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Reading is a skill that some kids already have familiarity with before they enter the classroom, so most students start at different levels and continue to progress at different rates.
That’s why most teachers employ some kind of leveled reading system: to ensure that each kid is being challenged appropriately by their reading materials. However, there is a marked difference between making leveled reading resources available and applying them properly in the classroom. Here’s a primer on reading levels and using them the right way.
Unfortunately, this early leveled reading option failed in many ways to engage young readers or even adequately meet individual reading abilities, abandoning many kids in lower levels without hope of progress — but it did set the stage for more advanced leveled reading systems to come.
Programs like the Lexile Framework and the Text Level Gradient allow teachers to choose leveled books that appeal to their students and provide appropriate reading challenges, ensuring structured improvement.
Here are a few common and critical problems typical of leveled reading practices:
Using book levels to label students:
A child should never be identified with a number or color; doing so creates unproductive competition and shame, which prevent many students from gaining sufficient literacy skill.
Too often, schools utilize these kind of student levels for the sake of rankings and evaluations, and doing so pushes teachers to force students up the reading system before they are truly ready.
Using only one reading assessment:
It cannot be stressed enough that reading is complex, requiring a number of skills. Unfortunately, many teachers determine which level of books a student should have access to after administering only one assessment, usually a brief, computer-generated, multiple-choice test.
Unfortunately, a single exam, especially a short one, typically isn’t enough to accurately identify strengths and weaknesses.
Strictly restricting book access:
Assuming an assessment points a student toward the right reading level, teachers typically only allow students to choose books from one section.
Ostensibly, this means that students will benefit by practicing the skills they need to advance — but the truth is this inflexibility can dishearten eager students and make them feel trapped, when reading should do the exact opposite.
Leveled books are tools to help teachers and students improve in literacy — and that’s it. Teachers who use leveled books to categorize their classrooms are being too strict with a system designed to facilitate, not force. By remaining flexible and sympathetic, teachers and students can get the most from their leveled books.