Helping Students Become 3-D Readers

My students set reading goals every six weeks, and over the course of the year, I want them to become readers who read along the x-, y-, and z-axes. If those math terms send chills up your spine, think of it as horizontal, vertical, and diagonal reading. All three dimensions are important to becoming a well rounded (ha!) reader.

Horizontal (x-axis) reading is done with genres and authors a student loves. Instead of getting annoyed by a student’s insistence on reading the umpteenth book in a simplistically written fantasy series, recognize it for what it is: the development of expertise, and therefore, fluency. I love conferring with horizontal readers about an author’s style or the tropes of genre, types of thinking that require one to read a lot of a specific kind of text. People can sprint across level ground, and this momentum is the key to flight. Most students who “hate reading” are willing to revise that statement once they can name an author or genre that they enjoy. Without that concession, students will not be interested in or be ready to access the other two dimensions of reading.

Diagonal (z-axis) reading happens when students read books in different genres that have similar elements to their favorite genres. The reading level is typically similar; the stretch comes from the new genre. Students may believe that they only like one type of book, but this is where their minds can open to other possibilities. Because diagonal reading offers some degree of challenge, it prepares students for the final dimension.

Vertical (y-axis) reading challenges students to read harder books, typically in their favorite genres. It raises the stakes without changing too many things at once. A challenging book in an unfamiliar genre is not appropriate for any but the most confident readers.

In the spirit of 3-D reading, I’m launching a new feature on the blog where I identify a few books in each direction based on a starter text. I’ll talk through my thinking, so that way you can create your own 3-D text sets to help students find that next read. I’d love for you to share your own 3-D sets as a guest blogger or request that I “do” a particular book.

Here’s an example I created after a book club in English 9 finished reading We Were Here by Matt de la Peña.

We Were Here

We Were Here is about a boy serving time in a group home for a crime that is not revealed until the end of the book. It’s a YA book, but because of its length and how it’s written, it’s on the more challenging end.

Horizontal Choices–I Will Save You by Matt de la Peña is by the same author and deals with a similar situation. Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos is similarly categorized because although it is a memoir, it’s first-person narrative shows someone in late adolescence/early adulthood navigating the consequences of his involvement in the drug trade. Again, similar voice and content to We Were Here.  Rikers High by Paul Volponi is also juvenile hall novel. It’s based on Volponi’s experiences teaching incarcerated youths on Rikers Island. All three of these authors have a large body of work, great for students needing further horizontal recommendations.

Diagonal Choices–The Living by Matt de la Peña gives students the same author, but it’s about a cruise ship disaster, so it takes them from teen life to thriller books. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles is about a popular girl and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks falling in love when they are partnered in chemistry class. It offers more romance than We Were Here while still dealing with the theme of what it means to be “good.” This book is hard to put down, so it’s a great introduction to romance, especially for male readers. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez is the most difficult of these three, because it’s nonfiction written at an adult level. It deals with trying to escape gang life in Los Angeles, so the setting is similar, but it dives deeper into questions of how and why teenagers get involved in criminal activity.

Vertical ChoicesOne of the many things I love about We Were Here is that the main character is a reader. He reads The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger over the course of the book, along with several other classics. These are the simpler of the classics mentioned in the book, which is why I chose them as good next-reads for ninth graders. Coming of age and friendship feature in these texts as well, but offer more complex language. Since they are shorter classics,  they also make good forays into challenge.

What other books have you given students after reading We Were Here? Are they horizontal, vertical, or diagonal? Is there another book you’d like me to gather choices for? I’m so excited for this blog to become a resource for finding that next book!

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