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Are Your Students More Than A Reading Level?

Students don't need to know their reading level.

Reading levels....and students knowing their reading levels has been on my mind a lot lately.  Have you read Jill Backman's article on Fountas and Pinnell's  Literacy blog:  A Level Is A Teacher's Tool, Not A Child's Label ?  If you have not, you can check it out here.  Jackman writes that levels are for teachers and not for students.  Students need to enjoy books, not levels.  We need to teach students how to find "just right"books for themselves.  If they always look for a level label how will they be able to do this in libraries and books stores or even in their own homes when there are no color coded levels to guide them?

I teach struggling readers and they have not always developed or matured their reading decision making yet.  Let's face it...some simply do not make wise choices when choosing books on their own.  But isn't this a perfect teaching situation?  Do they need to know the book level as they choose books?  Can we teach them instead how to make these choices and how to do it wisely?

How to Introduce Read to Self

If I could chose 2 teaching verbs that are extremely important to me one would be modeling.  Model...model...model with your students.  Not once, but lots of times.  And if you notice some students slipping in their choices, pull them together on the carpet and model it again.  

So how do I model without using labels?  We gather together and talk about just right fits for books.  I have a conversation with them about how my husband likes horses and reads all about them and how to train horses.  Books and magazines about horses would be just right for him.  But not for me!  I tell the students how I would be BORED with those kinds of books.  Then I show my kind of books and we discuss why I like those.  Would my husband like my kind of books- no!  We all like different kinds of books and that is okay.

How to introduce Read to Self

After this demonstration, we talk about how to choose a just right book.  I want them to look the book over, inside and out.  Not just grab any ole book.  Think about why you are going to read it.  Are you wanting to learn something about tigers or do you want a good story?  We also talk about interest in the book.  Which goes back to the horse discussion we just had.  Then we talk about can you read it and can you understand it?  I spend a good amount of time on can you read it and understand it.  Students learn to open the book and read a page or two before choosing it.  Did they know most of the words?  Can they understand what the author is telling them?  And next we shop for books!

This is the hard part for me.  I like a bit of control.  :)  But I make myself stand back and let them shop.  Just like anyone else, students WILL get better as time goes by and the more practice they get at it.  But this first time can be a bit rough, especially for readers who struggle or are less mature.  Students get their baggies and spend time choosing their books.  I let them make their choices, no matter what books they choose and we settle in to Read to Self.  

How to introduce Read to Self

My second important teaching verb would be conferencing.  And this is a super important step not to skip.  Start meeting with your students and listening to them read the books they chose.  You can read my post about how to keep conferencing and anecdotal records here.

Will some of them have made poor choices?  YES.  
Will they realize this when you conference with them?  YES.  
Will they learn to make better choices for themselves?  YES, YES, YES!

How to introduce Read to Self

This is one of my first grader's baggy and the type of books he chose the first time.  Can he read these books? No.  Are there even enough pictures in them to keep his interest in the book?  No.  But stay with me.  

I moved around the room conferencing with other students:  Show me what you chose.  Oh, that book looks good!  Read a bit of it with me.  What do you think of this book?  Do you think it is a good fit for you?  They make the decisions.  If they decide that they didn't make the best of decisions, I send them right then to go make better selections.  

I did not make it that first day to this little guy who selected the Magic Tree House books.  BUT he was listening to me conference with others.  When our time was up and I had to send them back to class, he came to me to tell me these were not good fits for him!!  WOW!  On his own, he is figuring this out by hearing me conference with others and he just happens to be one of my least mature students.  

How to Introduce Read to Self

This was this little guy's book baggy after making better choices!  He can read these books and is interested in them.  HE picked them out, not me.  Choice is extremely important to everyone and he got to make his own choices which creates buy-in to what we are doing.  Now, I am not saying that this little guy is good to go now and will not ever make poor choices again.  More than likely, I am going to be having more of these conversations with him again.  And I always like to go back and model after extended breaks at school- like Christmas vacation.

I do discuss with the students that sometimes we like to have books that we may not be able to read all of it.  Picture books that teachers have read to them or books they enjoy looking at the pictures.  It's okay to have that in our baggies as long as we also have just right books.  

Familiar Read Books

Some of my students love to reread and reread our  familiar read books.  So I let them take those too.  The levels aren't marked for the students to see which allows them to just enjoy reading.  And isn't that what we want?  Students enjoying books!

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