Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Dreaded Reading Level

I'll admit it.

I don't make kids read only from reading level baskets.  Or lexile level sections.  Or whatever level they have been given. A F L H E K Y W 980 250 600?

(A quick side note: did you know that The Pelican Brief has a lower Lexile level than Charlotte's Web?)

Yikes.  The dreaded reading level.  Each child knows they have one, mostly because of the days their teacher (me) spends assessing them (weeks) and then recording them in our district's Core Data Spreadsheet.

I do not talk much about reading levels in our classroom.  I understand that many educators think differently about this issue, but I have discovered that students will read more widely, more often, and with more stamina, if they are not confined to a specific level or range.

How do we set this up?
  1. We start the year talking about what kinds of things readers read.  We make lists.  We notice the reading all around us.  I post the personal books I'm reading on our door.  We begin to establish our identities as readers.

2. We study authors and illustrators.  We learn about the lives of the writers and we call them by their names.  "Hey, I love that book by Marla (Frazee).  She uses the same kinds of illustrations to show movement as Oliver (Jeffers)!" 

We post pictures of our favorite authors in our room.  We watch interviews with them.  We tweet them and email them.

3. We discuss the differences between Real Reading and Fake Reading.  I model the behaviors of both kinds of reading.  And then, the kids practice both!  

Watching fake reading is hilarious.  Kids hold their books upside down, flip through pages, look around the room.  (However, this year, I had a number of kids who almost refused to do this because of their extreme interest in the text they were reading.  Not a bad problem to have.)

4. We keep track of all the class books we read on the wall and organize them by genre or author.  We refer to them often.  We also keep track of the books we read independently and set reading goals for ourselves.  (See The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller for more information.)

5. We practice building our stamina for reading.  We start small, and we build as the year progresses.

  6. We share the books we recommend with the class.  We share our books in small groups and with partners.  We book talk.  We will be using Weebly this year to blog about books.

7. Students are provided with a wide and varied classroom library.  They are given time to explore it and to make to-read lists based on interest.  They have many choices.

How do I know if kids are really reading and understanding?

8. Reading is understanding.  Reading is understanding.  Reading is understanding.  This is posted all around our room.  If a student is not understanding what they are reading, then they are consistently taught to do something about it.  What is making their understanding break down?  Disinterest in the book?  Figuring out unknown words?  

Together, we discuss what makes books challenging.  Why is one book more complex than another?  Can one book be more complex but have less text on a page and more pictures?  We talk a lot about this.

9. Students learn that they are responsible for recognizing when books are too challenging or not meeting their needs.  Mini-conferences with students help me guide kids into this kind of thinking.  I may gently push them toward other texts.

10. During the last two summers, I attempted to read all of the books in our classroom library.  That was a huge undertaking!  Now, when I conference with a student, I am better able to truly discern if their comprehension was adequate because I have actually read the book! 

So usually instead of reading levels, in our class, we use two things:
1. Student accountability for understanding the text and
2. Teacher reading conferences with students to help guide their text selections and to support their understanding.

My students are so much more than a letter M.

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