Leveling With You About Reading Levels

posted on April 25, 2017 by Eve Panzer
Doley the Guatemalan Street Dog:The Sounds of San Marcos

I will confess up front that I hate numbers. More specifically, I hate when numbers are used to measure our worth in some way.  I just don’t think a number should define us, whether it is our IQ, our physical looks (i.e. on a scale from one to ten), our score on a standardized test or our reading level. These numbers can vary widely with slight changes such as hours of sleep, a full or empty stomach, or the temperature in the room. Assigning reading levels to books and students is not something I am totally comfortable with. Here’s why:

Besides not being accurate and easily caused to fluctuate, I view reading levels as barriers to readers.

As a librarian, I believe in freedom of choice.

 Books should not be banned and the access to materials should not be restricted.  By assigning reading levels to books and readers and limiting the readers to books near these levels, we can do a great disservice to our readers.

Let’s be clear, I am not saying that a child in fourth grade should be reading a book written for a twelfth grade student. Clearly, not only the vocabulary but also the subject matter could easily be way beyond their grasp and would only to frustrate them.

However, readers should be allowed to read books somewhat above their reading level for several reasons:

  • If the reader is knowledgeable about the topic, they will most likely comprehend and enjoy it, even if it stretches their reading ability.
  • Reading books which stretch the reader’s ability helps them to increase their proficiency.
  • If the readers do not comprehend words or topics, they have resources such as librarians, teachers, parents, dictionaries, etc. to help them understand.

Conversely, we should allow readers to read books below their reading level for several reasons:

  • Boost their confidence in their reading ability.
  • Motivate the reader to read more because the task is not so daunting.
  • Increase their proficiency by reading more.
  • Boost the pleasure of reading by allowing the reader to pick books of interest to them, not just books matching their abilities.

All of these reasons help kids get hooked on reading, making them lifelong readers.

I wholeheartedly endorse allowing children to read books both somewhat below and somewhat above their level of reading expertise. I was encouraged to articulate my thoughts about reading levels for this post by reading this article: “Three Myths About “Reading Levels” and why you shouldn’t fall for them…” by Paul J. Schwanenflugel, Ph.D. and Nancy Flanagan Knapp, Ph.D. which appeared Psychology Today February 28, 2017.

I encourage you to read this article to help inform your own opinion about reading levels and would be happy to offer my Barefoot Librarian services to you to find just the right variety of books for your classroom or library! Happy Reading!

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Faced with the wealth of incredible books available for children, many educators can feel overwhelmed when it comes to choosing titles for the classroom. If you’re a teacher who doesn’t want to resort to the dartboard method, the Barefoot Librarian is your new best friend!

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