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What's your reading level?

Does that question make you wonder or cringe inside (or maybe a little of both!)?

 

Reading levels have been the topic of debate in many educator circles. To learn more, I enjoyed reading this post from Learning at the Primary Pond and this article from Psychology Today.

With a brief glance at both articles, you may think that I have already formed the opinion that tracking reading levels does more harm than good. HOWEVER, based on my own experience in the classroom, I can see both sides of the argument.

 

Here's a quick overview of the pros and cons that comes along with using reading levels:

 

So where do I stand on incorporating reading levels in the classroom?

If I've come across a little vague so far, it's for a good reason!

The school I have worked at placed a heavy emphasis on leveling our classroom libraries and tracking student growth. We planned our lessons and chose weekly books by level.  Our decisions were based on frequent monitoring of student reading levels.

We held our Guided Reading content block sacred – up to one hour, five days per week. As a team, we pushed ourselves to learn more about reading behaviors. At the forefront of our decisions was data.

This focus on levels was a requirement at my school, so I was immersed in the process. It's during this time that I was able to learn more, as well as see the outcome of using a leveled approach to reading instruction.

Here's what I discovered…

The Good

As I learned more about the reading behaviors of my students and the levels I was using, I became MUCH better at choosing appropriate books for the majority of my students. Basically, I cut out a lot of the “fluff.” I also was quick to discard books that were just not that interesting or useful to my students.

I also learned how to save time during instruction! As I took better notes during progress monitoring, I was able to determine when my students really mastered a reading behavior or needed more time.

Overall, I noticed that I was previously keeping students at a level a little too long. Now I was able to push them along at a quicker pace.

This is important to me as an intervention (special education) teacher because staying idle can often feel a bit stagnant or boring. Imagine if we had to read the same type of book over and over (and NOT a book of choice)? This can and has led to negative behavioral responses and disinterest with my first graders.

As I quickened the instructional pace, my students seemed more engaged and excited about learning! I felt more excited, too!

Lastly, I was also able to celebrate student growth. Armed with knowledge about where my students were currently reading and where they were going, I was able to quickly fill many instructional “gaps.”

As a result, my students' reading levels soared! Although I believe a child should never be defined as a “level.” the more adept they become at reading, the more independence they gain. That's something I definitely believe in!

The Not-So-Good

The hyper-focus on reading levels also brought on  a sense of pressure to push our students along. “What level are you at now?” became a question that I often heard and regretfully asked šŸ™

While I shared positive aspects of using a leveled approach, it also comes with a word of caution. Adding pressure to reading is not necessarily going to result in higher reading capabilities. In fact, it may do just the opposite.

With an emphasis on reading levels, there may be a “more is better” feeling when choosing books. While I did have a portion of my classroom library leveled (per school expectations), I also had a “free choice” area. Which books do you think my students gravitated towards? I'm sure you can guess..the free choice books featured topics they were interested in or beloved characters and my students LOVED pouring through those selections.

I believe student choice, especially regarding reading materials, can increase enjoyment and volume of reading. This may lead to possibly more growth than using a systematic leveled approach.

And lastly, common sense must prevail. We have arrived at this state of reading instruction because there is (or was) plenty of research stating that the higher the reading level, the more successful a student will be. And don't we want every student to be successful?

However, sometimes we just need to put aside our research-based studies and practices and enjoy reading for the sake of reading.Ā  If at any time using leveled readers is limiting our students' love and interest in books, I believe it's time to set it aside or at least take a break.

Stepping off my soapbox for now…

I hope I've been able to adequately share my opinions. I feel like there's so much more that can be said, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Are you at a school that sets expectations regarding reading levels? If you are, I hope this blogpost provides some ideas on how to make it work for your students.

I'm very interested in reading instruction as I travel along the path to be the best educator I can be for my students.

I created this free level correlation chart:

This color-coded chart is included as a free download in my STEP Progress Monitoring Kit.

Click here to see it and download the preview.

Print a few copies to tuck into your Guided Reading binder, lesson planning tools, and have ready for family conversations.

Can't wait to hear YOUR thoughts on this topic!

 

Hi there.

I'm Jennifer!

Iā€™m Jennifer and I was a special educator in the elementary school setting over the past decade. I entered the classroom every day dedicated to making learning inclusive AND engaging.

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