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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.

Teachers, please reorganize those bins!

October 29, 2008

I read Lisa Koch's essay on Choice Literacy recently. Koch shares a poignant story of her son who desperately wants to read from the "L bin" at school, but his reading skills aren't quite there yet. The book choices in his lettered bin seem dull and dry. Koch watched as her son's motivation to read drained slowly out of him. At the end the piece, Koch pleads with teachers: please reorganize those bins!

If you're not sure what Koch is talking about, she's referring to classroom libraries organized using Fountas & Pinnell's Guided Reading
leveling system. Many, many classroom libraries are organized this way. Books are given a certain letter rating depending on specific characteristics of the text, which are described in various places, including Matching Books To Readers.

Several free databases (like this one) exist to help teachers know how to level a book, and determine which titles are on specific levels. Other grids help parents and teachers know what grade levels correspond to specific letter ratings.

But the real issue is whether kids can (should?) read outside "their" bin and how "their" bin is defined for them. Because I'm sure many teachers will be unwilling to reorganize their bins for a different system, here are three considerations for teachers that may make Guided Reading bins more appealing to parents like Koch:

1. Look through your bins, particularly the lower-lettered ones. Does each bin contain some interesting books? Do they include fiction and nonfiction? Something to keep even the most unmotivated reader going?

2. Re-evaluate your system for having kids read only from specific bins. Is there ever a chance for free choice reading from any bin? This might be a great way for kids to get excited about new authors and series.

3. Perhaps most importantly, re-evaluate every child's bin assignment on a regular basis. What are your criteria for moving a kid in or out of a bin?

I don't know whether these considerations would quell Koch's concerns, but I love to hear what you think. And I'd love to hear your suggestions, too!


In my kindergarten classroom, where 95% of the students were confident readers by the end of the year last year, I use both systems. Students spend time every day reading at their independent level from a carefully leveled shelf. They develop confidence and get valuable practice during this time. We also have an unleveled classroom library with books available in a wide range of topics and levels. This works for us.

Pat: I don't have any first-hand knowledge of the program. I know that What Works Clearinghouse wasn't able to review the program because no studies met the WWC evidence screens. What's your experience with it?

Thanks for the comment, Rob, and for pointing me to the product review site. Very interesting!

I think if you saw how versatile and what quality, entertaining materials can be offered in a good guided reading program you would change your mind. My wife teaches special ed. and really believes in this program: Read Naturally

Joanne, as a librarian in a k-8 school, I can tell you there is NOTHING more likely to kill a child's joy in reading than in making them always choose 'age appropriate' or 'leveled' books. I see this in particular with very new readers. The typical controlled vocab reader (think Dick and Jane from 40 years ago) is--in a word--boring. They often use symplistic drawings instead of the vibrant full color artwork or photography found in more advanced books. Of course the children want those books that they see the older children choosing! While I understand the need for children to practice reading, there are times when I believe that a leveled reading program is the worst idea to hit education.

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"I'm wondering what to read next." — Matilda, Roald Dahl