Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

When We Make a Child a Level

Pardon my passion for a moment, but a few things need to be said.

When we make a child a level we diminish the entire child. Levels tell a child that they are not worth us getting to know them.  That we don’t have time to take the time we need to help them better.  That their entire reading identity is the same as every other child that is at that level.

When we make a child a level, a letter, or a number, we are telling them that that is all they need to know.  That that is all we need to know.  That they do not know how to shop for books, that they can rely only on outsiders who have determined what is best for them.  Thet their level speaks for them and that our conversations need to be about comprehension and skills, rather than who they are as readers.

When we make a child a level, we can teach more.  We can do more.  We can match kids up more easily.  We can rely on others to do the hard work of getting to know the very child that is in front of us and help them discover who they are as readers, as human beings.  And we can go home, lulling ourselves into thinking that we actually helped that child by telling them to only pick from certain levels of books because that is what the research told us to do.

But that is not what our reading instruction is only about.  It was never JUST about matching kids to text.  It was never JUST about finding the right fit book.  It was never JUST about 99% comprehension rates, good fit books, or the five finger rule.  It was never just about the quick solution or the short-term fix.  In our obsession with getting things done, we have forgotten that it takes time to develop a reader, it takes time to become a reader, it talkes trial and error, and it takes discovery.  Levels can take that away from us all.

It is about discovering why reading matters.  Why reading makes us better human beings.  Why they should leave our classrooms, our schools, and find more books so that they can continue to wonder, to search, and to feel something.

So when we make a child a level, ask yourself this; who is that level really helping because it sure isn’t the child in the long run.

PS:  I was quoted today in a discussion piece in School LIbrary Journal, about how leveling disempowers children, other smarter people are quoted as well.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


10 thoughts on “When We Make a Child a Level”

  1. Read the new article by Jim Hoffman in The Reading Teacher on the evils of leveling. He lists 12 reasons, but the core is simply. Leveling lowers expectations.

  2. Do you believe leveled text has no value in classrooms or are you highlighting what I believe has become misuse of levels due to a lack of thorough understanding of how to integrate them into a reading rich environment?

    1. The latter, as Gountas and Pinnel have said repeatedly; they are teachers’ tools, not a child’s label, and yet we have taken these tools and thrust them on kids. Levels are great when children first start out as readers, and also when we plan instruction, but then we have to move beyond them.

  3. Pernille,
    I agree that levelling diminishes the student and can perhaps disempower the child. As a grade 7/8 teacher I do not have a library of levelled texts in the classroom (unlike my primary counter-parts may have). However, educators use levelling in assessments and evaluations. I would be interested in hearing how you assess a piece of work from a student (do you put a level or grade at the top of the page, or just a comment)? Is it helpful to do so?

    1. I have students assess themselves often, they end up with a number but it is based off a rubric and feedback they give themselves and I give them. I think the big thing is changing the grading conversations we have with kids so that 1) they know they are in control of it and 2) it means something to them. My district requires I translate that into a number and then a letter grade but I never would want a child to feel like that is this identity, which many of them do before we start these conversations.

  4. There is such great conversation and movement happening on this very topic. It will take some time for the change to take effect (affect— gah!) and it is happening! 🙂
    Pernille – we are all “smart” in our own way – don’t diminish your voice noting that other smarter people had comments for the School Journal as well 🙂 I think other people shared their view point and knowledge.

  5. I agree that leveling children is a tool…one of many that educators use to gather data objectively and subjectively. I think there is no better way to learn about a child than reading with them one on one. Leveling goes beyond placing a letter next to a child’s name on a classroom list. Reading with a child, having a conversation about content, text features, connections, etc. not only gives a teacher insight about who a child is as a learner, but often reading with a child becomes a window through which we see so much more.
    This article gives a platform for such a deeper conversation than what it states at its surface.
    Teachers should not be discouraged from leveling children. It is a valuable and most often authentic assessment. If used wisely, it can do so much. My hope is that your next post clarifies how to use leveling positively and perhaps use it to raise expectations, motivate students and connect with them as learners.

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