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!