The Right Text
When I was a young reader, I can recall scouring my older sisters’ book shelves for exciting new books to read. There I found the Titian-haired teen detective, Nancy Drew; the sad, sweet, and eye-opening A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; the poignant and riveting To Kill a Mockingbird; and so much more. I imagine I was all of ten years old when I met Cathy on the moors of Wuthering Heights. Some books thrilled me, some moved me, some provoked new thinking, and some left me hungry for more. But whatever the case, and for whatever the reason, I was allowed to find the books that interested me, and I read avidly. In fact, this was true for each of my many siblings as well, and we all found a wealth of books that are our dear friends to this day.
Here’s the point: none of us had an idea then what “level” the reading material was. No one ever told us “that’s too hard for you,” “that’s too easy,” or “choose from one of these books.” For me, a library was a personal nirvana, and I could drink its nectar at will.
Over time, educators have learned a great deal about supporting student access of text, and so much of it has tremendous value. And the truth is, many children do not find the immediate love of reading that I and my siblings did. Helping children find material to engage them and to have meaning for them are worthy objectives. It’s a much richer world when one can and chooses to read!
Today, more often than not, appropriateness of a text for a reader is indicated by its designated reading level, and the reader is provided texts from which to choose based on his or her prescribed level. There are merits in such levels, of course. But I often wonder, is the push for leveling in any way a deterrent to children finding the books that engage them? We want our young readers to be challenged, certainly , and we as educators can do much to encourage their growth. But is a level designation more help than hindrance? I don’t presume to have the answer…but I am intrigued by the question.
I also find this quote from the website for The Lexile Framework for Reading most informative: “It is important to note that the Lexile measure of a book refers to its text difficulty only. A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book. …Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book.”
I am concerned sometimes that we forgot these factors in lieu of our leveling designations. I’d just hate to think that other young readers can’t meet Cathy and me on the moors precisely when they choose to.
We’d love to know your thoughts on the role of leveling in student access to text. Please let us know!