I recently attended a webinar entitled “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, NOT a Child’s Label,” moderated by two of my favorite educators – Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. I found myself cheering as they clearly articulated the differences between understanding levels of text complexity as an instructional goal, and not as an evaluation of students’ reading levels. I concur with their belief that levels should not be displayed on classroom library bins, shared with parents or students, or used on report cards. If not, we are returning to the days of the “redbirds,” “bluebirds,” and “blackbirds,” and robbing students of the chance to become proficient readers and writers. I believe we have forgotten the true purpose of these benchmark levels, that is, to guide and differentiate a teacher’s classroom reading instruction. Like all good ideas, Fountas and Pinnell’s leveled correlation charts morphed into a sorting system for students, that has left them unmotivated and uninterested in reading.
This year, I asked an elementary student what his favorite book was, and he replied “I read Ds.” His whole identity as a reader had been shaped by that one letter. He couldn’t imagine doing anything but “staying in that lane.” As we talked, he told me about his interest in animals and art, and I began sharing with his teacher all the books he would be motivated to read. However, when we looked at his current classroom library, he was not given that opportunity. We figured out ways to integrate these high interest texts without leveling.
Children should not read in their lanes! They should read books of their own choosing. These include books that make them laugh, make them wonder, make them imagine, make them enter other worlds and realities, and make them happy. When organizing our classroom libraries, we have much to think about this year!
I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic!