Slice of Life: Levels as Student Tools

Friday I asked Lori (not her real name) to read a little of her book with me. I reminded her of what we worked on the last time we met, tracking the speaker in dialogue when there are minimal dialogue tags.

She shared this page from one of the I Survived book series.


The trouble was, there was no trouble.

“Wow, you’ve found a book that fits you,” I said.

What next? I want to honor her choice and teach the next step. I sat thinking of what book would help her work toward her goal.  Choosing one for her seemed complicated and inauthentic.

I went off to anther student, thinking about this trouble and my next step.

Monday I gave it another go and asked Lori, “Is if there is a book you wanted to read, but put back because it didn’t feel right? ”

Lori  grabbed the book Ten, by Lauryn Myracle.  She had looked at it earlier in the day because of its cover, but soon  discovered the inside wasn’t what she expected.

“Let’s take a look, ” I said.


The dialogue was much harder to follow than her earlier selection. We worked through it.Even with strategies and support, she felt this was too much. The difficulty was more than she wanted to handle now.

I wondered again. “Do you think there could be something in between the two of these books?”

She nodded.

“What could you do to find it?”

She looked at the levels marked on the top of the books. Ten was a ‘T’ and the “I Survived” book was a ‘Q.’

She looked at me and said, “Maybe one that’s an ‘R’ or an ‘S’?”


Lori started looking and found Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. We tried. The reading felt harder than the “I Survived” but doable.


Using levels to guide a selection can help. It helped Lori choose a book that she could read when she wanted a stretch.

In this case, levels became a necessary part of choice. It reminded me of Jan Burkins using the metaphor of shopping for a tunic in The Ed Collaborative Gathering. Sometimes the size can help us shop.


Sometimes we choose to stretch ourselves as readers, and when we do this, some direction on levels could help us find a book. There’s nothing to say that it’ll work every time. But this adventure is something  to keep in mind the next time a reader ventures into the library.

Thank you, Lauryn Tarshis, Lauren Myracle, Ralph Fletcher, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris for your work. You help my students become better readers and thinkers.

And thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to share the bits of our lives that we need to figure out.


9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Levels as Student Tools

  1. What a fantastic post. I love how you shared the use of levels as a guiding tool. I always go to the 10s and 12s when I’m shopping for clothes, but sometimes the 8s or 14s fit as well. That’s exactly the point.

  2. I like that you seemed calm in helping this student, really showing her that searching and finding a “right” book is truly possible. You found a book that she can enjoy and stretch herself a bit, but also helped her know that books are out there just for her! Lovely sharing, Julieanne!

  3. I don’t teach younger students so had to reread a couple of times to understand that a little “trouble” is an opportunity to learn and progress. Congrats on the success of your gentle nudge, especially on your awareness and kind response to her choices.

  4. I work with older kids so I had to reread a couple of times to understand that “trouble” is a good thing– an indicator of readiness to grow. I appreciate your gentleness in recognizing and nudging her to take a scary step and try something new.

  5. I’m glad levels are working this way in your classroom. My kids’ reading is being driven by levels. For example, A said today that he could only read the first Harry Potter book. Why is that? Because the other ones are above his grade level. And he’s right. But I wish he would give it a try.

  6. Julieanne – thank you for reminding us that levels do have a place as a tool – not as a label. Bravo to you and your student for using them to help find a book with just the right amount of challenge!

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