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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

"Level-Mania" and the Identity of the Reader

January 24, 2007

I read something interesting at the Edge of the Forest about leveled book systems in elementary classrooms. A small snip from the thoughtful piece:

In the name of "just right" books, we may be sacrificing real reading experiences that will last a lifetime.

The author seeks to make the point that leveled systems in classrooms which funnel children into baskets of books that match their reading level deny those students authentic ways to develop the 'behaviors of readers' by building 'their own identity as a reader.' Predetermined reading baskets provide fewer opportunities to explore genre, favorite authors or illustrators and provide greater opportunities to read only with the purpose of getting to the next level basket.

Don't get me wrong — by recognizing this piece I'm not arguing against leveled systems. Leveling systems can maximize the instructional value of a lesson by providing a reliable way to match a young reader with a book. They also provide guidance to teachers who are new to the concept of the reader-text match. But I see the author's point about reading ownership.

So, here's the challenge: have kids read on their instructional level (defined here as 90% accuracy) to help develop their skill as readers and, as teachers, engage in all kinds of other behaviors that help children develop their "reading identity". Some tips for doing that, again from the Edge of the Forest:

[*]Help children find favorite authors.[*]Guide them to choose books with characters they might come to love — books where the same character appears in several books [*]Ask them about the kinds of books they like, not the level of book they want [*]Organize our books in baskets by author, genre, topic and series, rather than by level [*]Allow kids to choose books that are too hard or too easy if it fits their purpose [*]Talk to kids about my favorite books, authors, and genres [*]Introduce children to new books, authors, and genres [*]Have conversations with children about new books that I am excited about [*]Share ways that I keep up with new books coming out using internet resources [*]Share book reviews with children and talk about the kinds of books that sound good to them.


A lot of school systems use levelled readers for easibility of grouping readers for reading instruction. This is appropriate when teaching a large group of students.However, if children are not being exposed to the complex sentence structures and vocabulary that Library books offer we are disadvantaging them.Vocabulary results are low world wide due to lack of exposure to well written texts.Oral language activities are the prerequisite for well written texts.I believe that great literature should be read daily and that oral language should receive a top priority and then our children will read and write well.

Although I agree with some of his concerns, I have some reservations about promoting use of tubs of leveled books that Mr. Sibberson didn't mention. My big one is that I am wary about whether the words in the books in a tub are words that we would expect the readers at that level to know how to read. Too many leveled books are predicated on repetitive patterns that require very little reading and too much guessing. So, to be sure, it would be nice for students to have a chance to explore horizontally or vertically, pursue authors or genres, but I think it's even more important to be sure that the follow-up activities that involve independent reading are completed with materials where the content is composed of letter-sound correspondences with which the learners are familiar and etc. Mayhaps, though, I'm just thinking of very early reading experiences. Mr. Sibberson's arguments become much stronger with middle elementary students...but, do people even use book tubs then?2¢, no change necessary....

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"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." — Coolio