I don’t need to tell you that it is a challenge to match a child with a book they will love on their reading “level”. I don’t need to tell you about the numerous conversations that I’ve had with adult caregivers reassuring them that their child can check out books above or below their reading “level”. Or that they can check out graphic novels or comic books or magazines and still get practice with reading. This practice is frustrating for librarian, child, and caregiver.
On the recommendation of an educator, my team recently listened to the Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong podcast by APM Reports. I was shocked to learn that the reading programs that have been just a nuisance to me, are actually harming children.
Essentially, a 60-year-old unscientific theory on how children learn to read has been turned into a multi-million dollar industry and it is not helping kids learn to read.
Though we are not responsible for teaching reading, as youth services professionals we can better serve our customers by understanding more about how children are being taught to read in our school districts and we can be advocates for evidence-based reading instruction.
I highly recommend librarians, educators, and caregivers listen to the podcast, explore the discussion guide, and start conversations in your community.
We were asked years ago by our public school board not to respond to parent requests for books at “the right level” with anything other than finding things the child wanted to read and felt they would be comfortable reading. The staff person who requested it said that the levels they use in school were only for school, and they didn’t want children being stuck to them anywhere else, and I thought that was such a wonderful request that we’ve stuck firmly to it, even though I’m not sure the school board still feels that way!
This was an outstanding podcast, but it brought a great sadness to my heart. I fed into the ideas of “leveled” reading in the early stages of my career, but became more suspicious the longer I was in public education.
The dead giveaway in the podcast is the word “sold”. Any product that is being foisted on schools in which the “seller” stands to make an insane profit should be held with great suspicion. From standardized tests (grr) to reading recovery programs: if someone aside from the teacher stands to make a buck, we should question the intention. Always.