Follow-up: Reading A-Z.com. Almost a month later
April 25, 2014 | 4:24 pm
By Joanna Cabot
I wrote earlier this month about a great reading website I recently subscribed to on behalf of my school. The website has printable ebooks at a variety of levels, some of which include worksheets and bonus content, and I thought it would be a good resource for teachers to use with their students. Almost a month in, how is it going?
Great, actually! There have been a few small hiccups and complaints, but I’ve seen several other teachers besides me printing and using these cute little books. Here are some examples:
1) To level up an accelerated student
This has been MY use case for this website. I have a student in one of my kindergarten classes who speaks French at home, and my typical classwork for the otherwise English-speaking kindergartners is baby work for him. So I keep him with us for the circle time part of the class, and then once I send the other kids away with their little page of the day, I pull him aside and do a little extra. This website has so many books available (over 400 titles just in the leveled readers area, most of it available in multiple languages!) that I have not had any trouble finding suitable content.
My only small complaint is that the worksheets and bonus content have, on the whole, been a little anemic. I used another ebook website in the past where the books were not as good and required a lot of cutting and pasting, but the worksheets were excellent. Here, I have the opposite problem. I think most teachers, myself included, are used to having to do a certain amount of tweaking. The great white whale of truly print-and-go content remains elusive.
2) To accommodate suitable content within the time constraints of a classroom period
One teacher told me he appreciates that this website gives him options for content that is at an appropriate level AND length—to many book publishers, going up a level in difficulty means going up a level in length too, and this means that for his higher-level kids, it can be hard for him to find material that is leveled suitably and also is short enough to read within a class period.
Our school is set up in 30-minute blocks and often, the kids go from a classroom period to a specialty period with another teacher. He appreciates that he can print these books and actually finish them within one class period.
His one complaint? In an effort to plant their flag in this area, they’ve set up a proprietary level system for the books which annoys him. They do include a conversion chart so that you can see where each level fits in relation to any systems you might already be using. But to him, this seemed a superfluous step. Our school primarily uses the Fountas & Pinnell levels, which is an established standard. He frowned upon the made-up levels the site placed their content into, which, he said, mean nothing.
He also felt like the site was also a little confusing and unfriendly for kids; he wanted to take the students onto it directly so they could choose their own books to read, but the site is clearly geared to the teacher. A companion website (which costs more money) seems more kid-friendly, but doesn’t have quite the same setup. It might be an option down the road, but I think we will be sticking with printing out the paper books for now.
3) To expand a limited library
One of our resource teachers (the same one who previously spent hours putting little level stickers onto every book in the library) has been printing these out to use with small groups for guided reading. She has found that some levels are simply more common and popular than others, and when she has worked with students who fall between, the content choices can be limited.
Not anymore! She loved that she could just pick a level, browse, and print. Her only difficulty was that she found the book assembly instructions a little obtuse. They have a special way of folding the pages so that a book can be assembled and stapled without needing to cut and chop the pages first; the resulting books are very neat and professional-looking. She didn’t get the hang of it at first and was blowing all of the time she was saving on not needing to sort and sticker things anymore with cutting and collating pages. Once I showed her the proper way to fold and staple, she was thrilled.
Final verdict? This was a good purchase for us and we’ll definitely use it. We’ll see next year if it’s worth renewing or not, but in the meantime, we’ll put Reading A-Z through its paces!