Creating Diverse Books for Leveled Reading: An Interview with Gaylia Taylor

In this blog post, we interviewed Reading Recovery® teacher and Bebop Books author, Gaylia Taylor, about creating diverse books for leveled reading.

Why is diversity important in books for students learning to read? How is diversity critical to your work as an author?

Gaylia Taylor: Diversity is essential for students learning to read because they are for the first time stepping out of their world into a world that exists outside of themselves. As authors, we can put readers in the proximity of others. When we are around others, we can begin to understand different cultures and appreciate others’ differences. We write to extend boundaries. Each group has a gift. If we collect all of the gifts and put them together, we know love. As an author, I write to celebrate this–the heritage of cultural diversities.

What is your process when you create a children’s book intended for leveled reading? What language do you use when you write a book for a child just beginning to read?

GT: No matter how complex my storyline will be, I think about the subject and make it interesting for the reader. Therefore, it’s important to structure the context to specifically match the level of difficulty that will foster independent reading.

In my emergent reader, Family Picnic, (RR intervention level 2) the context is written for the reader to tackle the words independently. The reader can match each word with their finger instead of reading extra words.The meaning consists of two words. To read Family Picnic, the student can recognize initial sounds and information from the picture to read unknown words.

Even on this simple level, the last page gives the reader something to think about and leaves them wanting to read many more books.

How do you use your experience as an educator when you’re writing books for children?

GT: I have experienced the value of motivating students to become independent learners and critical thinkers. A book written for a literacy program must intentionally provide for an appropriate skill level and challenge. Self-motivation kicks in when a student figures out that they are successful with tackling their challenges. I write books to allow for skill-building and, at the same time, provide interest and enjoyment for the reader.

As a Reading Recovery® teacher, what kinds of techniques and strategies did you use when teaching students to read? What advice can you give to fellow Reading Recovery® educators?

GT: My goal was to model specific strategies and techniques for the student to use. I replaced the modeling with prompts for the student to come up with problem-solving techniques. Eventually, the student fluently used prompts on their own to successfully read and comprehend text. Letting a student use or pick a strategy independently can be an intimidating experience for some beginning readers.

I had one student that cried before using a strategy because she was afraid to make a mistake. She didn’t trust herself. When it got to the point that she was making good choices, repeated assurance gave her the confidence to continue and never look back. This student went from being a below-average student to an above-average reader in her class. She went from being a withdrawn, fearful child to a more outgoing and happy little girl.

Some of the techniques and prompts I used included: 

  • Directional movement for reading and one to one matching/matching the finger to each word
  • Did that match?
  • Sounding out initial letters/Can you get your mouth ready to say the word?
  • For meaning/What does the picture say?
  • Taking a word apart/Use movable letters for the child to take the word apart and put it back together. Eventually, the reader takes the word apart while reading and does not use moveable letters.
  • Self-monitoring/Why did you stop?  Does that make sense?  What would make sense?
  • Fluency/Why did you stop?
  • Context clues/What makes sense?

There are more techniques used for reading. There are also strategies for writing and comprehension skills to help develop a reader’s self-extending system.

Eventually, the reader begins to use these techniques on the run—fluently.

How does Reading Recovery® help students who are learning to read? What did you enjoy most about being a Reading Recovery® teacher?

GT: I enjoyed watching the intrinsic joy of a struggling child developing a fluent self-extending system. Another unique part of this program is the built-in writing component. Writing is part of each lesson. Research shows that reading is the reciprocity of writing and vice versa. The early stages of learning to write letters, words, and sentences help the student with visual discrimination of details in reading print. Also, it’s essential to hear the sounds in words to write.

A child may come to school with an emphasis on oral communication and may need literacy catch-up on the printed and spoken book language. Reading Recovery® works one-on-one with an individual student for 30 minutes. A beginning reader may have a short attention span for learning specific skills. This program should not be mistaken for a tutoring session. The teacher is constantly evaluating the readers learning behaviors and keys in on the strategies that the child needs to progress to the next level.

The self-extending strategies have been proven to maintain the student’s success throughout their 12 years of education.

See Gaylia Taylor’s list of Bebop titles available in English and Spanish:

How Do I Help? / ¿Cómo ayudo?
Family Picnic / Picnic en familia
First Day of School / El primer día de escuela
The Dashiki / El dashiki

To find the official Reading Recovery® leveled titles from Bebop Books, please check out the following collections:

Reading Recovery® Bebop Books collections
Descubriendo la Lectura Bebop Books collections

Learn more:

Just Choosing Diverse Books is Not Enough: Let’s Make Curriculum Connections” by Dr. Towanda Harris
The Importance of Diversity in Leveled Readers & Reading Recovery®” by Dr. Lisa Pinkerton

If you would like to build a customized classroom library with Lee & Low, please contact RR@leeandlow.com or read this blog post for more information.

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