Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Navigating the Challenging World of Reading Levels

Today's guest contributor, Danielle Jones, is a youth and teen public librarian in Portland, OR. Find her on Twitter @DanielleBookery.

The Geisel Award honors the best books that children use to build their independent reading skills. One of most rewarding and hardest jobs is matching the right book, at the right time, to those readers.
There are a variety of reading level assessments available for educators to use, and teachers will often use one system to guide their students. The leveling systems used can vary from school to school or even classroom to classroom. This can be a challenge for librarians that are working in tandem with classroom teachers to keep up with what book falls where in this varying playing field of levels, especially as most books aren’t marked with all the variations. Often, caregivers and children come into the library seeking books that fall into a certain level range. This can be difficult because some teachers can be very specific about what level they want the student to be focusing on.

Some of the most common assessment systems used are:
Guided Reading - This system uses letters A-Z to mark different reading levels.
DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) - Reading levels are marked A1 through 80.
Lexile - A scale that measures readability in a numeric range from 200-1690.

So when it comes to doing reader’s advisory and matching the right book to a reader’s ability it can be a challenge whether we know what reading level they are at or not. If a child is coming in knowing exactly where they are on one of these reading levels, one tool that helps me get started, and helps put that level in context is Scholastic’s Book Wizard site.

Screenshot from

This gives you a variety of options to search for titles using different assessment levels, and can help put a level in context to see some familiar titles that fall in that specific range.

Bookmark created by Danielle Jones. 
Most times though, children don’t come into the library with the assessment level in mind. They just want a book to read. The five finger test has been a handy tool to determine if the book is a good match with a child's reading level.  It is something that is easy to teach other library staff to use, and also it is easy for them to teach to parents and caregivers. I have seen it be empowering to young readers who use it on their own when sorting through a stack of books to find something that will be a good fit for them.

It can be good to dissuade them from using the back cover for the test, as it can often have quotes from people that aren’t writing for the reader of the book, but for those making the choices for the child, whether it is a librarian, teacher, parent, or caregiver. Also, never underestimate the power of a child’s motivation for the subject or content of a book. If a book is falling in the the 3-4 finger category, but it is something that the child is really interested in, it can push a child to struggle through some of the more difficult words.

Looking to share the five finger test with your staff and patrons? Feel free to download the bookmark and print as many copies as you need. Thanks to Danielle for creating such a wonderful resource!  

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