The third-graders in Moira Kennedy's class at Red Hawk Ridge Elementary School have access to a wide range of different worlds and lives, all thanks to the power of reading.
Kennedy's classroom library includes light-hearted adventures and challenging mysteries; it features biographies of Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Roald Dahl and other important figures. There are books for every interest and every reading level. Students who are ahead of their peers in reading comprehension have just as many options as those who need extra work.
That level of variety on all fronts is no accident. Kennedy and her colleague Megan Coe selected dozens of titles with a very specific purpose in mind: To expose their students to long-form novels with distinct chapters.
"We didn't have a lot of novel sets, and we wanted to have our students read chapter books instead of just short picture books during guided reading," Kennedy said. "We wanted to expose them to long novels."
They were able to meet their goal thanks to a grant from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, and the impact of the novel sets was immediate. The money paid for copies of nearly 50 titles that are part of larger series. A biographical set titled "Who Was" and a series of lighthearted adventure books with the elementary school student Zeke Meeks as the title hero are part of the collection. These books are designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and reading levels, and that broad range showed strong signs of success in Kennedy's classroom during the 2014-15 school year.
Specifically, the books gave students some common ground when it came to group reading time.
"The kids are able to talk to each other about the books they're reading, and that's the main thing," she said. "During independent reading, they're all reading different books. When they're in the same group reading the same novel, they hold each other accountable."
The sense of shared responsibility applied to experienced readers and newcomers to the novel format alike. According to Kennedy, the broad selection of titles and content appealed to all of her students.
"I wanted to make sure I had books for each level," she said, pointing to the "Zeke Meeks" series as an ideal starter for students with less experience. "It targets those readers who aren't ready to read for a long time – they don't have the stamina for long reading."
Kennedy says she's seen proof the power of the approach in the enthusiasm of those students.
"A lot of the kids who are below grade level aren't exposed to chapter books," Kennedy said, adding that those same students couldn't wait for group reading time during the school year. "They ask me, 'Can we read another chapter today?'"