Oh standardized testing, how you have ruined us! How you have forced us to do things that deep down we know are not the best for our little friends! How you have been abused yourself - used to measure things that you were never designed to measure!
I think we all need one big support group. I'll meet you at the bar...
Anyhow, one fallout of testing, testing, testing and more testing is our obsession with data, accountability, measuring, and all things one can put on a graph. One huge casualty besides you, me, our friends and collective sanity? Our classroom libraries.
I don't know about you, but I have always had a love/hate relationship with my classroom library. I loved the neat, organized and colorful labels. I hated that lurking pile of books that I didn't know where to shelve. I loved the bursting baskets, filled with books books, glorious books! I hated when books were put back in the wrong place, carelessly and without thought. I loved the rug, the pillows, the little lamp, the cozy feel of my classroom library. I hated vacuuming and maintaining the space.
As you already know, I can make most things in life into a full fledged drama.
Getting back to my point...one trend I have seen in classrooms (and a trend that I do NOT believe is the fault of the teacher, don't get me wrong) recently is making the classroom library into a wall of leveled baskets. Whether you color code them, number them or Fountas and Pinnell them up, it is still a huge wall of leveled books. And nothing else. No genre, no topic, no author, no nothing. Just levels as far as the eye can see.
I often wonder what this looks like from the perspective of the little friends in that classroom. Do they imagine the books mocking them - all you-can-look-but-you-can't-touch-me? Do they push readers to work harder? (My guess is no.) Do they make readers feel bad about where they are and limit their choices? (My guess is yes.)
Levels are fabulous. They are a great tool and have shaped my own teaching of reading. HOWEVER, as the eloquent Donalynn Miller writes in chapter 4 (I know, chapter 4. Could we be doing this book club thing any slower?! I swear, you guys, I am totally not a slow reader. Seriously.), "I never want my students to feel that they are roped into a book...I believe that students should be empowered to make as many book choices as possible..."
Is it really a choice if you are told to pick one book from the basket labeled "DRA 28"?
This chapter goes on to detail the ways in which Ms. Miller expands her students reading lives and helps them to form a reading identity. Now, I love the smallest of small fries down in lower elementary and for these new readers, it is essential to have leveled books. But leveled books and being labeled as a "level x" reader certainly isn't the answer.
Can you imagine if someone yanked the People magazine out of my hands and told me it wasn't my level? It wouldn't be a pretty day, that's for sure.
If you want to chat more about our The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, check me and my fellow nerds out over on our book club's Facey Face page.