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The Case for Making Leveled and Points-Based Reading Voluntary Without Grades or Rewards in Schools

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I have been freelance writing ever since elementary school. My passions include music, age-appropriate dance, travel, and more.

For such a long time, schools have used leveled and points-based reading in their efforts to better and hone their student bodies' literacy. If you as a child or your own kids have ever taken Fountas & Pinnell's Literacy quizzes or Renaissance Learning's Star 360 or Accelerated Reader (AR) tests, chances are that you've underwent the tactics.

For some kids, reading by levels and points worked as intended: it bettered their reading comprehension and gave them (though in fewer numbers) an advantage in reading sections on standardized tests.

For many (and still growing) others, leveled reading has turned something for leisure that expands vocabulary and broadens people's outlooks of the world into drudgery. Many schools they attended as kids, or where their kids attend, often utilize the methods as part of Language Arts grades and/or use them as tools to earn extrinsic rewards like pizza parties and funfairs.

Disclaimer: this is just a faction of successes here

What benefited few users of leveled reading out of it?

Leveled reading with quizzes ensures (or, rather, is SUPPOSED to ensure) that students are reading at corresponding grade levels. Most of the books (and in some schools the only types of them teachers want students to read) are novels. The initial intents of leveled reading are selecting them for alignment with school values and age-appropriateness.

"The goal of reading instruction is to make our students feel successful and confident, not frustrated and overwhelmed," Jessica Tobin wrote in Elementary Nest, "One of the benefits of Lexile reading scores is the ability to match students with texts at their individual reading level. These “just right” books set them up for success right away. In turn, this encourages the students to be independent readers and work on comprehension."

"It is useful to know a student’s Lexile reading score in order to challenge them or scale back. This is done by leveling up or down. Closely monitoring student growth is helpful for both educators and parents because it allows them to work together to deliver the most individualized, appropriate instruction for each student."

And now: a "coloring book corruption"


Text: $10,000 (in grants for in-school libraries). 'Accelerated' Joy-O'Reading Squelcher. Wanted for cutting down students' reading enjoyment. Experts say that such software, especially if used for their cumulative grades in language arts, makes them more likely to perceive reading as a "chore" rather than a leisure activity. Simply contact your school admins.

There are too few "just-right" books for some readers

"When schools remove novels from the students' curriculum and replace challenging books with shorter pieces and worksheets, they are denying students the foundational reading experience for developing those regions of their brains that enable them to think deeply," Kelly Gallagher lamented in Readicide.

But for schools that emphasize novels, chances are that leveled reading for points as grades or pizza serves that purpose for other misguided reasons (of which age-appropriateness isn't one of them, as a 5th grader reading Dean Koontz sounds too ridiculous). For some kids, books considered "just right" (if they are lucky to find one) may not be challenging enough for them, let alone match their interests.

"I had a teacher in 5th grade that suddenly started telling me most of the way through the year to 'read to my level' coincidentally after I told her how to correctly pronounce a word," Reddit user ichosethis remembered in r/books.

"I got sick of the side little notes in the 'journal' she made us write in daily, so I stapled my latest state tests scores that had me reading at an 11th-12th grade level that year into the journal. She stopped with that (expletive) immediately. My reading comprehension was considered college level the next year."

"I was reading mostly high school targeted fantasy books for fun, as much as possible, though I had read (Lord of the Rings) by then... She wanted everyone reading whatever 5th graders in the early 2000s were supposed to read, which were way too easy and super-boring."

"Reading more challenging books was punished, not rewarded," EntirelyNotKen, whose kids attended a school which bases English grades on their AR scores, added, "What really honked me off was when I discovered from the website that The Return of the King (507 pages), had a reading level of 6.2. By comparison, The 10 Best TV Game Shows (48 pages), had a reading level of 6.4."

Reading for grades

Not uncommonly, some schools integrate leveled reading as part of English term grades.

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"Meeting my AR goal was 15% of your grade in (my 7th grade English teacher's) class," A55Beard recalled, "You couldn't get an A if you didn't do any reading. The thing I don't think she was planning for is that anything over 100% was applied as extra credit."

"Now, let me tell you this: for one term, I didn't do a single damn assignment for her class. All I did was read. I read every damn Harry Potter book (Goblet of Fire was like 60 points alone, and I really needed 45 for my goal.), LOTR, a (lot) of other fiction books, and even a few (nonfiction books). I got 487% of my reading goal and a B in the class, just from reading. The next term, she changed her grade weighting, so AR was only 5%."

Even Judy Blume feels your pain.

Leveled reading attempts to broaden students' interests for mostly the wrong reasons

"As a young kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, and scoured my elementary school library for any books about them," Metal-Lee-Solid recalled, "Eventually, the school librarian pulled me aside and told me I would not be allowed to rent any more dinosaur books - apparently, I needed to broaden my horizons."

"(The librarian) presented me with a bunch of books I didn't care about, from books on baby animals to books about cars, and attempted to patronize me into being interested in one. But what actually happened is that I stopped reading books altogether for a year or two."

Most likely, the school the Reddit commentator attended emphasized and based grades on leveled reading. Another beef Gallagher has with it is about students putting their own interests aside in order to obtain points for getting A's or a funfair. This is especially stressful for some autistic students who are literate because like the commentator who'd only read dinosaur books and who had been banned from doing so, they often have narrow interests.


Why make leveled reading voluntary, without external rewards, and what alternatives increase literacy?

Some schools make leveled reading like AR voluntary, but oftentimes, they'd attach externalized incentives like field trips or gift cards.

"My school had this reading program (probably based on AR quiz results and lexiles) in which you moved your piece around this big board on the wall," wrote ILoveSquirrels, "One book = one move. I was an anti-social bookworm who could power through books. I’m also uber-competitive, so I purposely started reading books I could quickly get through. Needless to say, I completed the game two weeks into a semester-long activity. My teacher told me to just start over. I completed the board dozens of times."

"At the end of the semester, the school had an awards ceremony. There were milestones in this game that earned you a reward if you reached them. When the game ended, my piece was somewhere around the first third of the board. I honestly thought I was going to be recognized as the top reader in the school and be given some special acknowledgment at the ceremony. I was really excited. Not only did I not get recognized; I only got the awards for completing the first third, since that is where my piece was."

"I went to talk to the principal about it that evening, and she condescendingly said if I wanted a t-shirt so badly she would just give me one (not that I earned one). She then walked away. She never did follow through with giving me any additional rewards. I quit pleasure-reading for a while after that because it would just anger me."

Fitspo memes: Don't reward yourself with food; you're not a dog. Schools: Stick to your reading levels and only read books within them to eat a slice of this.

Fitspo memes: Don't reward yourself with food; you're not a dog. Schools: Stick to your reading levels and only read books within them to eat a slice of this.

"If the question is, 'Do rewards motivate students?,' the answer is, 'Absolutely: they motivate students to get rewards.'" Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, explained, "Unfortunately, that sort of motivation often comes at the expense of interest in, and excellence at, whatever they are doing. What is required, then, is nothing short of a transformation of our schools."

If schools value leveled reading so much, they should make it TRULY voluntary - no extra credit points, no pizza parties, and no admission tickets to laser tag venues attached. And no mandatory weighted percentage of a grade attached either. (It was the case of my elementary, middle, and high schools I attended.)

"Good values have to be grown from the inside out," Kohn explained, "Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive."

Alternatively, Gallagher recommends creating a book flood in the classroom, which is putting a vast variety of several books on display. "(Students) need immersion in a book flood, and because many of our students come from print-poor environments at home, that book flood needs to be found at school. I have found that placing students in a daily book flood zone produces much more reading than occasionally taking them to the library."


“It is most important that the educational process inspires the child and brings out their genius, rather than punishing them for not doing well on tests and making them feel stupid," financial advisor and acclaimed entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki wrote in Why "A" Students Work for "C" Students and Why "B" Students Work for the Government.

Though Kiyosaki wrote those remarks about financial education, they also apply to reading in general, which is an educational process. By shifting lexiles and lettered levels to optional choices without extra credit, rewards, or mandatory grades attached to them, more children will enjoy reading. Because as Dr. Seuss after all states in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut: the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

And those places are sure to bring out children's literary geniuses, whichever reading levels they currently are!

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