It’s been 16 years since I’ve taught kindergarten and I often wonder how my teaching would have been compromised if I hadn’t left the classroom. I don’t consider myself to be a renegade but then again, there are some things that I just could never bend to do. One of them is leveling books in kindergarten. Perhaps I left teaching at just the right time because I would most likely be in a constant battle with the school administration.
My last year as a kindergarten teacher was just when my colleagues in kindergarten were introducing leveled libraries. I absolutely refused. I argued to my principal that this might be the last year that children would not feel labeled and compared (yes, children do understand who is a “good” reader and who isn’t) to their classmates.
Here is how I made peace with this push towards turning kindergarten into Pre-first grade as I attempted to hold on to my beliefs. I read a beautiful storybook to the class and, as we always did, we discussed the book. I followed by reading a Level B book .The discussion after the reading was, as expected, rather limited. I asked the children to think about their reactions to the two books. “Would you prefer to hear one as a bedtime story?” “What made you pick that book.” They all not surprisingly, picked the storybook as a book that they would like to hear read to them.
Then I focused them on the print in both books. Children noticed how small the print was in the storybook and how many words were on each page. Then they pointed out that the Level B book only had a few words on each page and that the print was bigger than in the storybook. I told them that the Level B book was not a book that is usually picked for hearing a story to read aloud. It was a book that children picked if they wanted to learn to read the words in books.
I had by my side a stack of books from Level A to Level D. I put them in a basket and asked the children to come up with a good label for these books. They decided on “Learning To Read The Words Books.” I told them that I would add the basket to our library and if anyone wanted to work on one of those books, they could find a partner to work with or they could tell me and I would find time to read the book with them. As the year went on, some children worked on reading those books and some didn’t.
I looped up to first grade with my class. By the end of the first grade year, everyone was reading, but at different levels. In first grade I did level the books and I discussed the importance of reading just-right books. In my heart of hearts though, I knew that children would probably thrive if they weren’t pushed so hard and so early, into print and that there are children who might begin reading later than first grade. A dear friend of mine who is a teacher, a poet and a voracious reader told me that she didn’t begin reading until the end of second grade.
Teachers, parents, administrators and politicians are all getting rather hysterical about pushing, pushing, pushing children. I think of flowers that grow up tall but also blossom out. I’m for nurturing children as they blossom. Leveling books in kindergarten? Bah!