It's Not That Kind of Leveling

An epiphany came to me this morning on my way to work. It’s one I’m sure millions of teachers have had before, but bear with me if I’m way behind.

There ARE benefits to levels in reading, just not always the way we’ve thought about it. It’s not a bad thing to have an idea of “good fit” books for kids and making sure they are able to build stamina reading something that’s not too hard or too easy. However, our real academic work takes place in books and articles that don’t care whether Johnny is at a level G or P. So what are we to do?

I recently read Sunday Cummins blog post on Supporting Emergent & Early Readers/Writers with Read Alouds. I’ve been trying to push read alouds like this at my school because I think it’s important to have text that is generally out of reach to our students introduced in a safe and interesting way. Sunday does an excellent job of presenting a lesson that includes a complex text read aloud followed by reading from a more accessible text in small groups or partners.

I started thinking that this was a great way to introduce and use re-reading as well. What if each day you read aloud 3-4 pages from the read aloud text (the highly complex one) and the kids read their related texts in order to make connections, build fluency, and gain subject knowledge? The teacher would be reading new information each day, but the kids would be re-reading texts. This allows students to delve deeply into a text that’s all their own and it allows the teacher some planning time saved because she isn’t finding brand new books with each read aloud lesson.

But what about reading for fun? There’s another layer to this reading thing that, as adults, we do: we pick a book we want to read just because it sounds fun. I didn’t read Gone Girl because I thought it would challenge my understanding of the criminal justice system. I didn’t read The Hunger Games because of the new vocabulary I would be learning. I read those books because they seemed fun. And I think kids should get the chance to do that, too.

So, here’s my proposal: layers of reading in which to be engaged EACH DAY.

LAYER ONE: Teacher Read Aloud of a Complex Text

The teacher reads a couple of pages of an informational complex text to the whole class and leads a discussion on comprehension and vocabulary, engaging the students through experiences and visuals. This is a chance to incorporate Think-Pair-Share so that all students are getting a chance to engage in the text.

LAYER TWO: Small Group or Partner Read of Accessible Texts

I wrote accessible instead of leveled because I want to make the difference clear. These texts are related to the read aloud in subject or theme and may be higher than a student’s “instructional level” as traditionally understood because now they have BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE. In your read aloud, you just introduced new, complex vocabulary and discussed the subject which they are now responsible for reading. This naturally increases a student’s ability to access a new text because they already know quite a bit about what they’re reading. This is your chance to check in with the students who seemed to struggle most with the concepts in the whole group read aloud and confer on what they’re finding and the expectations you have.

LAYER THREE: No Agenda Reading

This is where I would read Gone Girl. The students should be reading any book, magazine, or article they want. It’s a time to boost stamina, foster enjoyment in reading, and let go of the standards for a little while. You should be reading, too! Sure, feel free to walk around the room at the beginning of the time to make sure kids are settling in and have what they need, but don’t forget that you are the model. Show them how it’s done!

Stay tuned for a written out lesson with text sets for help!

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