Yesterday, during Readers Workshop, I suggested a book to one of my kindergarteners. He looked at it and then asked me, “what level is it?” I was stunned. Where had he heard about levels? It certainly wasn’t in our classroom. None of my books are leveled and I’ve never mentioned anything about levels in our talks about how readers choose books to read.
I asked him what he meant. He told me, “the level tells you whether you can read the book or not.” Wow. We went on to have a great conversation about how readers (not levels) decide if they can read a book. Readers can choose a book that interests them, an old favorite, a favorite author or character, and they can read the pictures, read the words or remember read.
But I couldn’t get this conversation out of my mind. This five year old has already heard about levels. A system that is meant for teachers to use to guide OUR instruction. (see my previous blog posts about this) Chances are, he heard about this from a well-meaning parent or adult in his community. Which led me to question – do parents need to know reading levels? What does that really tell our parents? It gives them a number or letter to compare their child to others. It gives them a number or letter to talk about with other parents at soccer practice, the playground or gym. It gives them a number or letter that, most likely, doesn’t really mean much more than a letter or a number that ranks their child. And it may give them a letter or number that their child uses to define himself or herself as a reader and that limits what they can read or not read.
Parent – teacher conferences are coming up in the next months. There are so many things we can share with parents to help them understand where their child is in reading. A level doesn’t really help them understand, and it can do harm.
- What if we shared their child’s book box and shared the kinds of books their child enjoys?
- What if we showed our parents texts that their child is reading in guided reading and then compared that text with benchmark texts – showing parents where we are headed?
- What if we shared the goals their child has set to work on as a reader or the goals we have set for their child?
- What if we shared how we are teaching strategies to help their child as a reader?
- What if we shared language that parents can use to help their child talk about books or problem solve when they get to tricky parts?
- What if we shared our class charts that help guide our readers? (I send these home in our weekly poetry notebooks so parents can see the language we are using and so that kids can share what they are learning in Readers Workshop.)
- What if we shared lists of suggested books to check out from the library? (Most librarians aren’t going to be able to help you find a “level L” book – however, they can help you find Mo Willems or Jan Thomas books)
I think this is an important conversation to have in our schools. Are we sharing levels outside of our school? And if so, what is that purpose? I worry that talking about levels with parents serves no other purpose than to further define readers by a level and widen the gap between home and school. Choosing a book by the level is not an authentic way of choosing books in the real world. Libraries don’t level books. Book stores don’t level books. Speaking in terms of levels is a language most parents don’t understand, and it doesn’t serve our purpose of creating strong, lifelong readers who love to read.
How do you communicate with families about where their child is as a reader, and where they are headed? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Update: Here is an interview published on October 12 with Fountas and Pinnell that echoes our thoughts on leveled texts and who the levels are for – from the experts who created this leveling system. Well worth a read!
I’m on a campaign against level fatigue. I don’t want to see boxes of books with a big letter on the front and displayed prominently on the front of the book. I’m 17 book bins into shifting our book room away from this and more into bands of levels and themes of books.
I agree with not wanting to see those boxes of leveled books in a classroom library. It’s not how bookstores, libraries, bookstores or other real world book spaces are organized. However, our book room is organized this way because it is a space for teachers to choose appropriate instructional texts for students. We also have themes, authors and genres for teachers to choose from. I do like the idea of “bands of levels”, especially if that helps teachers choose instructional level texts based on the demands of the texts and the needs of the readers – with the levels as a general guide, but not a hard and fast rule. Thanks for reading and commenting!
I keep telling my students they are a reader not a level. I made appropriate interest based reading griouos and I’m instructing students according to their strengths and weaknesses and my 5th graders are struggling without knowing their level and how it compares to others.
Good morning! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! Will it be possible for me to have a PDF or a copy of this article to share in our Professional Learning Communities!
You are welcome to copy and paste the text into a word document – or send me your email address and I can do that and send you the document. Thank you for reading and wanting to share!
At our school, we actually do share levels with the parents and children. We actually base our whole grade 1-5 reading program on levels and students go to the appropriate classroom during reading/literacy time. Every student and parent knows exactly what level they are reading on. Now, this doesn’t stop them from trying other books but during reading time, they are reading books at their level. We noticed that students are motivated to get ahead now that they know their level. They want to practice so they can move up and up. They are excited about reading. I can’t believe the difference it makes in our “unmotivated” readers. And our motivated readers would read anyway. Last year was our first year doing this. Other years, I never told the students or parents about levels but I found that there is freedom in them knowing. In our case at our school, this system is working and we are so glad we changed our method.
Thank you for replying. I would be curious to know how you determine that this system is working. What data are you using? I agree that students should be reading books at their independent and instructional level at times during the day – it’s that practice that will help them develop a strong reading processing system. However, my concern is when the focus becomes on a level, rather than what readers do. If children are focused on moving up a level, are they learning strategies and developing a processing system that goes beyond a level number or letter? And I also think there is great value is reading books that may not be on an instructional level. Children can read the pictures and construct meaning in ways other than by conventional reading text. I also feel strongly about reading identity – and how children see themselves as readers. I want all of my readers, regardless of level, to see themselves as readers with favorite authors, genres, books and goals that are grounded in what readers do – not just to move up a level. I’m glad you find your system working. Thank you for reading and responding!
A well written post. Thank you. I will share with my team. 🙂
Thank you for reading and replying!
Unfortunately, my children know of their levels and refuse to check out anything from the library below their levels because they can’t get AR points from reading it. They spend the entire school year reading books solely that give them the most points possible so that they can reach their AR goals and receive a special pin at awards day. I can promise you that this is not something I have ever encouraged and is definitely something that was learned from school. I made it a point to make sure they checked out whatever books they wanted regardless of level during the summer. Not surprisingly my oldest daughter was found with a book in her hand quite frequently over summer break and that is not typical for her.
I am so sorry you are dealing with the harm that AR can and will do to readers. I experienced this first hand when I was a school librarian and saw proficient readers completely stuck (to the point of tears) when the book fair came and they did not know how to choose a book without an AR sticker on it. It’s horrific. Kudos to you as a parent, working hard to teach what real reading is, and to steer your children away from the points (and damage) of AR. You are to be commended for your work in helping your children be strong readers, who enjoy reading. I think what you saw with your daughter is a HUGE testament to not focusing on levels. Thank you for reading and responding! Keep encouraging your readers!
Very interesting read. We have this at our school too amd i hate it, along with AR goals. I find as the kids get older and have the level and the AR points constantly staring them in the face, they dont even enjoy the books. They are just reading for the grade at that point. It’s sad. I truly believe its a system that has failed 1 of my kids as a reader and robbed him of potentially turning his reading abilities around.
Yes, there is a great deal of research showing the negative effects of AR and other similar programs. It’s very sad that school systems continue to use this and spend ridiculous amounts of money on prizes and the quizzes that come with AR (instead of using the money to buy more books). I’m sorry you are experiencing this in your school. I hope you can continue encouraging your readers. Thank you for reading and responding.
As a first grade teacher, I love my leveled library; and I love the author and theme organized books in my library! I certainly don’t like a “level” being assigned to a child, but I do like to use levels as a good gauge for determining where a child is in his/her growth as a reader. My students pick some “just right” books and books of interest for their independent reading bags. It’s all about how it is presented and taught. I like the idea of teaching children with a growth mindset.
I also love having a leveled library for me, as a teacher, to use. Fountas and Pinnell never intended for the levels to be used beyond a tool to guide teachers in choosing appropriate instructional text for students. As I’ve written about in numerous posts on the blog, my concern is when students see themselves as a level, or when teachers & parents focus on a level and simply moving students up a level instead of focusing on what the reader is doing and how they are developing a reading processing system, or when levels limit what our readers choose to read. Teaching children to be persistent and flexible in their reading is a key goal for me – as well as teaching them how to choose books to read – a skill they need in the real world, where books aren’t leveled. I’ve seen the focus on levels be very detrimental with students and limit their choices and create a feeling of competition or of not being good enough despite solid classroom community and teaching. I believe there are much more meaningful ways, other than levels, to determine and articulate growth as a reader. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!
We have been told to level our books to assist students in finding just right books. I don’t agree with this concept because those reading on a lower level are embarrassed to choose a lower lettered book. Often low students will choose a book or two on a higher level they can’t even read.
When the levels are made public it creates a sort of segregation within the classroom. I really think this practice needs to be questioned and revisited within schools. Thank you for being brave enough to question and think about it. I appreciate you reading and commenting. I encourage you to start the discussion in your school.
Instead of withholding this information, how about educating them on what it means and how they can support their child with all of the suggestions you articulated? I don’t believe in withholding information. What if the pediatrician withheld your child’s vitals? We need parents to know!!!
I definitely agree that we should not withhold information from parents. Our families are partners. They need to be fully educated and included in how to best support their children. I think we run a risk of creating a gap between home and school when we talk in too much “educationese”. We don’t share all the acronyms and labels that are specific to teaching, because that would not make sense to someone who isn’t a teacher. In this same thinking, I don’t feel that sharing a level is helpful. It doesn’t give parents any information. In my opinion, telling a parent their child is a D and needs to be a J does not help at all. If a doctor tells me my blood pressure is high, I don’t remember the numbers he gives me – I remember the specific things he tells me to do to lower it. I don’t want parents to hang on to a number or letter, rather, I want them to remember what they can do to help their reader at home. The suggestions I listed are what I think we do need to be sharing with parents. Unfortunately, I think when a level is mentioned, that’s what parents leave with. That’s what is shared with other parents and with their student – instead of the strategies and thinking that can help a reader grow. Thank you for reading and commenting.
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