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!
Renee – thank you for this. To be honest, I had no idea this had started so long ago, although I should have known. I ended up not teaching elementary school although that had been my training. I taught parent education, ESL to adults, citizenship to adults, and then became a school librarian. I should have been a librarian all along. I worked in a K-12 school. I allowed children to check out almost any books they wanted (a few older themed books were discouraged for young ones). I also said they could return them and exchange them any time they wanted. I still think this was the right thing to do. I believe so much of school has become rigid and unimaginative, dulling children’s natural inclinations to be curious. I tried as much as I could to allow them to explore their interests in my library.
So I applaud you for successfully keeping away from leveled books. I also believe, as Piaget taught us, that we really don’t need to start teaching reading until age 7. I guess I need to moved to Finland.
This is from Julie Diamond, who sent this to me via email:
Yes! What matters is for kindergarten libraries to include a range of books. Children should be able to browse/peruse any book, easy, hard, at any time. The photo, above, shows two children immersed in the book they’re looking at – that’s what we want to see in kindergarten.
Libraries should be arranged by topic, so children can find books of interest. What matters is their interest. It makes sense to have baskets of Easy Reader books, at some point in the school year, and to have these arranged by difficulty. BUT these books should only be a very small percentage of available books. And kindergarten children should never, never, never be limited to choosing “just right” books unless they are choosing a book that they specifically want to use as Renee describes, above, to practice decoding. And what a lovely discussion Renee describes.
I am in agreement with you 1000 percent. Our society has changed into a factory model where test data is the byproduct of education. Therefore, children cannot be given a moment to actualize themselves and develop into competent humans. I hate what education has become and fear if I were deciding today that I would not have become a teacher. So I reaffirm your Bah and raise you two other Bahs and a Humbug to boot.
Thank you, Renee. I am glad to have found your blog. I am so lucky to have had the privilege of being a student observer and subsequent student teacher of yours twice! I never would have believed that education would have evolved into this fiasco that is about anything but children.
Well said Renee! Forcing kindergarten students to use a leveled library is like eating genetically modified produce; it looks great on the surface, but once you sink in your teeth, the juiciness just isn’t there. Thank you for advocating for our youngest school children and the educators who work with them!
Totally agree with you Renee. Just add phonics fast and early to really put young children off reading altogether.