools. As I’ve surveyed the literature on selecting classroom texts, I’ve noticed four main selection lenses that teachers and librarians use for selecting core and supplemental texts for classroom use.
Consider these lenses, and think about which ones you tend to focus on when you select books for classroom use:
- Reading levels and language needs: Focusing on selecting a variety of texts to meet different reading levels (Lexile levels, Fountas & Pinnell leveled books, etc.) ensures that all readers have texts they can read independently and texts that will challenge them to become better readers.
- Genres and formats: Reading a variety of genres and formats — from photos, cartoons, newspapers, and documents in the Library of Congress, to quality video content like Crash Course or TED Talks, to following Margaret Atwood on Wattpad or Mo Willems’ Pigeon on Twitter helps students read effectively for different purposes and engages diverse interests, in addition to varied print fiction, nonfiction and graphic selections.
- Conceptual understanding: Selecting texts around one conceptual lens helps students develop deeper understanding of important ideas. H. Lynn Erickson describes concepts as big ideas like “power” or “innovation,” not specific topics like “World War I” or The Diary of Anne Frank.
- Cultural perspectives: Readers deserve to see themselves reflected in what they read, and we also need to learn about the diversity of our communities and world in our texts. Award lists like the Pura Belpré Award, Coretta Scott King Awards, Stonewall Awards and the ILA Notable Books for a Global Society are great places to start looking.
Taking stock of my selection habits
They are all important criteria for selecting texts, but if we lean too far in on direction, we can neglect other lenses. Too much focus on reading levels can lead us to forget to select authentic texts that represent diverse cultural perspectives. Too much focus on genre and formats can lead us to collect fragmented texts that fault to develop conceptual understanding. Ideally, when we select texts, we’re selecting through all these lenses at once so that we end up with a list of texts that represents diverse cultures, a variety of genres, a rich investigation of complex concepts, all at the appropriate reading level.
For me, I tend to focus so much on both variety of text formats and diverse cultures that I end up creating endless lists that threaten to overwhelm the teachers and students I am selecting for. So my challenge — as I’m creating text lists for my fall YA literature class and other schools — is to use reading levels and a more narrowly defined conceptual focus to keep my lists more focused on the students and the courses that I’m considering. It’s all about finding the right balance.
As you’re selecting texts for this fall, which lens do you lean on? Which lenses do you need to draw on more to help you make better selections? And what other lenses would you add to my list? Join in the comments to talk about your own summer selection reflection!
Kate Lechtenberg is a doctoral student in Language, Literacy, and Culture in the University of Iowa’s College of Education. After working in public schools for fourteen years as a high school English teacher and school librarian, her doctoral research now focuses on text selection, multicultural literature, educational standards, and equity initiatives. Kate teaches a young adult literature course in the College of Education and a school librarian course on print and digital collection management in the School of Library and Information Science. She is also a member of the AASL Standards Implementation Task Force. Find her on Twitter @katelechtenberg.