So, what does that have to do with books and reading you might well ask? It all started with this online article from SLJ (School Library Journal): http://www.slj.com/2017/08/feature-articles/thinking-outside-the-bin-why-labeling-books-by-reading-level-disempowers-young-readers/#_. It has to do with leveling books and then affixing labels to them. It has happened in libraries far and wide including classroom and school libraries. The American Library Association has position statement on this: http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/labeling.
The statement from ALA is forceful: "A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians. Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels." (Note: there is something in this statement that addresses the practice of genrefying the library, too. Dealing with this in a later post). Labeling books with reading levels whether using Fountas & Pinnell or Lexiles, or AR is wrong on several counts.
And this is what SLJ takes on in "Thinking outside the bin." The concept of the "just right" book is something we have debated for a while now. I cannot help but think of Goldilocks: this book is too boring; this book is too long; this book is just right. Of course, this is a fairy tale. And so is the idea that a level or lexile or letter can accurately "measure" a book and its suitability for a reader. Pernille Ripp and Donalyn Miller are both quoted in this piece. Hurray, for these two voices. Rip observes that labels have become "labels that restrict our readers and tell them that their reading identity needs to be based on an outside influence." Miller asserts that labeling is “educational malpractice.”
But the comments that follow the article indicate that some folks are loathe to move away from levels and labels. And that brings me back to the sugar again. It is okay to "cheat" a few times, but it is a slippery slope. And so it is with labels and levels and lexiles (which autocorrect still changes to "exiles"). If an educator is looking for some indication of the audience for a book, he or she can consult the labels and even the publisher age range. However, this is no way to match a reader to a book. I spent several hundred pages in MAKING THE MATCH: THE RIGHT BOOK FOR THE RIGHT READER AT THE RIGHT TIME talking about the need to know the kids and the books before making a match. Levels and lexiles and labels do not take into account some of the developmental aspects of readers. Instead, they use some sort of yardstick for measurement. And they ignore elements such as student desire to read a certain book. I had a striving reader carry aroungd Stephen King's IT for the better part of a school year. He ws determined to read it. And he did, slowly, but steadily. Was it at his level? Nope. Was it the book I might have selected for him? Nope again. But it was the book he read.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on the student, the living, breathing student. Otherwise, we are descending that slippery slope and leaving readers behind.