Be the change, Reading

Dear Scholastic, What’s Up With the Leveled Catalogues?

image from icanread

Disclaimer first: I love Scholastic and have for many years. The ease of getting books in the hands of my students, the shiny catalogues that stop our day because we have to circle all of the books we want to read, and also the prices. Scholastic has indeed been good for this teacher. And yet, Scholastic I may have to break it off with you….

Dear Scholastic,

In my other post, I first noticed the standardized testing focus that seems to jump form your new pressed pages. As you may know, it broke my heart and many others’. But now I find myself shaking my head even more, not quite sure if I should even send home your lovely catalogue or just keep it to myself. See you went ahead and created leveled catalogues. Probably with great intentions to make book selection easier for kids or to help teachers by grade level appropriate books. But you forgot a couple of things…

My students aren’t levels. They are readers. And they don’t want someone to tell them what a 5th grader should read, they want to trust their own voice as a reader as a pursuer of fantastic stories and knowledge. I teach them to trust themselves. I teach them how to find their perfect book. I know their level but they don’t, they don’t need to to know what they need to do become even stronger readers,

Their grade does not define them. My students read all sorts of books and not because they are “just right” based on an assessment, but because they are just right in interest, in action, in creativity, in mood, in readability. They don’t pick a book because it is perfect for 5th grade. They pick a book because it is perfect for them.

And yet they know their grade. Some of my 5th graders wouldn’t be caught dead reading something someone had labeled a 4th grade book. Even if it was a great book. Even if I thrust it into their hands and told them to trust me. By splashing 4th grade or 3rd grade all over your many colored pages, you have guaranteed that some of my kids will never consider reading those books simply because they are too proud to read something that is labeled for younger kids. And what about when they become 6th graders? Do you think they then want to read 5th grade books? No, that would be for elementary students, not the big middle school students. I am saddened by the books they will miss out on.

And me? I had to pretend I was a 4th, 5th ,and 6th grade teacher to get the catalogues that I want for my students. See some need 4th grade reading levels, while others are ready for middle school action and stories. And I need to be able to supply them that. Yet, I don’t know if I can give them the catalogues anymore, I don’t know quite what will happen if they see the push for standardized testing and the need to level. Will they think that reading is only for tests? Will they think that they can only read certain books because that’s what someone told them?

I don’t think I am ready to take them down that path. I hope you change your mind, Scholastic, perhaps put the levels on the teacher part but not on the flyers. Perhaps, go back to your old ways that were not broken. You don’t have to follow all of the crazy fads happening around us, it is okay to just love reading and let kids love reading too. I haven’t lost the faith in you yet.



Edit: It is not every day you receive a phone call from Scholastic headquarters, but today I did. After a very pleasant conversation with them regarding my latest blog posts, I hung up the phone understanding that they are trying to please many people at the same time. I was also told that many teachers and parents had asked for the recent changes, which had led them go through with it. Their intentions were to help. Yet, I stand by what I have posted and told them that many agree with me; this is not what we had hoped for from this bastion of reading. While I doubt my posts will change their minds, I urge you to start your own conversation with them. They are there to discuss and listen and perhaps if enough of us do engage, something will change. Either way, I continue to respect Scholastic and what they strive to do: provide teachers with great books, even if I am disappointed in their choice.




21 thoughts on “Dear Scholastic, What’s Up With the Leveled Catalogues?”

  1. Great post! The obsession with levels is problematic on many levels. One line of yours leaves me with a question: “I know their level but they don’t, they don’t need to to know what they need to do become even stronger readers”… I love that you keep the levels to yourself, but shouldn’t they actually know what they need to improve at to keep progressing as a reader? I’m sure that your mini-lessons, objectives, and conferences do provide that information. Maybe that sentence can be taken too many different ways?

    Again, I hope Scholastic listens! Great read!

    1. Ah yes, sorry about the ambiguity. My students know their goals but I don’t ever tell them their number or letter, if that makes sense? Those numbers and letters are abstract to them anyway so we create steps they need to take instead. Thank you for asking!

  2. I’m so happy I was told about your blog. Brilliant and logical. Scholastic, listen up. She’s got such wonderful points. She makes sense.

  3. I really hope they respond with action! If they must put levels, I agree that the teacher version is adequate for that.
    Please tell me you sent them a copy and didn’t just put it in a blog post. This needs to be heard and acted upon! Great post. Same reasons I don’t have levelled books labelled in a bin in my library.

  4. Well said. I was sorely disappointed when I returned to school this week and found the new Scholastic order forms. In disgust I tossed them in the trash after I sent a message to the company. New and improved is not always better. This is just another effect from the Common Core.

  5. As a public librarian, I have a different view of the problem, but I wholeheartedly agree with you! While students’ levels are not necessarily a primary concern of mine, I am constantly asked “Where are the third grade books?” “Where are AR3 level books?” “Where are GRL P books?” These questions come from parents and students who expect us to know each school district’s preferred leveling system. Students not required to read “on level” are thrilled when I explain that they are free to choose from all books in the children’s department, and I will happily offer suggestions. Some are frustrated that we do not shelve our books by levels. Others are miserable when they know that they are supposed to know their reading level but can’t remember it, and are then paralyzed by indecision and unable to make a choice. Adding to the problem is the fact that publishers often label their books as one level or another, but neglect to offer easy-to-find information on what system was used to level them. I apologize for my lengthy response, but this is a definite sore spot with me as well. In closing, I would like to point you to a post about my daughter and the story of her personal choice at 4-years-old to choose an over-sized book that was five grade levels above her reading ability. I will add that as I write, she is preparing for her first day at work as a college intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center as she soars one semester closer to her career as an aerospace engineer.

  6. I respectfully disagree. Students being made aware of what level each book is doesn’t seem to be much different than being given a rubric for their assignments. Why would that be problematic?

    1. I believe that the problem is in limiting a child to a particular level. Just as adults sometimes want to read “beach trash,” and at other times want to read classics, children enjoy having a choice as well. As for offering students only a particular grade level catalog, I don’t think anyone likes to be pigeonholed into a particular category – reading or otherwise.

    2. For myself, the problem I see is that the “5th grade” catalog has a narrower range of book levels included. When you have a classroom of readers who can read from a 3rd grade to high school level, being able to offer a wide variety of books at many levels on many topics is the best. When your Scholastic catalog is so tightly focused the readers on the edges of the bell curve are not included.

    3. I feel a rubric is used to be clear with assignment expectations. A good rubric is still open with student choice and HOW they create their artifact. Always seeking out books based on a number is boxing students and teachers into a one size fits all. No matter the topic of the book or genre. There is little to zero student choice.

  7. I wasn’t happy with this change either! My 6th graders will miss out out a lot of good books if they are limited to the middle school flyer!

    1. I teach 6 th grade and agree with you also. I was disappointed to see the “new alignment” of catalogues. To get my kids to read, the choices must be endless.. Not limited to a grade level. We are on the same page about not identifying kids by a level or color dot.. In 6 th grade they need to read.. My job is to guide them to enjoy the book choice and be able to get through it.. Whatever level that may be..

  8. Lovely thoughts, Pernille. I agree 110%. Any effort to restrict titles and book selection for students is poorly conceived. If the teacher & parents are doing their job, they should be an active participant in helping the student find books & subject areas that are to their interest. We don’t need additional catalogs and stamps to increase the leveling craze that is already at damaging levels. I think this decision by Scholastic will only fuel the focus on numbers from all angles. The moment leveling and grade-level categories become the focus, it’s not about reading anymore. Rather finding a title that fits the score that the student scored on a test that tested their reading ability. Most often from a title they did not choose or have much interest.

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