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Webinar Review: Fountas and Pinnell: Levels are a Teacher’s Tool, not a Child’s Label

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.27.47 PMImage: Fountas and Pinnell Twitter:

Reading levels, to my great dismay, have escaped the bookroom and teachers’ notebooks and found their way into classroom libraries, progress reports and even children’s vocabulary, as in “I’m a Level Q.  What are you?”

Fountas and Pinnell presents a webinar to address this growing problem.

Reading levels, those letters from A-Z in the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient (or numbers in the DRA System), are a way to communicate the difficulty level of a text based on text characteristics.  Those characteristics include genre, text structure, content, themes, language and literary features, sentence complexity, vocabulary, words, illustrations and book and print features.

Reading levels are a tool that teachers use to match books to readers and to measure achievement and progress.  It was never intended as a labeling system for classroom libraries.

Levels, according to Fountas and Pinnell, were also never meant to be shared on report cards or progress reports.  In the webinar, the emphasis is on communicating with parents/caregivers in a manner that better reflects the range of each student’s literacy learning.

We teach reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, reading comprehension) throughout the instructional contexts of Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Book Clubs and Independent Reading.

Leveled Texts should only used in the context of Guided Reading where “teachers select texts that expand thinking within, beyond and about a text” based on individual needs. Leveled texts allow a school community to share a “vision of progress over time.”  Fountas and Pinnell emphasize that “the level is not the most important thing about the book.” The most important thing about a book is that it be a high quality selection.

Book Club books should not be selected by reading level but be “student-selected, age-appropriate, grade-appropriate, complex texts that expand thinking about, within and beyond the text.” Book Club books can be read independently or with audio support.

For Independent Reading, students should receive careful instruction in book selection but always have control over the books that they select from the classroom library.

Sharing progress in reading should be done without sharing levels. Fountas and Pinnell suggest sharing examples of books that students had read in the beginning of the year and then share current books that show the development of more complex understanding. They also suggest sharing as examples of books that students will hopefully be able to read at the end of the year.  It is important to communicate how literacy learning is a part of all instructional contexts.  Teachers can show examples of student written response to texts by sharing Reader’s Notebook entries from Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Book Clubs and Independent Reading.

This webinar has inspired me to rethink how I can better communicate student reading achievement and progress with parents/caregivers.  Information can be shared about a reader’s reading identity, response to reading and book log analysis within a narrative that addresses decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and written expression. Perhaps stronger connections may be made between the goals of Guided Reading and the other instructional contexts. Sometimes, I send a student off with a sticky note and have them explain their reading strategy/goal to me with a reminder to use the strategy/goal during all reading that they are doing at school and at home.

If parents ask about levels, teachers should explain how that levels are a tool for teachers to guide instruction and used in one context of instruction. Educators should share a fuller representation of child’s literacy learning beyond levels.  Again, the Reader’s Notebook, including book logs, reading responses and artifacts of talking about books, can be a vital tool for showing literacy progress.

Parents are entitled to know if their student is reading below, on or beyond grade-level expectations but that information should be conveyed without sharing instructional levels.  Teachers should make note of a range of information beyond reading proficiency relative to grade level, such as progress, stamina, engagement, risk-taking, time spent reading per day, participation in oral discussions and written response to reading.

If a child asks about levels, the teacher should emphasize that those levels are a teacher tool that helps the teacher choose books for one part of the day. The teacher should emphasize that the child is engaged in many types of reading activities throughout the day, including at home reading.  Teachers should help a student build a reading identity, based on the type of books/genres a student enjoys reading while exposing them to a range of literature. Teachers should understand the importance of choice reading where students get to choose a book that they want to read.

The webinar ends with a focus on the importance of classroom libraries, emphasizing that libraries must reflect the “interests, topics of study and diversity of the world” and be culturally responsive.  Each child should be able to “find themselves in (their classroom library’s) books.”  They reminded us of the need to administer interest inventories and have a balance of fiction and nonfiction, including Science and Social Studies texts.

Fountas and Pinnell ends this webinar by asking us to measure not only what children can read but the extent to which our students love to read.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.31.03 PMImage: Fountas and Pinnell Twitter:

This is a clarion call to all educators to resist the limiting labels of levels and embrace a more robust communication about what it means to be a reader.  Due to the explosion of classroom libraries organized by reading levels and the communication of those levels to students and families, this is truly a timely topic.

Thank you to EdWeek and Fountas and Pinnell for making this thoughtful webinar available, at no cost.

What are your thoughts about the use/abuse of reading levels?


Fountas & Pinnell Webinar: Levels Are a Teacher’s Tool, NOT a Child’s Label”

Watched on September 6, 2018 (4pm-5pm)

Link to on-demand:

Transcript will be available by September 10thby logging into the Resources panel on the video console.

Webinar will be available on

Blog Post

“Guided Reading: The Romance and the Reality.” The Reading Teacher (Volume 66, Issue 4, December 2012/January 2013)

Available Electronically:

A chart from the Riverview School District (Duvall, WA) that serves as a reference for a teacher to communicate progress based on grade level expectations instead of using level letters or numbers:






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