Category: student engagement

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Since I’ve taught in a variety of school settings, both in America and overseas, what is “best practice” when it comes to reading can be a bone of contention for educators. I’ve worked in some settings whose leaders think guided reading has become blasé and we should do more conferencing with student selected texts, others who feel that “independent” reading is not really reading at all and we should give them leveled texts so that students understand what is a “just right” book for them. It’s hard to argue with either side because each have their points. Although student selected texts show real agency, student chosen texts don’t often expose them to new ideas and challenges which make it difficult to develop strategies to conquer increased demands in an instructional level text. On the other hand, there aren’t too many leveled readers that win book awards and really engage readers to the point that they can’t put the book down. So trying to both instill a love of reading and yet have learning intentions that encourage the growth of skills is a balancing act.

Lately, I’ve been reading Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book, Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More,  and they tell a story of an enthusiastic reader who gets deflated by leveled reading, citing the kind of message it sends our learners:

Accompanying these instructional choices are subtle and obvious messages to students. Think about what …book selection communicates..

• I think of you as a reader almost exclusively in terms of your reading level.

• I trust reading levels absolutely and generally don’t consider the nuances of your reading process, the text, or your motivation to read.

• Although you think you know how to select a book for yourself, you really don’t.

• You are not as good at selecting books for yourself as the others.

• The confidence you have in yourself is misguided.

• Don’t get excited about the books you want to read until you check with me.

• I’m in charge of your “independent” reading.

Burkins, Jan, and Kim Yaris. Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More, Stenhouse Publishers, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, .
Created from vientiane on 2017-09-08 20:11:57.


Ouch!-Right?  As I ponder the hidden message that leveled texts send, it’s driven my head into a frenzy. How can I do both?–help cultivate the identity of a learner, seeing themselves as “readers” while at the same time, pushing them out of their comfort zone and into the “learning zone”, where their skills are enhanced and extended. Knowing that my school is committed to guided reading, I am thinking about how this concept of “best practice” can be developed in the classroom. Here are 5 ways that I intend to merge what is great about these approaches to teaching in a guided reading group:

  1. Pick texts that reflect the reading interests of the students in the guided reading group.  In the beginning, when we are developing trust in our teacher-student relationship, I think it’s important to honor their interests. I have started off with a reading interest inventory and had a discussion about what their favorite genres might be. It doesn’t always have to be the next book in the DRA or PM reader series (or other level texts series), instead, I can draw from other sources like online magazines or online reading sources like  ReadWorks,  RAZ Kids, and Epic.
  2. Their ability “level” is none of their business. It’s not that I don’t want students to make good informed choices about selecting texts, but all they are not a letter, a number a color or a name. They are a reader. That’s all they need to know. Those levels are for me, the teacher, to ensure that they grow into more challenging and sophisticated texts.
  3. Tool and strategies over pre-reading and post-reading “activities”. When I first read Edgar Allen Poe, I had to sit there with a dictionary. I struggled with all the “big words” but I loved his ideas so I dug in and did the work. I had to go back and reread, but at the end of the story, I felt fulfilled. So during guided reading, I want to expose them to a strategy or introduce them to a tool that can help them solve problems with meaning and print that they encounter in the text.
  4. Encourage them to get a life– a reading life- beyond the group! As an end of week reflection, I want to spend some time discussing some great books that they might have read independently. I don’t want students to choose books because they think they are easy but instead, I want them to really want to find books that excite and interest them. Taking the time to talk about books why we like a book not only gives me data but also shows that I value their choices.
  5. Value questions over answers. A sign of a good book is that it lingers in your mind a while. It leaves you thinking and asking questions about the concepts and ideas in it. I want my readers to apply critical thinking skills when encountering texts and having them evaluating the characters and the information in the book/article closely.  This develops the mindset of a true reader, which I am sure will show up on their running records later.

For any of you who teach reading in the primary/elementary grades, the struggle is real, as we grapple with what is really “best practice” for our unique group of learners. Hopefully, my 5 ideas will give you some pause for reflection as you consider what it is that you believe is paramount to developing your readers. Please share any ideas or take aways, as it helps all of us grow as professionals.

Do You Ask These 3 Questions to Improve Students’ Self-Reflection?

Do You Ask These 3 Questions to Improve Students’ Self-Reflection?

Many educators recognize the value of increasing students’ motivation in order to improve student engagement and decrease behavioral issues in the classroom. Earlier in the year, I introduced staff to the ideas in Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by watching his Ted Talk. His seminal work on motivation explains that the “carrot and stick” method of extrinsic motivation creates compliance, but not creativity nor engagement. He shares his “secret sauce” from his research which includes 3 main areas that develop intrinsic motivation and the individual’s internal desire to put in their best effort: purpose, mastery, and autonomy.


If we want students to shift into higher gears of learning, then we have to create a classroom culture that develops agency, competence and a love of learning.  Lev Vygotsky reminds us that “children grow into the intellectual life around us. ” It’s the day to day mundane stuff that shapes our learning environment like our routines and strategies, but most importantly it’s the language we use in our interactions.  Developing a culture of self-reflection is a quintessential aspect of today’s classroom. In a world of immediate gratification and distraction, we have to provide tools to students to help them cultivate their focus and develop their independence. Reflection is a habit that every classroom should have because it enhances the meaning of the learning.  It teases out key ideas and insights, and complexities of the process of learning.  We foster students’ growth when we give them tools to control their own learning, and a reflective question does just that.

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. – Mark Van Doren

So today I want to share with you 3 questions that Daniel Pink suggests in order to get a resistant person to start the process of introspection and develop the motivation to start regulating their own behavior. When I heard these 3 questions, I knew it could extend beyond the boardroom (he spoke about management teams) and could easily fit into our classrooms. The order of asking the questions are really important because it frames how one might move beyond mediocre.

Opening question: On a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 the best, how would you rate fill in the blank? 

Second Question: Why didn’t you rate it lower?

Follow-Up Question (or go to question if they rate themselves as a 1) What would make it a next rating number up on the scale? 


Teacher: On a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 the best, how would you rate your collaboration in the group. 

Student: I think I am a 3.

Teacher: Why didn’t you rate it a 2?

Student: Because I did draw a picture on the poster.

Teacher: What could you do next time to make it a 4?

Student: I could also share what I know about polar bears for the project.

(What if my student rates themselves as a 1?  Then you skip question 3: What could you do to make it a 2?)

Do not underestimate the power of this questioning strategy. It has can be impactful, especially over time–practice makes perfect, right?!  And, for younger students, you could easily do a smaller scale of numbers, like 1-5. I know my little 4-year-olds might like to exaggerate their efforts so I would need to start with something very concrete and tangible to redirect them towards, something with specific steps or actions that they would know very well. As I write this, I am thinking that I would use a well-known routine, like our morning routine, to demonstrate how to use a rating scale.

No matter what the age range, listening to their answers with empathy, flexibility, and curiosity will help elucidate deeper responses. We can’t judge their ratings–how they rate themselves is data for us, but it’s not necessarily a time to correct them or give advice. If the objective of this strategy is to develop metacognition and motivation then we have to trust the process and not micro-manage it with what we feel the student should have rated themselves. We have to listen openly to their answers because we know that change comes from within–we cannot impose our opinions on them.

In Learning and Leading with Habits of the Mind by Arthur DeCosta talks about the “voices” we hear in our classroom: internal and external voices of reflection. The internal voice of reflection is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a mixture of both what and how we are thinking. Self-knowledge includes ways of thinking that may not be visible to us consciously. Using a simple tool like this rating scale by Daniel Pink gives students a window into their own mind and the motivations behind the choices they have made and the choice they can make in the future.  If we give them the space to create this self-knowledge, then the tool becomes the catalyst for change and self-improvement.

How do you develop self-awareness in your students?  What stimulus do you give them to cultivate the impulsion to make greater efforts on their own?

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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