Just-Right Reading Just-Right Challenge

For some readers, the standard formula doesn't work. These readers need something different when deciding on just-right books.

My job is to stand back and see what they need. It's often a scary place to be - out on a limb without rules to guide me. It's easier to follow the formulas:
  • book readability level + student assessed reading level = just right book
  • six words missed on a page = put the book back.
But, sometimes, inexplicably, our readers bring a formula of their own:
  • desire + interest + need for challenge = success.

Why Read Books That Are Too Hard?

Why do some readers want to read books that are too hard? Some struggling readers want to read what their friends are reading. Some need more sophisticated plots, vocabulary, and themes. They can't get interested in simplistic stories written for younger readers.

But hope alone isn't enough for success.  Some students carry books around for weeks hoping that hope will make it so.  Others struggle, then give in and give up.  I let them try (for a time.) They almost always decide on their own to put the book away, and move on to something easier.

If You Can't, Pretend

Some strugglers are dealing with the shame they feel having "failed" for so long at something their classmates find easy. They pretend to read big books.

Caution vs. Challenge

But some want hard books because they prefer to “live on the edge”; they enjoy life more when there's a challenge.  How we help our readers select just-right books depends, in part, on where they land on the caution vs. challenge spectrum.  Some readers refuse to move onto harder levels until they're ultra sure they're ready. These students have a high need for caution.

Readers Who Love Challenge Can Read Harder Books 

But others thrive on challenge. These readers can happily tackle 15 new words on a page of dense text - while others might wilt at encountering 4. Readers who are undaunted by difficulty are able to read harder books than their levels suggest.

Intuitive Readers

A rare few are able to actually teach themselves to read - and seem to know it. These plow through with sheer willpower and an unusually intuitive sense about reading. Struggling readers who fit into this category may have had (or still have) difficulty with beginning phonics. Luckily, they may have other strengths that, when used instead, propel them forward.


Third-grader Tristan was a near-non reader.

Picture Books with a Reading Buddy

To give him a boost, we set him up to read beginning picture books an extra twenty minutes a day in the reading room with a fifth-grade reading buddy.

He Decided on Chapter Books Instead

One day, though, he set his mind on reading chapter books. He wasn’t interested in the least in our advice regarding the usual stair-stepping sequence of gradually increasing reading difficulty.

Determined to Select His Own Books

He stubbornly selected his books based on his interest in them and jumped his level ahead rapidly.

He Read Avidly

He read avidly every night, every recess and with his reading buddy.

We Didn't Have the Heart to Stand in His Way

He worked so hard we didn’t have the heart to stand in his way. I watched him doggedly work his way through the books he read word by word, sounding the words out, guessing at their possible meanings. He seemed to have an acute ability to infer the meanings of words, using what seemed to be high-level context-skill clues and an excellent word-recognition vocabulary.

Above Grade Level

It was clear that at the rate he was going, he would soon be one of our strongest above-grade-level readers.

Harnessing Stengths

Tristan used a collection of unique skills to forge his own way to success.  He used his strengths:

  • uncanny grasp of context clues 
  • razor-sharp inference skills
  • advanced word-recognition vocabulary 
  • determination
 to become a reader.

If we'd followed our usual formulas:

  • 10-20 books at each reading level before moving up PLUS
  • assessed reading level score=reading level of appropriate books 
he'd have been stuck at the starting gate indefinitely with nothing to read.
We literally had 5 books available at his "appropriate reading level" because he was so low when he started.

Tristan's story illustrates how the formulas we rely on to help us match books with kids don't fit for some of our readers. For these readers, the just-right formula is following their lead as we help them harness their unique gifts.


Read Samantha's story:
I LOVE MYSELF! Samantha's Story
Read Haylee's story:


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Spark a Love of Learning with Games  | The Owl Teacher       

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