Which Level? Which Topic? Which Book?
As reading teachers of adolescent students, gifted or otherwise, our most daunting task is choosing the novels to teach during the school year. Those with teaching experience know that there is a difference between books students will read independently and books students will use for guided reading and literature circles. For summer reading, students are expected to be reading on their own, deriving meaning from the text at his/her own speed. During the school year, however, students are supposed to be challenged by a richer text, as a teacher guides understanding by modeling reading strategies and assisting with vocabulary instruction.
So, here is the dilemma. Gifted students often read books on a higher reading level than their contemporaries, but higher reading levels tend to yield subject matter inappropriate for classroom discussion. Then there are books that have perfect characterization, drama, and historical ambience that are on a simpler reading level, but these tend to negate the instructional objective of improving the student’s reading ability. On top of that, teachers are faced with students and parents that gripe about the choice of novel or text regardless of what is chosen anyway because you can’t please everyone all the time.
What do you do in this situation so that you can meet the needs of gifted students in your classroom?
I spend hours researching options that may not always entertain students but will at least intrigue them throughout the development of conflict up to the conclusion. During the first semester of the sixth grade school year, I tend to choose books between the reading levels of 5.5-6.5; during the second semester I aim for books ranging from 6.5-7.5. My focus is on making sure that the activities I use to guide the exploration of the novel render the higher level thinking needed to capture the focus of gifted students. I mean, let’s face it. Even in my class that is made up of 100% gifted students, I have some who are below reading level because they qualified for gifted services based on their math ability. I have to meet their needs too.
So, what do you do? Is there one right or wrong answer? What other methods or philosophies are out there? Does it depend on your clientele, your region or state, your level of experience, or even your district-mandated curriculum? What guides your selection of novels to study? I’d love some more ideas, as this is such a timely topic of discussion with my colleagues right now, especially as we finalize our summer reading choices. Let me hear from you!