How to Support Advanced Readers

 IMG_3774     I became interested in the needs of advanced readers because I noticed the reading development in my own children. My oldest son began to read at an early age and became a book worm after first grade. My daughter and second son also developed a love of reading at an early age. At home, we had letter puzzles and magnetic letters as well as many books. When the kids were young, I spent a lot of time reading aloud to them and still do.

Who Are Advanced Readers

Advanced readers present a unique challenge for their teachers and parents. While researchers use various definitions for advanced or gifted readers, they generally agree on the characteristics of advanced readers. According to Wood (2008) advanced readers,

“read easily and voraciously, with amazing speed and incredible comprehension. They are also passionate about what they read. For them reading is not the mere process of translating symbols into meaning but an intense need to explore, investigate, fantasize, and make connections with concepts and ideas…Paradoxically, educators may consider reading instruction for gifted readers as somehow unnecessary” (p.18).

I am defining advanced readers as those students who read and comprehend text two or more years beyond their age/grade peers or who have the potential for high reading performance (Reis et al., 2004). In the classroom advanced readers are often waiting for reading instruction that is challenging because they do not benefit from conventional reading instruction found at their grade level. When considering instruction for advanced readers, Brighton et al. (2015) found students “require less drill, have longer attention spans, retain larger quantities of information and use more effective reading strategies than average readers” (p.260). As both a parent and a teacher, I wondered what kinds of instruction are appropriate for advanced readers? What do they need in order to make reading progress? How do help them stay motivated about reading? I reviewed literature that addresses the needs of advanced readers so that I could provide appropriate enrichment activities at home.


Goals For Advanced Readers

  • Exposure and access to more challenging reading materials with “advanced vocabulary, sophisticated themes, and abstract or metaphorical concepts” (Wood, 2008). *It is important to note that enrichment is not simply to provide access to challenging material but to coach the children in learning how to read such literature.

  • Develop critical reading skills, such as interpretation and analysis of texts
  • Develop creative reading behaviors, such as creative written responses to literature and an appreciation for a variety of literature across genres as they grow.
  • Become independent readers with strong critical reading skills, such as “analyzing text to detect author bias, inferring hidden meanings; locating, organizing, and synthesizing information related to a given topic; and understanding elements in literature including figures of speech, connotations, idioms, plot, characterization, setting, and voice” (Wood, 2008, p. 23).

Effective Reading Instruction

I had the opportunity to review research focused on the needs of advanced readers and found three instructional practices for improving reading comprehension and growth in advanced K – 8th grade readers. These are specific strategies and practices any teacher, home educator or tutor can use to provide enrichment for advanced readers. These strategies include providing access to challenging books, asking higher order questions, and using differentiated reading instruction.


Exposure to Challenging Quality Text

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The purpose of having access to challenging literature that matches a student’s instructional level and interests is to allow students to show continuous reading growth and to increase their motivation for reading (Reis et al., 2004). Challenging reading materials are materials or literature that are one or two levels higher than a student’s current independent reading level (Reis et al., 2004). Challenging reading materials contains “advanced vocabulary, sophisticated themes, and abstract or metaphorical concepts” (Wood, 2008, p. 20). Middle school readers can grow as readers through independent, self-selected reading, coupled with individualized instructional support.

 

  • Provide children with challenging texts that reflect their interest.
  • Children can choose which texts to read independently. They will need some individual support when reading challenging books. This can be done through brief interactions to check for understanding, examine vocabulary and to ask or answer questions they may have.
  • Additionally, children should be exposed to quality literature and a wide variety of themes, characters and genres beyond what is found in the regular classroom (Wood, 2008). In the classroom teachers use read alouds to expose children to different stories and to model their own thinking skills. In the home, caregivers can achieve the same goal with a family read aloud time. Check out Read Aloud Revival for wonderful family resources.
  • Brave Writer provides resources for homeschool families. Just keep in mind that if you have an advanced reader, you would likely move through the program a little faster and might even read books suggested for older students. The books included in the program are well chosen and diverse.
  • A useful guide for both teachers and home educators of advanced readers is the book, Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers by Barbara Halsted. This book lists age appropriate titles in a variety of genres and includes many summaries of the books listed. (affiliate link)
  • Lexile Framework for Reading provides a list of vocabulary words and difficulty level of of children’s books through the high school years, just enter the book title.

Ask Higher Order Questions

       Advanced readers have little need for skill-based reading instruction, therefore the focus of instruction should move toward instruction in inferential and interpretive reading. Provide enrichment literacy activities that are based on asking higher-order questions and actively involving the child in reading and discussing texts. Higher order questions are questions focused on asking students to analyze, synthesize and evaluate written text in order to explore a theme or topic in the text they are reading (Vosslamber, 2002).

 A recommendation for asking higher-order questions is to think about the answer to the question; for example, if the answer to the question is found in the text then the question is too simple. Questions should be interesting to explore for both the adult and the child. Children can also keep a reading journal to respond to questions during and after reading a book. Julie Bogart at Brave Writer talks about having “juicy conversations” and these are exactly the kinds of discussions to have with advanced readers at home to develop their critical thinking skills.

Examples:

  • Why do you think _______ happened?
  • What feelings or emotions might have caused the people to behave the way they did?
  • How might you react if you were (the character)?
  • Which character is most thoroughly described? The least thoroughly described?
  • What was the best part of the story? Why? The worst or most boring part? why?
  • For young children two picture books with a related theme can be read aloud, then discuss how the stories are alike and different or compare the characters.

Differentiated Instruction in Reading Instruction

The National Association for Gifted Children (2014) includes the following in their definition of differentiation: “the design and/or selection of curriculum, the selection and use of instructional practices, including grouping strategies, varied resources, and variations to the pacing of instruction, and the assessment of learning, all of which rely on assessment evidence demonstrating learner differences” (NAGC, 2014, p.1).

     Differentiated learning means that instruction should be based on a learner’s needs. There is no one-size fits all curriculum for any student. Students interests and needs vary and so do the books, resources, questions, pace of learning and learning products. If you are using a reading program or curriculum, you might find the need to skip ahead through some content. Also, your advanced reader might resist advanced reading material if it requires a lot of writing responses or reading response sheets to be filled out for every book read. It is more interesting to keep a book log and tally of the different kinds of books read such as, fiction, animals, poetry, biography, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novel, adventure, etc… along with responding to books in a variety of ways. There are many reading responses to books that can be done creatively and with the use of technology. You can look on Pinterest, Scholastic or check out this PDF for 50 Alternatives to the book report from NCTE.org.

Conclusion

  • Provide children with challenging texts that reflect their interest.
  • Expose children to quality literature and a wide variety of themes, characters and genres beyond what is found in the regular classroom (Wood, 2008).
  • Provide enrichment literacy activities that are based on asking higher-order questions and actively involve the child in reading and discussing texts. Ask challenging and interesting questions.
  • Set up a reading environment that encourages reading and offers personalized instruction.

“Follow the children, not plans”

-Loris Malaguzzi

References

Brighton, C.M., Moon, T.R., & Huang F.H.L. (2015). Advanced Readers in Reading First Classrooms: Who Was Really “Left Behind”? Considerations for the Field of Gifted Education. Journal for the Education of the Gifted 38(3), 257-293.

NAGC (2014). Position Statement: Differentiating Curriculum and Instruction for Gifted and Talented Students. Retrieved from: https://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position %20Statement/Differentiating%20Curriculum%20and%20Instruction.pdf

Reis, S. M., Gubbins, E. J., Briggs C.J., Schriber F. J., Richards, S., Jacobs, J.K., Eckert, R.D., &

Renzulli, J.S. (2004). Reading Instruction for Talented Readers: Case Studies Documenting Few Opportunities for Continuous Progress Gifted Child Quarterly 48(4), 315- 338.

Vosslamber, A. (2002) Gifted Readers: Who are they and how can the be served in the classroom?. Gifted Child Today. 25(2), 14-21.

Wood, P. F. (2008). Reading instruction with gifted and talented readers: A series of unfortunate events or a sequence of auspicious results?. Gifted Child Today, 31(3), 16.

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