Several weeks ago, sitting across from me was one of my sweet 3rd graders. His smile is contagious and he has a quiet demeanor. As he swings his legs back and forth, he asks, “Am I an H, Mrs. Baker? Am I an H? I was an H last year in 2nd grade. I think I’m still an H?” I look at his face and quietly reply, “We are just going to read today.” Sure enough as I place the “I” booklet in front of him, he immediately turns the book around and says, “I can’t read this. It’s an “I”, Mrs. Baker. This is too hard for me.” As I turn his attention back to the book and have him start reading, I can already tell that indeed this book is a bit challenging. He works his way through it. Frustration, I think to myself, as he starts and stops, stammers and omits words. So I pull the “H” out of the box. And yes, again he flips it around. Its’ an H. He smiles and says, “I can read this. It’s an H.”
As an elementary teacher the first 30 days of school are important for establishing routines and procedures, including developing and building reading and writing stamina. Our goal is 20 minutes. After stamina is established, it is our task as teachers to find each student’s individual reading level. We use the Fountas and Pinnell reading box full of booklets from A to Z. Those reading levels are then used to group like-readers for guided reading.
This small group instruction or guided reading is a big deal. It’s apparently where the magic happens. It’s when and where I can focus on specific skills or strategies for students with similar levels. It’s October. I have established groups. Groups are flexible and do change. How often do I see the different leveled groups? That depends upon the levels of the students. Groups above grade level a few times a week, groups significantly below grade level, I see daily.
And now sitting across from me is my “G..H..I” level reading group, also known as the yellow group because their folders are yellow. Each tub holds different colored folders representing the different levels. I’m sure they wish they had the green tub. It must hold the magic of the “R…S…T” or above grade level reading group. 3rd graders work through the “L-M-N-O-P” levels, the middle of the alphabet song. But are we letters? If I am reading at a level “H” am I only to read “H” books? If I’m a “T” can I still enjoy an “H” book or am I strictly to read “T” books? Shouldn’t reading be about the enjoyment and discovery? Or is it the level?
Many of my peers say that students should know their reading levels. They should know the goal. They need to know their target. But is it is realistic that an H will meet the target P by end of 3rd grade? In previous years, I have told my students what level they were reading. I’m not sure why or what the point was. Anytime they came to the reading table, all they had to do was flip over the book and see the level. Students catch on quickly. They’ve been in this reading group game now since Kindergarten. They know who is Yellow or Green without a letter telling them.
I recently watched a webinar (September 2018) led by the reading gurus, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Ms. Pinnell stated that what a reader should be measuring for himself is: did I choose a good book for myself, did I think deeply about it, did I maybe write something thoughtful about it, and am I eager to tell others about it? That's what the reader's thinking about, not whether a book is an “H” or a “T”. I couldn’t agree more, so I have taken a stand this year to not share their instructional reading levels.
Guided reading groups are an essential part of reading instruction and I will continue to group students with like reading levels. It’s a way for me to support my readers using books or poems or articles challenging and expanding their reading skills. Maybe I just need to have reading group tubs filled with multi-colored folders.
Questions for Twitter Tuesday?
1. Thinking back, what was elementary reading class or small group reading like for you?
2. What are the benefits of telling students their reading levels?
3. What are the disadvantages of telling students the reading levels?
4. How do you share your love of reading with others?
5. Past or present, what has been your favorite book?