An Interview with Jennifer Serravallo
Conducted by Sam Bommarito and Glenda Nugent, Co-Editors of the Missouri Reader
Tell us about your new book, Understanding Texts and Readers: Responsive Comprehension Instruction with Leveled Texts.
I really am exploring comprehension. Different threads go throughout the book, but goal is to explain and help teachers make sense out of comprehension. I also try to help teachers understand how to determine what skill to focus instruction on.
As part of her response to this question, Jennifer made several points about where she got the ideas for this book:
- Independent Reading Assessments help teachers understand children’s comprehension. Some ideas explored in the book came from those assessments.
- My Reading Strategies book was the source for ideas of different categories for comprehension strategies. Non-Fiction, main idea, key details, vocabulary and the 7 Comprehension strategies.
- My thinking around comprehension is rooted in Rosenblatt’s work.
Tell us about the different parts of the book.
Part 1 talks about comprehension and is designed to help teachers wrap their minds around the whole concept of comprehension.
Parts 2-3 take a practical look at how texts get more complex. These parts are is meant to be resources to return to again and again.
The ending part of the book discusses different ways to focus comprehension. It includes assessments. These assessments are meant for chapter books.
As you stated in the FB webinar, levels are being used and misused. What is your advice for using levels appropriately and avoiding the misuse of them?
Use of levels as reading identity is not a good idea.
The 2-page spread on pages 22 to 23 shows a timeline from 40’s through today to show how levels have been used. Teachers are asked to report benchmark levels throughout the year. Remember, kids don’t have one level! The book explores variables on what impacts levels. A child’s level might be different on different days. Level as recording tool has gotten out of hand and misused. Do not limit child to reading only books at their level. The reasons for saying this are explored in book starting on page 15.
Once a book at the appropriate level is chosen for instruction, how do you know what strategies can best be taught?
Text level range is one aspect of that choice. Text features, complexity, challenge are additional things to consider. Pinpoint skills/goals children need to work on. Ask yourself, within books, where does the student need support? Character, vocabulary, theme – narrow down possibilities by determining categories of skill/strategy need.
One way to organize groups is to organize them around texts: similar instructional level; Determine what they have in common.
Another way to organize groups is to organize them by goals group by goals. For instance, if you want to emphasize character development – bring together a group around that topic, even if its members are on different levels.
Can you explain how teachers can use the two-page spreads in your book Understanding Text and Readers?
Parts 2 and 3 are designed so the information about a level or skill. The fiction section is organized by 4 categories Plot, Character, Vocab, Theme. Look for the spreads starting on page 54 that show progression of skills. There is a separate spread for each level J through W. Included are page spreads that show student work to see how the skill changes in response to the text. Text level helps teachers understand books in their library – They can compare their student responses to those in spread. This can give teachers a sense of what questions to ask about a book during conferencing, even if the teacher has not read that particular book. The non-fiction section begins on page 116 and gives a similar analysis based on the categories Main Ideas, Key Details, Vocabularies and Text Features.
Tell us about the resources you are providing with this book. There are a number of resources, over 150 pages are online. There are Text Complexity Charts that look at a book in depth. There are record keeping forms for conferring. Every goal has a progression. Also included are note taking forms and questions you can ask children. Here is the link:
https://www.heinemann.com/products/e10892.aspx (the Companion Resources dropdown on this link states “To access the online resources for this book, click Login or Create Account above. Once you’ve logged in, select “Click here to register an Online Resource, Video, or eBook »“ enter the keycode and click register. The keycode for this book is the first word in purple on page 198).
How does this book relate to new and experienced teachers?
Some TIPS for Beginning teacher: Use the book to get a sense of how to be assessing and what to look for. Find out what comprehension looks like. Don’t misuse levels. Guide students to right books, but do not shackle readers
Some TIPS for experienced teachers: Use the book to understand and study in more depth. One teacher recently characterized this book as a Graduate Degree in Reading in a book. You can go deep in it. New teachers can get the gist of things first and then return to it later to get more depth.
I hope the book helps both new and experienced teachers
The preceding are highlights of some of the questions Glenda and I explored with Jennifer. A more complete rendition of the interview will be found in the upcoming issue of the Missouri Reader. I will post a blog with a link to that issue when it comes out. I predict this book will be added to the list of books that Jennifer has on the New York Times best seller list. The most intriguing thing about this book is how it help teachers make better use of all of Jennifer’s books. She has a link designed to help with that: https://www.heinemann.com/jenniferserravallo/.
One of the ideas being forwarded by many reading experts today is that teachers can and should help students learn to deal with complex texts. This book gives a “nuts and bolts” in depth look at how both fiction and nonfiction books are put together. It does so by specific levels. My advice would be for teachers to start with the section of the book that deals with the text level they use most frequently. Get to really know that level. Then look at other levels as well. Make use of the online charts to help in this process. I think this book is destined to become the go to resource for teachers who want to help their students deal with complex texts, both fiction and non-fiction.
In sum, Jennifer has written a book that helps teachers make sense out of comprehension. She gives valuable resources and advice that will help teachers understand how to determine what skills to focus instruction on. By relating the book to her other strategy books, she makes all the books more valuable. It is a must have for every classroom teacher’s professional library.
ONE MORE THING: There is a public group on Facebook called The Reading and Writing Strategies Community. When I wrote a review of Jennifer’s Strategy book for Missouri Reader (https://joom.ag/q9OQ pg 42), it had over 20,000 members. Now the group has over 50,000 members. Brett Whitmarsh and other Heinemann staff do an amazing job of running this site. Whenever I talk or write about useful resources on the internet I always mention this site as one that is the most helpful for classroom teachers. I characterize it as the worlds largest teacher’s lounge. Teacher’s come to it to ask questions and get answers about literacy issues. For instance, one recent question asked “Any suggestions on High Interest, Low Readability texts? We have a large population of older students who need interesting books at their level. Thanks!” I often see questions like “What do you think of the “xxx” program, or I left my manual for “yyy” at home, what does it say to do for the “zzzz” activity?” That second group of questions demonstrates teachers expect and get real time answers to their questions. Most recently Brett conducted a ½ hour podcast interview with Jennifer about this book
So…, if you need help using Jennifer’s new book, or you have a question about any literacy issue, you know where to go for answers from your fellow teachers. Jennifer even chimes in with comments and answers from time to time. So, until next week this is Dr. B. signing off.
Dr. Sam Bommarito
Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader
Thanks to Glenda Nugent, my Co-Editor who helped to put together the interview questions and carry out the interview. Thanks also to Jennifer for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to Glenda and I about her exciting new book!