Friday, November 14, 2014

Off the Level
Is your school library collection labeled/organized by reading levels from a packaged reading program? Are you being asked (told) to level the school library collection?  A recurring question among librarians is "how do I 'level' a collection", a more urgent question is "should we ever level the collection?"

 Applying physical labels reflecting a reading level and including this information in catalog records pose a real threat to the reading lives of our students.

This AASL position statement highlights the threat to the intellectual freedom and privacy of students when collections are labeled:

This statement also reminds us that as school librarians we have a role to play in setting policies that foster intellectual freedom, privacy, and the development of real readers.  The intellectual freedom of students is often not of top concern in many schools.   Implementing the Iowa Core is an urgent demand for districts.  Perhaps this is where we can make a stand against leveling collections and grow our own literacy practices.

School librarians can ask their administrators and school leaders how leveling a library will address ALL THREE FACTORS of the text complexity model in the Core.

page 4 of

The levels in most packaged reading programs only address quantitative measures and do nothing to illuminate the more important qualitative elements.  School librarians can offer professional learning for teachers to dive more deeply into analyzing the qualitative elements of texts.  We can join our colleagues in their content PLCs to better understand current reading needs and experiences in the building.

Learn how to easily and comprehensively consider these three elements of text complexity at the Text Complexity Toolkit -- (thanks to statewide access through the AEA).  This toolkit allows us to contribute our professional judgements about books and access the collective wisdom of other educators.  Digging into a deep analysis of texts and thoughtfully designing the learning experiences of readers with these texts will ensure that quality implementation of this model happens in our schools.   Buying a packaged solution does nothing to address the questions of educators or to grow real reading.  Crowdsourcing our professional judgements in systems like TeachingBooks is one piece of a viable home grown alternative.


Is there a way to reorganize the library to provide better intellectual access to the collection and help readers locate books they can read independently?  Yes and yes.  Organizing and labeling fiction by genre provides an easy point of entry for readers to access the fiction collection.  If I like sports fiction I can go straight to that section to begin my search for the next independent read. The first step toward book selection can now be based on interest or preference not an abstract level.   How do we provide guidance within these sections to ensure successful independent reading?

"Simply, a reading ladder is a series or set of books that are related in some way (e.g. thematically) and that demonstrate a slow, gradual development from simple to more complex."  ~  READING LADDERS by Teri Lesesne (pg 48).  This book, by Dr. Lesesne, is a handy guide to providing deeper, more meaningful access to books.

What is the first ladder to be made for the collection?  Start where the action is - it all depends on the current instructional needs of students and teachers. I'm working with literacy teachers on an upcoming unit using verse novels.  Thankfully, several of the books already have qualitative analysis in Teachingbooks.  After we do a few of our own we will have a rich custom list of information about the qualitative and quantitative elements of these books.  Based on these details each book will become a rung on the Verse Novel reading ladder.

The snapshot based on previous analysis shows us some areas we will need to scaffold to ensure students meet the relevant standards. This chart will change as we add our own analysis of all titles.

rough draft of a reading ladder using Google Drawing 

Leveling is not in the best interest of young readers; it is a system of convenience for educators and school systems.  If young readers become their level and books are discussed only in terms of
low level comprehension quizzes everyone loses. As educators we have the tools at our disposal to build a better system of real reading for children.  

~ Ernie Cox