This book leveling thing has gotten out of control.
Here are just a few of the cringe-worthy statements I’ve head parents and educators say recently.
I overheard a parent at the library say to their child, “You can’t get that book because it’s not on your level.”
“I need to level all my books,” said by a classroom teacher.
A child said, “I’m an E.”
NO! STOP! Children are not book levels, your library shouldn’t be entirely leveled, parents shouldn’t prevent a child from picking a book they would enjoy. We have to stop this book leveling madness.
Let’s Delve Into Book Levels
What is the Purpose of Book Levels
Yes, book levels do have a time and place. But, they are book labels NOT child labels.
One of the most widely used and appropriate leveling systems is by Fountas and Pinnell. But, Irene Fountas says, “We did not intend for levels to become a label for children that would take us back to the days of the bluebirds and the blackbirds or the jets and the piper cubs.” The leveling system was designed to help teacher select books for instruction.
Honestly, book levels are most helpful for teachers of emerging readers who need those gradient steps to help new readers become fluent readers during guided reading.
But, we shouldn’t expect or want kids to be trapped into a level for all their reading experiences. Imagine if I told you that you could only pick books from one bucket of books for the next month. Yuck!
If asked, “What kind of a reader are you?” I want kids to NOT answer, “I’m a D.” but rather, “I’m a read any chance I get reader. I love adventure stories. I also love any book about soccer.”
How Much of My Classroom Library Should be Leveled
In a School Library Journal article by Parrott she says, “Rather than having a conversation about interests, children in leveled classrooms and school libraries are often directed to color-coded bins or shelves labeled by level.”
Our classroom libraries should not just contain letter or number coded bins. Yes, you may have a small percentage of your library coded for purposes of pulling materials to use during guided instructional time (aka guided reading.) But, children should not be confined to just selecting books based on a level.
In my classroom, I used to have the kids select a few warm-up books from books I had used with them during guided reading. Then, they were free to select books that interested them. I made sure I had tubs of books based on their interests in a variety of reading levels. If a holiday was coming up, I’d have a bin of books all about that holiday. Have a student fascinated with shelter and rescue animals, gather a bin on that topic.
Why Are Book Leveling Systems So Confusing
As I said above, the most helpful leveling system I’ve used is the Fountas & Pinnell leveling for guided reading.
But, if you walk into a library or bookstore and head to the beginning readers, you’ll find an array of leveling systems that are downright confusing and often don’t make much sense. Each publisher categorizes their beginning readers differently.
Now, imagine giving a family a number or letter label for their child and then sending them off into the book world to navigate with that one and only label.
How Should We Communicate With Families About Books and Reading
Instead of starting off a conversation about reading with a parent with, “Jason is an E,” Let’s focus on helping families instill a love of reading with their kids. Try, “Jason loves animals. He’s always sharing tidbits about animals in the sea. He’s especially interested in whales. I’ve pulled a list of great books about whales. You can take it to the library. I’m sure Jason would love to explore these books with you.”
Yes, helping families find books that brand-new emerging readers can read on their own can be frustrating. But, I’m here to help you. We want our new readers to have success. I’ve even shared leveled book lists of “real books” But, more importantly, I want families to read together and help their kids find books they will fall in love with and want to enjoy whether on their own or with a loved one.
One of the Growing Book by Book Facebook readers, Jessica, commented, “When my daughter was pulled out of public school at the end of 2nd grade she hated reading. The first year we homeschooled, I gave her free range over book selections at the library. By the end of 3rd grade, she couldn’t stop reading. She devoured books! Now she is in 8th grade and still reading for pleasure…a novel a day type of reader. If we had continued the trajectory of only allowing her to select books from a certain reading/grade level and genre, merely for the purpose of AR reading to meet “goals”, she likely would still hate reading. Kids need more freedom with book selections and the downtime without distractions to actually dive into them.”
What do we ultimately want for our kids when it comes to their reading life? We want them to become lifelong readers who love to read. That won’t happen by limiting our readers to a bin of leveled books.
How do you ensure that you are helping kids fall in love with books?