Monday, November 12, 2012

Leveling books in the library

Last week a librarian at another elementary school sent the following message to the list serve for the Bay Area Independent School Librarians (BAISL):
Hi all,
I am new to Baisl. What a great resource!
Was wondering if anyone has leveled their library using Fountas and Pinnell? If so, is there an efficient way to level our library?
Looking for strategies other librarians have used - purchased a program to help put the information into our catalog system? Parent volunteers to relabel the books? An ideas would be helpful.
Debbie Hughes
This is an area that I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and so I wanted to make sure to reply. Here's what I sent to the BAISL list serve:
Hi Debbie,
Our school also uses Fountas and Pinnell leveling, and we added this to Destiny. The F&P level shows up on the first search results screen, which teachers and students appreciate - otherwise, the information is buried quite deep in the individual title record. (come visit our library site)
In terms of arranging the physical layout of the library, I have used the F&P levels to create more clearly defined groups or sections in my fiction collection. The beginning readers now covers the band I - L. The chapter book section covers books M - Q. Fiction covers R and above. This means that if a student or teacher is looking for a level, I can direct them to the appropriate section, but they have a larger band to look in.

I believe quite strongly that books should not carry the level on their spine in the library. The levels are not precise and not available for many books. More importantly, students need the practice of judging for themselves if a book is "just right" for their reading level. In the library, we want to support students' right to choose books, but we also need to balance this with our educational mandate supporting classroom instruction. By focusing on a band (a group of F&P levels), we can support the students by narrowing their choices. This really helps a student who's supposed to be choosing an "O" book (mid-3rd grade, for us), but who always chooses books much too hard (R, S from the fiction section). I can ask them to choose one of their books from the chapter book section.

I still find that I need to make individual adjustments, based on watching students. The levels are not precise. For example, Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon is leveled at R, so I originally put it in my fiction section. But I noticed that many 3rd graders and lower 4th graders were checking it out - kids who also read the Time Warp Trio. So I moved this collection to the chapter book section. I've also noticed that this rearranging helps lost books get noticed. Bunnicula and Spiderwick Chronicles weren't circulating in the fiction section - these small books get overlooked. When I moved them to the chapter book section, they started getting noticed by kids who wanted shorter, easier books and their circulation jumped.

Best of luck,
Mary Ann Scheuer
Librarian, Emerson School
I feel very strongly that libraries should not place a book's level on the spine. While this is common practice in classroom libraries, I firmly believe that students need guided practice on choosing "just right" books for themselves.

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