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November 25. 2016

A Level is a Teacher's Tool, NOT a Child's Label

It’s hard enough to be a kid. They have lots of things to worry about: parents, friends, sports, grades, etc. Reading can be an escape from those worries, just like it is for adults; it’s a way to relax and plunge yourself into someone else’s world for a little while.  But what happens when a child finds out that they’re not reading on the “same level” as the other children? What does that even mean to them? It’s not good, they know that. Reading has now become another worry to add to the pile of worries.

Trying to climb the “level ladder” is not what reading is about. It should be about enjoyment and discovery. Focusing too much on text levels can cause problems. Fountas and Pinnell created the F&P Text Level Gradient ™ to be used as a teacher’s tool for assessment and instruction. The levels aren’t meant to be shared with the children or parents.

Help Students Build Self-Esteem and Love of Reading

“It is detrimental to a student’s self-esteem and to their love of reading when they are encouraged to measure their own progress by ‘moving up levels,’” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017). Students should not use levels to compare themselves with others or to compete. This is counterintuitive to building a classroom community where each student is respected; has a sense of agency; values collaboration over competition; and grows up seeing themselves as literate. 

Make “Choice” Authentic

Telling students to choose by “level” is not an authentic way to select books to read independently. That isn’t how I choose a book as an adult. In fact, I really love reading high fantasy, young adult books with a romantic twist. Can I read War and Peace? Sure, but I devour those YA novels like candy and that’s what we want students to do: get them to a point where they need to read every day; they yearn for it. As much as possible, strive for them to choose books in a way that all readers do—books that interest and engage them.  

Advocate for the Appropriate Use of Levels in Your School

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do. 

Levels can be a resource for you and your colleagues to guide student choices for independent reading, but they should not be a limitation or a requirement. Leveled books are instructional tools for teachers who understand them—nothing more. Above all else, a level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.

Jill Backman, Fountas & Pinnell Marketing Manager                                                                                                                       

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Comments (3)

  • michlyn

    12/5/2016 8:52:58 PM | Reply

    I hear what you are saying about leveling being a teacher's tool and not for children and parents.  How would you grade students on report cards to show that they are meeting grade level standards?  We have been told that students should be at an independent level D by the end of kindergarten.  

  • Jill Backman

    12/8/2016 4:20:17 PM | Reply

    Hi, michlyn! Unfortunately, we cannot make any specific recommendations on what language to use on report cards at your school. You might want to get some other teachers together and have a conversation about what everyone thinks would be appropriate for your students and parents. Using reading levels, however, are not recommended as they are meant to be a teacher tool only, and may not make any sense to a parent. We have a  wonderful Facebook Community page where you might want to post this query and see what other schools have done! They are a wonderful, helpful group of smart, savvy teachers, and they're quick to help! You can find it by going to Facebook and searching for: Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Community.  

  • Li Ha

    8/10/2017 8:07:53 PM | Reply

    How do we ensure students are reading books that enable them to enjoy literature and use the strategies they are learning in guided reading groups?
    I don't believe children should be completely limited in their text selection but isn't there a place for reading time spent with "just right" books? Please advise.

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