So, if there is no evidence that forcing kids to read in zones and on grade levels for their independent reading is best practice, why do some schools enforce this in the school library? I agree with a recent Facebook comment by librarian Christina Marie who wrote, “In the library, students should have the right to choose the books they want to read without someone else prescribing to them what they can read or not” (2021). As a school librarian, I feel it is our responsibility to look into these programs and practices. Not only should we research these practices, but as school leaders, we should offer training on these practices to our teachers. Librarian Scott McGinley commented, “School librarians need to be proactive in providing professional development to staff, whether it be an informal grade level team meeting or something school-wide” (2021).
When you begin the process of providing professional development to staff on labeling and leveling programming, it’s best to read as many studies and articles on the topic as you can to prepare yourself. I have curated a collection of electronic resources, along with a suggested book list, in a Wakelet at https://wke.lt/w/s/1TkEn. I find that just sharing the resources via e-mail can open the door to discussion. I would also suggest creating a presentation slide deck with key takeaways, being sure to cite your sources, and presenting at a faculty in-service. I like to show educators the actual research, so they know I’m not just stating a personal opinion on the topic. Getting your administration on board is key, because without their support and backing, your efforts can be futile. I often show administrators AASL’s position statement labeling practices, which states “School librarians should resist labeling or arranging books by any readability scale and should instead advocate for the development of policies that do not require library staff to restrict access to books based on reading or age levels” (2021).
So what do you use instead of labeling programs? First, think about your why. Why would you as a school librarian want to require students to prove they are reading? Should that be your focus? That alone might change your mindset. Focus on book talks, free choice, provide time to read, and try to stay away from treats and tangible incentives. Read Pernille Ripp’s article “After Accelerated Reader” and Donalyn Miller’s “How to Accelerate a Reader” for inspiration and ideas to improve the culture of reading at your school.
It’s no secret that I do not like labeling programs. I cringe when thinking about all the money districts put into these programs that could be used to purchase books for the school library. Can it be used properly in the classroom? Maybe. Are our hands sometimes bound by administrator decisions regarding the topic? Absolutely. Do school librarians need to be focused on labeling programs in the library or should we focus on reading joy and helping students find homerun books? I like school librarian Shannon DeSantis Gile’s procedure,
I do not limit student library book choices based on their predetermined reading level. If it has mature content or is considerably popular, I have a conversation with the student. I try to issue a content warning to check in whether or not the student is okay with reading the book (and offering to talk if they are). Or if it’s popular among an older age group, I might emphasize the importance of reading and returning so others can also enjoy the story. (2021)
It’s up to us as school librarians to research best practice and to help our teachers understand best practice. We owe it to our students.
AASL. 2021. “Position Statement on Labeling Practices.” http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/advocacy/statements/docs/AASL_Labeling_Practices_Position_Statement_2021.pdf (accessed 2021).
Gile, Shannon DeSantis. 2021. “I do not limit student library book choices based on their predetermined reading level.” Facebook: Future Ready Librarians Group (Feb. 21).
Marie, Christina. 2021. “In the library, students should have the right to choose the books they want to read without someone else prescribing to them what they can read or not.” Facebook: Future Ready Librarians Group (Feb. 21).
McGinley, Scott. 2021.“School librarians need to be proactive in providing professional development to staff, whether it be an informal grade level team meeting or something school-wide.” Facebook: Future Ready Librarians Group (Feb. 21).
Author: Amanda Jones
Amanda is the 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year, the 2020 Louisiana School Librarian of the Year and a 20 year educator from Watson, LA. She’s a teacher-librarian and reading specialist at a 5-6 grade middle school. She co-hosts the My Two Cents edtech webinar series and is the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Program Pioneer. Amanda is an active member of several committees for both AASL and the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. She loves connecting students with “homerun” books and loves networking with librarians from around the world. Visit her library website at lomlibrary.org and/or find out more about her at http://librarianjones.com/.