To Level Books or Not to Level Books, That Is the Question


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To level books or not to level books, that is a hot question! Do we level our classroom libraries? Do we require our students to choose books only within their level? Here are a few things we think about regarding children’s levels and the effect on book choice.

  • We teach the I-PICK method for choosing good-fit books and reinforce it every day and week all year long. We also focus on how to choose a good-fit book in the school library. We model, support, and have an ample number of high-interest books that students will love. By teaching how to choose a book that fits their interests, needs, and levels, we empower them to be able to access books outside the classroom.
  • Instead of a leveling system, we put our library together with this system.  Our focus is on the constant reinforcement of choosing good-fit books.
  • For more information on the research to support ridding our schools of leveled libraries, consider reading RTI from All Sides by Mary Howard, Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, and What Really Matters Most for Struggling Readers by Richard Allington.
  • We carefully identify students who need support to choose good-fit books and meet with them frequently to reinforce and support finding just-right texts. We often provide students with a way to listen to books they are highly interested in but that are above their reading level.  
  • We always want to keep in mind our own reading habits. Personally, I have a variety of reading materials going at once: magazines, fiction books, YA books, and yes, nonfiction books that are a challenge for me. Supporting students with the reading of high-interest, high-background-knowledge books that have ample picture clues to support them is as important a part of reading growth as voracious reading of choice books at their own level.
  • Sometimes we find that reading the first pages or chapter of a wonderful book aloud to a student is the trick to getting him or her hooked on a book or series. Invest the time; it is worth it!

We stopped leveling our books when we realized that levels are for teachers, not for students. Levels are intended to support us as we design, plan, and prepare to deliver just-right instruction to each and every student in our care. If we use leveling information to limit our students to a letter, number, or colored dot, we cripple them when they leave us. They are unable to find a book at the public library, at home, at Grandma's, or at the bookstore. However, when students have internalized the I-Pick method, they will be empowered to choose a good-fit book no matter where they are.

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