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Concerns About Book “Leveling”


A recent “tweet” by Keisa Williams (if you use Twitter, she’s a “must-follow”) is prompting this post.

Keisa shared a pretty cool-looking book recommendation site called Lexile. By using it, students can find books about topics of interests that are supposed to be on their reading “level.”

I sometimes wonder about the whole idea of separating books by reading “levels.” I feel like it can discourage students from seeking more challenging texts about topics of interest to them. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see some of the kinds of books students will struggle through because they find them so engaging.

That’s not to say that I’m completely against doing something like that. In my own classroom, because I teach such a wide range of students ranging from early Intermediate English Language Learners to International Baccalaureate diploma candidates (and everybody in-between) I have some division in my classroom library. I emphasize all the time, though, that these few and broad classifications are just a guide. One way I encourage “cross-pollination” is by having separate sections for the “popular” books in each level — books that over the years have clearly been the books most-read by students in all of my classes.

Right now, I don’t have any book recommendation tools on my The Best Places To Get Blog, Website, , Book, Movie, & Music Recommendations list that have any kind of leveling system (at least, I don’t think I do — I might be wrong).

I’d be very interested in hearing people’s perspective on all this.  I don’t know of any research on this topic that would back me up or offer different conclusions.  Let me know what your experience is, and if you know of any related research.  I’m open to changing my mind.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I teach elementary and probably have a different view on this than middle or high school teachers. I meet with guided reading groups everyday (in the upper grades I met with them several times a week) and they get new books, at their level. So, they have books that are at their instructional level available to them to be reading all the time. As to the books they choose from my classroom library or the school library, I want the world available to them. Some students will challenge themselves because of a personal interest or because they have seen friends reading something and loving it. Others will choose books that are too easy out of laziness. I meet with kids in reading conferences in order to address any concerns I have about their choice of books. But I want them to be able to choose and not be limited by reading level.

  2. Hi Larry. We use a cool site called LibraryThing ( my College. The students really like it. Even those reading beginner-level graded readers use it. Students write a few words about a book they liked. A cloud forms and students can float around and find recommended books suited to their tastes. As my students are at the same level (more or less), the site is more geared to genre preference. I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be used as a leveling system.
    Hope this helps.

  3. I, too, have struggled with the need for and usefulness of book leveling. While does make it easier for my students to find a book they can read without too much struggle, it also limits their choice of topics, etc. I get around this by having parallel sorting schemes. I sort half of my library by reading level and half by topic or genre (poetry, mystery, etc.) I do not worry if books drift from one schema to the other as students read them and replace them in the library. One of the ways we get back into the swing of things after the winter and spring breaks is to re-sort the library. This also gives students the opportunity to “find” books that capture their attention.

  4. Lexiles give a rough idea of a range for where to start helping a child choose a book. My guess is that by the 2nd week of school, most teachers have an intuitive idea of the child’s reading that probably won’t be helped by knowing their lexile level.
    Many states have started promoting and mandating use of lexiles. In our state, Virginia, it is tied to a way to level the state standardized tests. Too bad that Guided Reading, the more respected leveling method by Fountas and Pinnell hasn’t lobbied legislatures the way the Lexile people have!
    Here is a comment from the middle school blog of NCTE:
    The backgound knowledge of the possible reader does not affect the lexile, nor does the content of the book So, for example, Toni Buzzeo’s picture book The Sea Chest gets the same lexile number as Truman Capote’s true crime work In Cold Blood.
    Lexile measures are a starting point, but they don’t get you very far. Helping a reader find a book that fits his interest and is accessible is an art not a science. It’s the knowledge of the teacher or librarian and the ability to connect and discuss with the student that really count.

  5. I think that having students read books that are at their independent level is essential for building literacy and reading success. Much of Richard Allington’s work (What Really Matters in RtI provides a good overview.) discusses the negative impact that struggling readers face every day because the textbooks and literature used in their classes is not accessible to them. It actually results in struggling students receiving less education each day, widening the achievement gap. It is absolutely essential for all readers to have books that are on their level. It is our job as teachers (Book publishers listen up!) to ensure that there is engaging content at all levels. I am very passionate about this area of education, and I would love to talk with you more about it. I really enjoy your blog and I am a big fan of your work.

  6. I’m with Kristen on this. Kids must be able to read the texts they’re asked to read. Imagine trying to learn biology from a text way beyond your reading level.
    Richard Allington’s work does a great job of explaining this.

  7. While I agree completely with the need to place readers in books they can actually read, I find the lexile system the least helpful. Any system which overlooks the content and focuses only on words as decodable commodities is flawed, in my opinion.
    In our case, thank goodness for the Library of Virginia’s efforts to make the lexile system more user-friendly, by screening for content.
    In training, a fellow librarian heard the Lexile rep say lexiles should be used by teachers, not attached to students. He also said that at most 30% of a classroom library should be leveled.
    I can see the value of lexiles for teachers who have no knowledge of Guided Reading levels, and no idea of what a “just right” book might look like for their students, but I’m glad my child’s teacher has a much richer background and bigger box of tools.

  8. While appreciating the instructional value of understanding and using books based on proximate reading levels, I lost my job over my insistence in the value of a school library being organized by content and not being “leveled.” I take support in this article, and comments, and in a strong position statement from the BCTLA and continue to find the discussion and reading advocacy work important. I invite correspondence on the topic and have proposed to present on the topic at AASL in 2011

  9. Pingback: Leveling The Library? | Inquiry Live in the Classroom

  10. Two articles I wrote that deal with the topic of leveling books in the elementary school. I am for it!

    A Cautionary Tale: Don’t Throw Out Your Leveled Libraries Yet! Text Complexity and Helping Students Learn to Pick “Just-Right” Books

    AR Killed My Dog and Now It’s Coming for YOU! A Defense of Accelerated Reader and a Plea for Less Drama

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