Let me clarify this lie a little bit (it was a hard one to put into words, but hopefully one you'll recognize ... but not because you believe it). There are many who believe that if you want a high schooler's reading level to be high enough to read, oh let's say, *The Scarlett Letter* that you should just have him read *The Scarlett Letter *even if his reading level isn't quite there yet. The argument goes, how else can you get him to that level?

Uh ...

I never know what to say to these people because I can't quite fathom how one believes this. Let's put reading levels on a scale of 1 to 10. Hawthorne's classic is at 10. Now, let's put students on that scale. Certainly, those students who are at 10 can handle this book and probably those students at 9. With a lot of support and a lot of intrinsic motivation, a student at 8 could probably handle the book. Really, though, that's about as far as I would go. Yet, there are those people who believe that a student at a 6 should read a book at a 10 so that they eventually get to 10.

There's nothing wrong with wanting students to get to a 10. It is important to have high, __long-term__ expectations of students. But, it is also important not to have __immediate__ expectations of students to be so high that it is frustrating. This is where many teachers get tripped up. We all want to have high expectations of students - therefore having them read a book at a 10 is a high expectation of a student at a 6 or 7. That expectation would be too high for the student in their immediate context. Down the road, we want them to be at a 10, but there's effective ways to get there and ineffective ways to get there.

Eventually, we want those students at the lower end of the spectrum to get to the higher level of the spectrum, but we don't get them there by shoving books at them that they can't comprehend. This is what you will see if this is your approach: students get frustrated and feel stupid. So, they give up. They don't do the reading, they fail "quizzes" (I hate even writing that word), and they turn in papers that are basically reiterations of what they've heard (but not understood) in class.

It is not low expectations to give a student who is at a 6 a book that is at a 6 or a 7. It recognizes good principles of teaching and learning. Once the student who is at a 6 has read enough books at the 7 level to be a 7, you then start giving the student books at a 8 level and so on and so forth until the student gets to a 10. This process may take years, but that's what real learning is and you got the kid there. Giving students books at frustration level only gets the student frustrated and angry - this is where we see behavior problems and dropping out.

The tricky part comes in when you realize that you have students in your classroom who are all over the scale. I've written before about why we should avoid teaching whole class novels and move towards independent reading and literature circles [read the comments on that post for a commenter's rationale for giving students books at frustration level]. These techniques allow you to differentiate instruction and give books to students that are at an appropriate level - one that moves them forward and improves their reading skills - rather than give them one-size-fits-all books that further frustrates and alienates students.

I'm not saying it is bad to want to get students to a 10. It should be our goal. But, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to do so. Giving them books at a 10 and hoping their reading level will magically improve is detrimental to the original goal. Helping students move along the scale at appropriate intervals is sound teaching practice.

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Posted by: write a dissertation | February 10, 2009 at 05:14 AM

Lies ELA Teachers Tell Themselves - #2: "In order to get students to a certain reading level they have to read books at that level" <------that's what i was looking for

Posted by: Argumentative Essays | May 05, 2011 at 02:44 AM