Last month I talked about being inspired by The Book Whisperer to motivate my students to set high reading goals and read more books than they ever have before. You can read that post, Spark Student Motivation to Read, by clicking here. As I embarked on this reading journey with my class this year it didn't take long to see that a handful of students were quickly getting behind in their reading goal progress. Not surprisingly some of these students were behind grade level in reading.
I know that in order for a student to make reading progress, he/she needs to be reading "just right" books, so I teach my students to choose books that are appropriate for them. However, we all know that often times they don't. Which is when you end up with professional pretend readers.
So, I began thinking about leveling my classroom library. One downside that I considered was that students may be embarrassed by having everyone else know the level of the book they are reading. In the end I decided I had to give it a shot and see what happens.
I used Scholastic Book Wizard and an app called Level It to begin leveling my books.
I have to be honest, I was a little frustrated with both of these leveling programs. First of all, many books are nowhere to be found and often times the bar code scanner wouldn't work, and I would have to type in the books manually. The other thing that frustrated me was how far off I felt like some of the levels were. For instance, the Percy Jackson books were leveled as DRA 40. I know that only my best readers can successfully read those books, making them at least a 50. In the long run I ended up having to adjust some of the levels I was given and come up with some completely on my own. If anyone knows of a better leveling app, I would love to hear about it!
As I leveled the books, I wrote it on the inside of the book cover, thinking that kids could just choose a book off the shelf and look inside to check the level. But then I decided I wanted to group my books in the library according to level, so there would have to be some way of identifying them by their cover. I bought four different colors of duct tape and decided to put my books in the following groups: 50 and above, 40, 34-38, 30 and below. I cut strips of the duct tape and wrapped it around the bottom of the binding so that it would be visible when a book is on a shelf.
I was trying to cut the strips with scissors which was actually quite difficult as the tape would stick to the scissors. My husband came up with the great idea of using a cutting board and razor. This went much faster! I could quickly cut numerous strips in just a few seconds.
I discovered something once I had my books leveled...I didn't have nearly enough books in the 34-38 range. Most of my books were 50 and above (makes sense) with the next highest group being the 40's. The problem is my group of readers who were behind in their reading goals needed 34's and 38's. So, I started shopping! I love how you can go on Scholastic.com and look for books by level. Such a time saver!
Once I had my leveled library set up, I started pulling groups of students to the carpet to talk to them about what level they should be looking for and where they could find it in the library. Nobody seemed embarrassed about what level they were. In fact, I've had more difficulty with kids wanting to read the books that are too easy for them. And all the new books pouring in from the book orders have been very motivating for those students reading at lower levels!
It usually takes me a few days to get books ready for the library. I glue a pocket in the back and make up a library card, put the level inside the book and the tape for the level on the binding, and then cover the whole book with clear contact paper. (My mother has been working for weeks to get all of my older library books covered in contact paper! Quite a task!) Certain students would ask me several times a day, "Are the books ready to be checked out yet?".
Here are some pictures of my library once all the leveling was done.
It didn't take long to see the results of all this hard work. Suddenly, several students began making progress on their reading goal, and I could tell they were proud of the fact that they had begun finishing books. My DRA test results in January were encouraging, and I feel a big part of the students' success was putting "just right" books in their hands. And then I had one of those great teacher moments that don't happen often enough.
One girl in particular was in the group of students reading 38's. When I tested her in January, she passed the 40 fiction, 40 nonfiction, and 50 fiction. I hadn't had a chance yet to meet with my students to tell them what the new levels were that they should be looking for in the library, but this girl obviously knew she had made great progress. She came up to me one day and said, "Do I still need to read 38's?". I said, "No, you can read 50's now!". She went running over to the library where a couple of her friends were shopping for books and announced excitedly, "I can read 50's now!". Don't those moments just make all the work worth it?!
If you would like to try organizing your library by DRA levels or by genre, check out my Genre & DRA Library Labels Set at my TPT Store.
Check out all the other great Monday Made It projects at 4th Grade Frolics!