Wonder Librarian

Exploring the wonder of school librarianship, the superhero way.

I was going to do a post about the start of a school year, how things are going, general stuff happening in my school library, but then I received a text from a friend this weekend, and it’s like the third text/inquiry I’ve received in the past 4-6 weeks about this topic.  So, I changed my mind and am climbing on top of my soapbox for this post.

We’re talking about Lexile levels, people, and the adults that insist on kids reading at their Lexile level, and nothing but their Lexile level.

First of all, I get why inexperienced-in-literacy people like to refer to Lexile levels to help a child find an appropriate book for them.  I really do.  I even think Lexile levels can help jump start a search for that “just right” book.  I really do.  Where I have a problem with Lexile is when it’s used to prevent kids from reading books they love or will love.  For instance, a 5th-grade student named Dylan (just a random name chosen. I’m not talking about anyone in particular.) loves to read graphic novels or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and reads those titles over and over.  It is determined that Dylan has a Lexile level of over 1300, which puts him reading at an 11th-grade or higher level.  So, his parent, teacher, counselor, maybe even his librarian, want to challenge him, and insist he now only read books at his Lexile level so he can grow even more as a reader.

What’s the problem with that?  Aren’t we supposed to challenge students, so they continue to grow and develop academically?  Absolutely!  But, why does that mean we demand students stop doing something they love in order to accomplish that, especially when reading graphic novels and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Captain Underpants, or whatever they want has already put them at a reading level SIX levels above their grade level?  Do we tell Oscar-winning director Martin Scorcsese that he should no longer make mobster movies because he needs to challenge himself more?  Do we tell master musicians and virtuosos they should no longer play scales or simpler pieces of music they enjoy playing because they’re playing below their skill level?  Do we tell top athletes they should no longer do drills or watch previously played games or practice because they already know how to play the sport? Do we tell religious leaders they should stop reading the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc. because they’ve already memorized the entire text and they need to read a religious text that’s more challenging?  Of course not! So, why do we ask students to stop reading what they love simply because they’re reading something that’s at a lower level than what they’re capable of?  Why do we laud the getting back to basics or finding your love of something again, yet want to force students to do the opposite of that?

Studies have shown that if students just read and read what they like, they’ll have and maintain a proficient or higher reading level.  It’s as simple as letting them read what they want and encouraging them to do so.  Also, Lexile is just a number and just because a book has a higher Lexile, doesn’t mean it’s more challenging.  For example:  according to the Lexile website, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a Lexile range of 950-1060.  To Kill a Mockingbird, which is studied in 8th grade at my school, has a Lexile of 750.  Want proof to show?  Here’s a link to the Lexile website showing the Lexile of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  And here’s a link to the Lexile website showing the Lexile of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Plus, I can’t help but think that if a student is reading nothing but Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other similar books and has achieved a reading level several years beyond his grade level, then isn’t reading those books working?  And hey, bonus, the student is actually enjoying reading.  For further research, read this article by Donalyn Miller about Lexile levels.  Or, this article.  Or, this article from Psychology Todaywhich talks about why you shouldn’t use reading levels to determine what books students should and should not read.

Students will be challenged in with their class reading and with non-fiction, informational text.  Fiction and pleasure reading should be for, well, pleasure.  Also, there simply aren’t many books with a high school or greater Lexile, that doesn’t have inappropriate content for middle school or younger.  Also also, if they’re only allowed to read big, thick, older books that don’t interest them in the slightest, then they’ll just learn that the better reader they are, the more boring the books are, and then they’ll lose interest in reading altogether.  I mean, how many of us adults are truly interested in reading a book like War and Peace, just for fun?  When you pick out a book to read for pleasure from the library, bookstore, from a friend, etc. what makes you decide to read that book?  That it’s on your Lexile level?  

Literacy leader extraordinaire Colby Sharp went on an epic rant about the similarly problematic Accelerated Reading program.

So, if you’re a parent, guardian, tutor, teacher, counselor of a young, advanced reader who wants their child or student to continue to grow and flourish as a reader, let them keep reading what they want!  I’m not saying that you should never encourage or guide them to other books and genres that they haven’t read before, but also don’t allow Lexile and other leveling programs become the be-all, end-all of determining what’s best for young readers.  If you don’t know what to recommend, ask a librarian!  That’s what we’re here for!  I’d say for probably all librarians, the reason we became librarians was to help foster a love of reading in people and help them find their next favorite book.  There are tons of books out there that are great read-alikes for anything that anybody likes to read.

OK.  I’m stepping off my soapbox now.  

Have a comment for this post?  Please let me know what you think!  We all learn better when we share our knowledge.

Keep reading,



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