By Michael Simpson, Head of Lower School
You may have noticed, between the insect exo-skeletons in Mrs. Barnes’ window and the array of trophies in my window, a roomful of cluttered bookcases. This is the leveled library, and we are in the process of organizing and sorting the books by level and into sets. It’s a long process and we’ve had the help of some great volunteers. Although when you peer in the window it doesn’t look so organized, it is already being used by our teachers.
What is a leveled library? A leveled library is an “instructional library.” The books in this library are chosen by the teachers, not students, to be used for teaching purposes, mostly in guided reading groups. The books are sorted by instructional reading level and come in sets of 6. They are also in the process of being indexed for supporting instruction in specific reading skills. Some of the books are “trade books” books created specifically for instruction, and others are children’s literature written by well known children’s authors. The other libraries—classroom libraries and the Montgomery Library —are for student choice books. Books in those libraries are not organized by level, and the students can pick the books they want to read for pleasure.
The leveled library is extremely useful to our teachers in selecting books to use that will spur growth in reading skills. For that growth to occur, the text must be in a zone for the individual student that is not too high, or the student will be working too hard to comprehend to execute a reading strategy, and not too low, or the text will be too easy for that student to apply skills to build comprehension. Learning to read is more than decoding words only. Students must learn a wide array of strategies to comprehend and analyze texts, and in order to practice new skills and build on previous skills they need to be working with the right material and in the proper context. It’s a little bit like sports practice. I might move a talented soccer player to practice and play with a slightly older group that pushes her growth, but if I put her too high up the expectations will be beyond her and she will not be able to execute—she’ll be overwhelmed by the ability of the others or the sophistication of the drill. Similarly, if she continues to play at a level where she can totally dominate, she is not going to be challenged to grow and develop new skills.
A guided reading group, with peers working on similar skills, using a text that is in the right zone, is what a student needs for surges in reading skill growth. The leveled library provides the teachers with good resources to meet the needs of their students. But it takes a while to organize and index the library!