Beyond the Cover: The Intentionality of Book Selection in the Lower School

Reading is used everyday for a variety of critical purposes from surviving an unfamiliar city to remembering essentials on a list at a grocery store. We read to stay informed, to communicate with others, to be entertained, and to experience the realities of other people across the world. In pre-kindergarten through fifth grade education, we read for these reasons and more.

At Georgetown Day School, our mission calls teachers to “challenge the intellectual, creative, and physical abilities of our students and foster strength of character and concern for others.” In the Lower School Language Arts Department, we’ve been taking a closer look at the books in our classrooms to determine how to actualize this mission through our daily literacy instruction.

Books for Developing Fluency Skills
First grade teacher Andrew Berman selects books for his guided reading lessons for emerging readers based on the skills they’ll need to develop oral reading fluency. Guided reading books are leveled based on text complexity, and Andrew plans for this targeted, small group instruction by selecting a new word pattern for decoding with accuracy (e.g., words with a long /e/ sound) and text features for expression (e.g., quotation marks that indicate characters speaking). Readers learn these specific and distinct skills in isolation, then integrate their understandings as they learn to read over the course of the year.

Books for Providing Windows and Mirrors
In second grade and fourth grade, department members Mandy Kimlick and Jenny Medvene-Collins have been leading efforts to provide windows into different identities and cultures through stories, as well as mirrors for students to see their own identities reflected in texts. Last year, GDS fourth grade students read the book George to learn more about the experiences of a fourth grade student who comes out as transgender. This window into the character George’s life taught students how to be an ally to friends who are different, use the proper pronoun for people transitioning, and accept and embrace differences. In second grade, students hear a variety of books featuring different family styles as a way to provide mirrors and affirmation for students as they prepare to proudly share about themselves in their end-of-year identity projects.

Books for Scaffolding Comprehension
The fifth grade team is using an interdisciplinary historical fiction unit to give students more practice in their summarizing and predicting skills, as well as deepen their understanding of the colonial history of the United States. Both the content and skills developed in this unit are essential for fifth graders as they prepare to summarize the lives of famous figures for their traveling biographies in the spring.

Books for Instilling a Love for Reading
As the third grade launches Reading Workshop this year, new-to-GDS teacher Kim Kaz emphasizes the importance of not just reading and understanding, but rather savoring the book, to her students. Per the Reading Workshop model, Kim confers with students daily to monitor their reading progress as they move through “just right” texts. If at any point it sounds as though a student is reading out of obligation, Kim questions whether their book is enjoyable or if it makes them feel like a “curmudgeon” (and promptly reveals a picture of Grumpy, one of the seven dwarves). Kim is a strong advocate of the idea that learning to love reading is just as important as any fluency or comprehension skill, as we are dedicated to developing lifelong learners.

With teachers being as intentional as they are with text selection, the implications on student learning are vast. Each book and unit moves our Lower School closer to fulfilling our department vision, which aspires for students to be “equipped with the skills necessary to think critically, work collaboratively, and live healthy, happy, productive, and responsible lives.” Lower School teachers and librarians are experts in children’s and young adult literature, and would be happy to provide parents with book recommendations or advice in partnership for supporting our young readers.

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