October 2, 2008

What reading levels are for

This week, the Los Angeles Times ran an interesting opinion piece, "Reading shouldn't be a numbers game," by Regina Powers, an Orange County public librarian and former teacher. She expresses frustration with the misapplication of reading programs in schools, particularly in the extrinsic motivations they attach to reading, like quiz points. She also asserts that children are best served by simply reading about what they're interested in. Here's her lead:
School has started. I can tell because frazzled parents drag their embarrassed children up to the reference desk at my library to ask, "Where are the fifth-grade books? We need a 5.6 level that's worth at least 7 points."
I avoid frustrating both parties with an explanation of how the Dewey decimal system works, and ask the child, "What do you like to read?" The response from both adult and child is all too often a blank expression.
Amen, sister. Any reading program that forces a random book into a young person's hand -- or, worse yet, takes a book out of a young person's hand -- is basically a crime against humanity. We should discuss their shortcomings in The Hague.

If you want to grow readers, it's imperative that you help connect them with books they want to read. How you help them is the key. Here is our response to Mrs. Powers' piece, which the newspaper unfortunately did not print:
Reading levels matter

Regina Powers ("Reading shouldn't be a numbers game," Sept. 30) is absolutely right that the best way to raise passionate readers is to allow them to choose books in which they are interested.

However, matching a child's reading ability to an appropriate level of text difficulty is another critical piece of the literacy puzzle. Often a child - especially a struggling or reluctant reader - will disengage from a book that's too difficult. Likewise, a book that's too easy doesn't expose a child to the new vocabulary and sentence structures crucial to reading growth.

Studies by Dr. James S. Kim while at the University of California at Irvine support the benefits of leveled, high-interest reading. In a summer reading intervention program, students who read whatever they wanted didn't show gains, while those who combined interest with reading level did.

In fact, based on this research, parents and children can go to the free "Find a Book with Lexiles" site to search tens of thousands of books in their areas of interest and California Reading List level. New and current books are added all the time. The site even lets you look up books in your local public library.

Increasingly, librarians are taking the opportunity to build a strong school-home connection by listing book measures in their catalogs. Arm a librarian with a student's California Reading List number and personal interests, and that child walks out of the library with a backpack full of books that will challenge him as he enjoys them.

Children should read what they want to read, and book levels can help keep them reading and growing.


Kim said...

I could not agree more. The point is not so much what they read, but enticing them to read and actually enjoy the process. BTW, I love this blog!

John said...

reading levels and lists are so much b/s. why was i reading at a 12+ grade level in 4th grade??? it wasn't a reading list, it was the lack of tv,radio and the cell phone. living in the middle of the desert, in Iran, ensured my present reading skills.