Should Classroom Libraries be Organized by Reading Level?

The idea behind leveled libraries is that students will be less likely to read outside of their assigned level.

What happens when students read above their level?

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling provides a perfect example.

Children that read well below the reading level assigned to Harry Potter were able to read, comprehend, and enjoy the books. Harry Potter was able to motivate readers to tackle challenging words, sentences, and paragraphs in ways that Bingo Goes to School just can’t.

“Interest and motivation also great affect a reader’s ability to read a text. An excellent example of this is the recent Harry Potter phenomenon, in which thousands of children as young as second grade read and enjoyed 300 and 400 page books written at fifth to seventh-grade reading levels, simply because they were fascinated by the magical world created by J.K. Rowling in her series. Most teachers can likewise recount stories of students like the struggling high school reader who tests at a fourth or fifth-grade reading level, but somehow manages to read and understand a motorcycle repair manual written at the tenth-grade level, because he wants to fix up his motorcycle.”

“When readers have a good bit of prior knowledge on a topic, even difficult texts can be easier to read and understand because they can draw on their own knowledge to fill in any gaps in their comprehension.”

How can they grow as readers if they are only exposed to one book pattern and one set of words?

“Finally, full comprehension is not necessary for a reader to enjoy and benefit from a book.”

What happens when students read below their level?

Does reading below grade level turn your brain to mush?

How could it?

If this were true most parents would have lost their ability to read before the hundredth reading of “The Very Hungary Caterpillar”.

Books below a student’s reading level can build their confidence in reading, which they can apply to reading more challenging books.

Fountas and Pinnell “…pointed out that [we] never intended the A to Z reading levels to be used in the way they often are. That is, teachers informing students (and sometimes their classmates) of their current letter level, making parents aware of the level, and organizing classroom libraries by level.”

“We designed the F&P Text Level Gradient™ to help teachers think more analytically about the characteristics of texts and their demands on the reading process, and the A to Z levels were used to show small steps from easiest to most difficult. The goal was for teachers to learn about the characteristics of each level to inform their decisions in teaching—how they introduce a book, how they discuss a book, how they help children problem-solve as they process a book. We created the levels for books, and not as labels for children, and our goal was that these levels be in the hands of people who understand their complexity and use them to make good decisions in instruction. We certainly never intended that children focus on a label for themselves in choosing books in classroom libraries.”

How should we organize our libraries if we’re not organizing them by level?

“Libraries should engage readers and provide high-quality, high-interest, fascinating materials. A good library could be organized like a good bookstore—trying to sell books to readers.”

The goal is fostering a love for reading, which can be very hard to accomplish if students are limited in reading only books that fit into their assigned level.  Not only are they missing out on books outside of their level but they are also missing out on all of the texts that don’t have a level at all. So many great texts aren’t leveled, like magazines, graphic novels, menus, closed captioning, letters, cereal boxes, manuals, newspapers, catalogs, recipes, scripts, and of course student made books. Children need to read in any way that interests them.










Harry Potter Statistics


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