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Understanding Texts & Readers

Responsive Comprehension Instruction with Leveled Texts

Understanding Texts & Readers helps you take the next step from Jen's Reading Strategies Book. She connects her comprehension goals to text levels and readers' responses. As you learn more about how comprehension works over a range of texts, you'll find text complexity simpler, clarify comprehension, and make great book matches, as you choose just-right strategies to share with readers. Learn more: How Understanding Texts & Readers Can Help (PDF)

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“Goals help guide my thinking about reader’s skills within each level of text complexity, and a leveling system helps my understanding of readers’ development from level to level.”

—Jennifer Serravallo

 Understanding Texts & Readers makes comprehension make sense. In it, Jennifer Serravallo narrows the distance between assessment and instruction. She maps the four fiction and four nonfiction comprehension goals she presented in The Reading Strategies Book to fourteen text levels and shares sample responses that show what to expect from readers at each.

Jen simplifies text complexity and clarifies comprehension instruction. She begins by untangling the many threads of comprehension: Levels, engagement, stamina, the relevance of texts, and much more. Then level by level she:

  • calls out with precision how plot and setting, character, vocabulary and figurative language, and themes and ideas change as fiction across levels
  • specifies how the complexity of main idea, key details, vocabulary, and text features increases in nonfiction texts
  • points out what to expect from a reader as text characteristics change
  • provides samples of student responses to texts at each level
  • shares progressions across levels to support instructional planning.

Even if you haven’t read the book your reader is responding to, you’ll have the background necessary to make great teaching decisions for all your readers. “Understanding subtle shifts and increases in demands from level to level,” writes Jennifer Serravallo, “can guide what a teacher asks a student, what the teacher expects of the student, and what the teacher, therefore, teaches the student.”

Want to become a master of matching kids to books? Looking to take the difficult out of differentiation? Or do you want to dramatically increase the power and responsiveness of Jen’s Reading Strategies Book? Understanding Texts & Readers shows you how to move forward when students need to make progress.

Additional Resource Information

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More About The Book

Responsive Teaching Crucial To Development
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Sample Chapter
Understanding Texts and Readers Sample Chapter


Part I: Readers, Texts and Levels—and What It Means for Comprehension
Comprehension Goals and Considerations
Reader and Text Variables that Impact Comprehension
Merging Levels and Comprehension: What to Expect in the Parts Ahead

Part II: Fiction: Texts, Readers, and Comprehension
Studying Fiction and Supporting Readers: A Framework for Comprehension
Understanding Fiction Texts: A Level-by-Level Guide to Characteristics
Understanding Fiction Readers: A Goal-by-Goal Guide to Readers’ Comprehension of Increasingly Complex Texts
    Plot and Setting
    Vocabulary and Figurative Language
    Themes and Ideas

Part III: Nonfiction: Texts, Readers, and Comprehension
Studying Nonfiction and Supporting Readers: A Framework for Comprehension
Understanding Nonfiction Texts: A Level-by-Level Guide to Characteristics
Understanding Nonfiction Readers: A Goal-by-Goal Guide to Readers’ Comprehension of Increasingly Complex Texts
    Main Idea
    Key Details
    Text Features

Part IV: Assessment and Instruction: Bringing Your Understanding of Texts and Readers to the Classroom
Knowing Students: Interests, Language, Culture, Background Knowledge, and More
Assessing and Evaluating Comprehension
Matching Readers With “Just Right” Books
Conducting Goal-Setting Conferences
Using a Variety of Reading Strategies for Teaching Comprehension
Using a Variety Structures: Methods for Teaching Comprehension

Conclusion: The Alchemy of Reading

In Depth

Matching readers and texts requires more than a single assessment. A knowledgeable teacher in regular conversation with readers is key.

What to expect in this book.

In Part I we discuss Readers, Texts, and Levels—and What It All Means for Comprehension. Parts II and III are set up to help you develop expertise around text characteristics of children’s literature from Levels J–W and to help you see what strong comprehension may look and sound like, goal by goal and skill by skill. I am choosing to focus on this level range because although comprehension assessment and instruction is something that is important for teachers to consider at all levels, around Levels J/K is where there is increased demand on readers to synthesize and accumulate many events and details to understand plot, setting, character, figurative language, and themes in fiction; and to understand main ideas, key details, vocabulary, and text features in nonfiction. Levels J/K is also around where many children begin to read with more accuracy and fluency and where teachers need to devote more attention to comprehension skill development. There are exceptions to this, of course, but it is true for many. For teachers who work with students who are reading independently below Level J, the information in these sections will still be incredibly helpful as you plan other balanced literacy components where they will be listening to or reading texts above their independent reading level (i.e., shared reading, guided reading, readaloud, and so on). I chose to end at level W because most students who are able to read and deeply understand Level W texts will likely also be surefooted in X–Z, and the added challenges they encounter will tend to be more about the content in the book and how much knowledge the reader brings to the text. Again, there are some exceptions but this is generally true. Overall, I hope what’s included in Parts II and III helps you consider readers’ comprehension development within and across text levels and understand what to expect of the texts they are choosing to read.

Part II focuses on fiction texts and readers, and Part III focuses on nonfiction texts and readers. In the first section of each part, I explain what I understand about text levels from my study of qualitative text leveling and from my own immersion in children’s literature, reading dozens of children’s books at each level. I use the four comprehension goals of each genre as a way to organize the discussion of texts. (See page 11 for goals.) While the first half of each part is organized by levels, the second half of each part is organized by goals (e.g., Plot and Setting) and skills (e.g., retelling important events) across the levels, to allow you to see how readers’ comprehension develops. I provide samples of student writing about reading to show what strong comprehension sounds like within each goal, as students move to increasingly challenging texts.

Part IV will offer advice for applying all of this knowledge of texts, readers, levels, and comprehension to the classroom: from establishing classroom libraries and matching students to books, to creating whole-book and short-passage comprehension assessments, to using the information from Parts II and III in your evaluation of student responses to reading and selection of comprehension strategies and methods of teaching.


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