“What are you getting?” I called to Wren as I heard her run to the playroom and then back to her backpack.
“One of my Kingdom of Wrenly books,” she replied. “My teacher wanted to see what kind of chapter books I read at home.”
“Oh man!” I thought to myself. I had meant to email her teacher earlier. I stopped right there, in the middle of unpacking backpacks and prepping lunches for the next day and wrote to her teacher.
I explained that while Wren is an avid reader, we are in no rush to see her advance through the levels of text. We have read aloud a few chapters books, but we’d hate to see her miss out on all of the really great books that she’d never go back to if she was introduced to reading chapter books independently at the beginning of first grade. “Please don’t rush her,” I begged.
The school district where Wren goes to school, along with the district that I teach, report reading levels on progress reports. I’ve often felt that this in some ways puts pressure on kids and teachers to advance levels. I have been doing a lot of reading and my own inquiry into text levels, bands of complexity, and what I have observed as level inflation. I totally get that parents expect kids to grow. However, if they really understood the thinking work required to truly comprehend more complex books, maybe they’d feel differently about their child reading books at such advanced levels.
I often hear kids complain that their books are “too easy” or that they want “bigger books.” I wonder where this comes from…I have a few ideas. I once heard Richard Allington speak and he said that he had never heard any grownup walk into Barnes and Noble and ask “where is your really big book section?”
In our house, we brush off talk of levels. I encourage my kids to read whatever strikes their fancy. I make sure to expose them to variety and we always have fresh titles to explore together. Wren happily pulls out books that I know are well below her “independent reading level” as well as books that are probably more of a stretch.
It’s been pretty exciting for me to be practicing what I’ve been preaching as a reading teacher all these years. I’ve affirmed for myself that the real secret to growing as a reader, for most kids, is to simply read. The joy of reading grows when kids find pleasure in all that reading brings.
After emailing Wren’s teacher, she was on the phone with me less than an hour later. I joked that there was no need to get back to me so urgently. However, I was grateful for her response to my concerns. It was one of the best I’ve heard. She said that Wren was a very capable reader but she’s six and comprehends like a six year old. She assured me that she had no plans to race her through the levels. I wished I could have hugged her. I knew my girl was in good hands.