Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review: Understanding Texts and Readers by Jennifer Serravallo

Where has this book been all my life? Understanding Texts and Readers feels like it pulls together everything Serravallo has been working on for the past several years into one clear, very understandable book. It’s definitely worth a book study with a team of teachers or even an entire school.

The information on how texts gradually become more complex in both fiction and nonfiction is ground-breaking. Fountas and Pinnell have done some of this work already in their Literacy Continuum, but Serravallo writes in a much clearer way so the readers doesn’t get overwhelmed, which is often the case when we try to digest F&P’s Continuum. She narrows the focus in Fiction to four areas: Plot/setting, Character, Vocabulary/Figurative Language, and Theme. She does the same for Nonfiction: Main idea, Key details, Vocabulary, and Text Features. She outlines how each gradually increases in difficulty, discussing the major jumps at particular levels. She then follows that up with examples of students’ written responses for each area, showing how readers of increasing level texts should respond in more sophisticated ways. The work she’s done here is eye-opening and will jump-start some great conversations about the types of instruction students need to effectively tackle each increase in levels within these four areas.

Finally, her last section is very powerful in arguing against leveling kids, but instead using levels as just one way of helping match texts to readers. “Be sure to emphasize with kids that there is no such thing as a reader being leveled, and that the level on books are just one of the many things to consider when choosing them. Never refer to children by a reading level. Correct and redirect children if you ever hear them referring to themselves as a level” (p. 214).

This book is a WONDERFUL addition to the professional book canon and is destined to be a classic. If you don’t have it yet, RUN to the book store to get it.

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