When you read this post your head may bop back and forth a as mine does, like a ping pong ball, as I reflect about the pros and cons of leveled books in the elementary classroom. With transparency this post is a result of reading one from @ChoiceLiteracy and looking back at my years of teaching kindergarteners to read. To say there were changes is an understatement! To say they were ‘good or bad’ is not looking at the whole picture. (Remember to follow the ping pong ball.) In the 1990s and for a long period of time after, reading and writing in kinder was a natural outgrowth of the themes and interests of the kinders. We had many centers, ones that you would find in any traditional kindergarten program: blocks, art/writing/math area, dramatic play, manipulatives, and a library wth a cornucopia of books. We had “letter of the week” as a jump start to letter sound activities as well as learning to write upper and lower case letters. And we had no script. As respected professionals, we were given great leeway (I taught at an independent/private school) to create a program that reflected our knowledge of child development that would meet the needs of our learners. Over the years our reading program changed as we incorporated a balanced literacy approach using the Daily 5 literacy tasks. We attended workshops and had hands on training by peer mentors and others in the field. It was an exciting time learning how we could enhance our teaching of reading to our kinders. Some trepidation was to be expected, as we have seen when any new program is adopted and incorporated into an exiting, vibrant well-thought out curriculum. But we were ready to see how this would work, and it did! Each year our new group of kinders needed time and much support to feel competent as readers, but they did; and although the strugglers faced challenges, we were there ready to guide them in any way necessary for them to feel successful. And then many of our teachers attended #TCRWP . The enthusiasm to begin the next leg of our reading/writing journey for our students was palpable. Once again our peer mentors guided those of us who had not had the opportunity to go to the week long workshop. I have never attended, much to my chagrin. So I can only speak from the perspective of one with a second hand experience. But here to I have to add that my learning takes many detours and so I asked questions and participated in chats on Twitter to learn more about the approach to teaching reading and writing that my school now used in our curriculum. My last year in the classroom (June 2015 I became a retired kinder teacher), was not without concern and unease. In a limited time of hours, with many specialists built into the schedule, what were our kinders missing when a big chunk of the morning focused on the Daily 5 tasks, teaching reading/writing strategies as we held true to our beliefs of a DAP Framework for kinders. We lived in a world of a never ending balancing act as we made time for unstructured play, #geniushour and integrating technology into the learning. But I digress, my focus here is on “reading” and what it means to be a reader. A major anchor in all of this has been the idea of the three ways we can read a book. If we truly believe this, then allowing kinders (any grade) to read what interests them, what they want to learn more about, what they want to share with their peers and teachers needs to be encouraged, valued and supported. If we believe teaching reading is not a script but adheres to the premise that first we build relationships with our students, get to know them and give them room to follow there passions, then we stop directing them to their “level.” If we say no often enough to students’ choices, what does it tell them about our beliefs in their abilities and then, what have we accomplished. And we do this out of concern to help students become readers.
This is the bandwagon that many of us have joined. We have become cheerleaders in the never ending quest to develop early readers and writers because… Well I leave that up to you as I struggle with that question myself. We need to think if we are turning our students off with our eagerness to advance them as readers.