Book Introductions: Are They Necessary?

Over the past few years, I have heard more and more teachers question the purpose of a book introduction during guiding reading groups. In some cases, teachers have even moved away from providing a book introduction. Teachers are concerned that by providing a book introduction they are “giving away” the book and it appears to them that their students are regurgitating what was told to them during the book introduction and not “really” reading.

The purpose of this blog post is to support the reader with thinking about what guided reading is, how the book introduction fits with the purpose of guided reading, as well as providing support for creating book introductions that aren’t too supportive for students.

What is Guided Reading?

Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell write that “guided reading provides a context for responsive teaching – teaching that is grounded in the teacher’s detailed knowledge of and respect for each student, supporting the readers’ active construction of a processing system” (2017, p. 10). This is why, even when we are using the same text from one group to the next, the guided reading lesson will be different. Our lesson will be planned based on the students sitting in front of us.

During guided reading lessons, teachers choose texts at the students’ instructional level. A book at a student’s instructional level is slightly too difficult for a student to read on his/her own without some support. It also means that the book isn’t so hard that even with support the student will struggle through the book.

Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the area between what the learner can do on their own without help and what is too challenging for a child to do on their own. This area in the middle is the ZDP – what the learner can do with support and guidance from a knowledgeable adult or peer. Guided Reading has the potential to provide our reading students with the scaffolded learning they need in order to be working within the ZPD.

Guided reading provides a context in which students can be coached and provided scaffolded guidance to read a book that is a bit too difficult for them to read on their own.

Why is a Book Introduction Necessary?

As previously mentioned, the books that students read during guided reading are not books that they can read independently. Therefore, they will need support and guidance before, during, and after reading the text.

The book introduction is “giving readers a kind of ‘road map’ to the text. But it is not meant to take problem solving away for the reader. Your book introduction provides just enough support to enable readers to take on a more complex text” (Fountas & Pinnell, 2017, p. 111).

The following are some unintended consequences that may arise when we don’t provide this scaffolded support to our students:

  • Over reliance on one source of information at difficulty
  • Disfluent reading
  • Poor comprehension
  • Resistanct to reading

How to Plan a Book Introduction

Marie Clay refers to a book introduction as a book orientation. The teacher is orienting the group to the book in order to provide the group with some direction. Each introduction for a particular book will be unique to that group because the needs of the students within each group will be different.

This means that the teacher needs to:

  • know his/her students well in order to plan a book introduction that fits their strengths and needs.
  • understand the demands of different texts within a level and the demands that different levels of text put on readers
  • understand what behaviors are expected at each level

The book introduction provides the students with a purpose and motivation for reading the text. Teachers should keep this in mind while writing a brief meaning statement that gives the overall gist of the book. As we read through the book with our group in mind, we can predict the parts of the text that our students will need extra support with before reading the text. In addition to planning for the parts that we will support during the book introduction, we can also think about the places that we want to intentionally leave out of the book introduction to save for problem solving opportunities. We can plan to have the students turn to the pages of a few places in order to support the parts that are too hard for now. This could include new language structures that you want your students to hear and/or rehearse, new vocabulary or challenging concepts, or a word in which you want to highlight visual information to attend to.

I learned from others, much more knowledgeable than me, to never show my students the ending of the book during my book introduction. We can think about how we you feel when somebody spoils the ending of a book, show, movie, a big sporting event? We lose our motivation to read or watch it, right? When the ending is left open and the book introduction is concluded with, “Let’s read and find out what happens to…” students get excited. They will often make their own predictions as they turn back to the beginning of the book to start reading.

In Summary

Planning a book introduction can be challenging, but there are ways to make it easier. Do not accept canned/pre-written book introductions, instead write your own. The more book introductions you write the better you will become because you’ll get to know your books better. Have a system for keeping track of your students so that you know them as individuals. Meet with your colleagues to discuss book introductions and provide rationales for including what you did in your introduction. The book introduction is a necessary scaffold for students to have in order to experience success and therefore build a strategic processing system during their guided reading time.

References:

Clay, M.M. (2016), Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Heineman, Portsmouth, NH. 

Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G.S. (2017), Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades, Heineman, Portsmouth, NH.

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