George Lucas Educational Foundation

Guided Reading Levels

Guided Reading Levels

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I am a fan of "Reading Workshop". I am concerned, however, about "levelmania". Since the beginning of the school year, my students were required to read at their assigned GR level. This requirement was only enforced during the Independent Reading part of the RW. This month's unit is about characters in series books. I decided to abandon GR level restraints. I made sure to remind them about the "Just-Right-Book" strategy. This has been the most exciting unit so far! When we started the unit, I told them that their life as a reader would never be the same. I really gave my best Oscar-hopeful moment. I realize now, that my scenery-chewing was unnecessary. My students no longer need me to shape their identity as a reader. Most of my students have been reading books above (or sometimes below) their GR levels. The boys in my class have really taken off! Why deny them "Horrible Harry" just because it's an L/M? Anyway, we had a staff development meeting from a NYC college (I won't name). When I told her that I lifted the GR level restraint for this month, she gasped. I've done the research, and I stand by my decision. Any opinions?

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Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Hi Pasquale,

I stand by your decision (and findings) too! I've seen schools spend thousands of dollars assessing student reading levels. It's not necessary when it comes to reading workshop, literature circles, etc.

It's important to keep in mind that there is lots and lots of money in selling reading assessment programs to districts and schools. Companies pitch them as The Only and The Best Way. They easily dismiss self-select book strategies as inferior and flawed, but research (as you have found!)says differently.

Let students self-select, first teaching the the "Just Right" strategy or "5 Finger Rule." As readers-- children and adults-- we naturally gravitate towards and choose books that speak to our interests and abilities. In all my teaching years of having a diverse classroom library and a routine reading workshop, I know self selection does more to produce lifelong readers in your classroom than anything else.

Amanda Swift's picture
Amanda Swift
3rd grade teacher from Denver, Colorado

Hi Pasquale,
I also fell like there are too many constraints on the classroom library selection process. But also realize there is a reason for such constraints at times. Sometimes it is very appropriate for students to read a DRA2 book or grade level book. I have book bags that my third graders select books for and manage for independent reading and inside they are allowed two just right books and one "specialty book". They log the books they are reading, from grade level to special, if they wish and it is amazing. I realize for measurable growth there is a huge push for grade level reading and not reaching levels of frustration for students, but being thoughtful with your students in the role out of this program can be a great incentive for authentic reading and prescriptive reading all at the same time.

Diane Darrow's picture
Diane Darrow
Artist and Educator

Interesting topic for a discussion. I can see both sides of the issue. As a former Reading Recovery teacher and the current Accelerated Reading Czar at my school I understand the value of a targeted reading level. It is difficult to juggle the various angles of learning to read and the comprehension of content when the text is slipping through your mind like a blender trying to turn woodchips into a milkshake. It isn't the most effective way to learn to read.

BUT... there is something to say about the power of motivation and desire. When we want something bad enough, magic takes over. I remember a bright, yet stubborn kindergarten student who loved dinosaurs. He refused to listen to me during reading instruction. I continually pleaded with him to abandon trying read books with multi-syllabic dinosaur names and to try one of my leveled readers. He refused so I let him be. Low and behold, he was teaching himself decoding. He already knew the dinosaur names and was applying what we were learning about decoding to the way these names were structured. Within months was a top reader. Today he is in 7th grade and is a veracious reader. Letting him be and respecting his need to work through something turned out to be just the right instruction.

Teachers can learn a great from research studies that prove targeted reading levels work, but our judgement needs to be our own. If you feel this method is working for your kids measure it. Look at the reading growth that occurs with self selected text. Interview students about their attitude toward reading. Sounds like you have a hunch, play around with your ideas and see how your instructional changes effect your kids.

Mindy's picture
teacher from Michigan

I think what you are doing is wonderful! I don't think kids should be limited to a certain level at ALL times. At times, it is neceessary for them to read at their assessed level so that they can push themselves to get to another level. However, within a reading unit, there is no reason to restrict what characters they can read about. After all, what is the unit about? Making sure they are reading at their level or Characters in literacy????

I work in a Kindergarten class as an aide (I've been laid off for 3 years). The teacher is still working on letters with the class. We have a typical classroom; some high students, some low students, and some on level. I would like to start working with some of the higher or lower students at some point so they they can push themselves to reach their personal highest achievement. I know we have students who know none of the letters and the other end of the spectrum, those that can read.

What ideas do you have for me in working with these students, either high or low? I've never taught Kindergarten before and am more comfortable in the upper elementary or middle school level, so I really am not sure of the best approach.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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