A Simple Way to Encourage Students to Read More Broadly
When we talk about “vertical alignment” in education, we are usually referring to a progression of skills or content that gets progressively more difficult as it goes along. When it comes to reading, rather than using achievement or assessment benchmarking levels, which are frequently frowned upon in the world of librarianship, school librarians use designations that most closely align to education groupings and the comfort or reading-experience level of the reader. Using achievement or assessment benchmarking levels is typically frowned upon in the world of librarianship. On the spine labels of books and in library catalogues, categories such as “PB” (picture book), “CB” (chapter book), “MG” (middle grade), “YA” (young adult), or “AD” (adult) are frequently used to make it simpler to find titles that readers will enjoy; however, readers themselves rarely take note of these categories.
Instead of using the problematic and difficult to independently navigate Dewey Decimal System, many people, including myself, have begun the process of genrefication in classroom and school libraries. Genrefication refers to the process of organising fiction titles in library collections by genre. After I genrefied my library’s collection, I noticed an increase in circulation, as well as interest from classroom teachers in the development of independent-reading units, which would allow for greater autonomy and engagement in language arts instruction.
ALL BOOKS BELONG TO ALL READERS
One of the projects that we planned and carried out together had the purpose of assisting students in breaking free from preconceived notions regarding the types of books that they should be reading. When we place an excessive amount of weight on data that pertains to reading levels and achievement and then share this information with students, it can frequently lead to the development of prejudiced ideas about which books belong to which grades and readers. We may not even be aware that this is happening until it is too late. The sign that says “all readers are welcome here” is the one that appeals to me the most in my personal library.
My colleague Alexander Maughan was interested in the concept of vertically aligned stacks, so I shared it with him, and we worked together to create some vertically aligned stacks in the reading app Sora for students to use as examples. We began by compiling them into lists, after which we read the titles out loud to the students and challenged them to compile their own sets of motifs related to the writing unit that they had been studying up until that point.
Mr. Maughan and I worked together to build stacks, with each stack containing one title from the corresponding level. We chose examples of motifs from “picture books” all the way up to “adult” titles because we thought they were particularly compelling. The students then built their own stacks and shared them with one another after they had completed them. We included a piece of analytical writing as a part of the lesson plan. The purpose of this assignment was to connect all of the titles in some way by providing an explanation of the motifs that appeared in each of the titles. On one of the stacks, for instance, there were copies of “The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander, “What Lane?” by Torrey Maldonado, “The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by David Barclay Moore, and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Even though it may be difficult for younger students to build stacks with adult titles, the project can be altered so that students include more titles from fewer reader-designation groups. This will be the case even though it may be difficult for younger students to build stacks with adult titles. For instance, students in elementary school might concentrate on constructing stacks that are made up entirely of board books, picture books, and chapter books. When viewed in this light, the distinctions between levels become less clear, which is not always a bad thing. The work of genrefication would benefit from the removal of the stigma that has been attached to reading levels. This would provide greater access for individuals who have been historically disadvantaged by levelling systems, in terms of both assessment and reading engagement.
NEW DISCOVERIES, GREATER EQUITY
When students are limited to reading titles that they believe are at their skill level, one of the most exciting aspects of using vertically aligned stacks to increase reading engagement is that they inspire one another with books that they might not normally discover. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the method. We are aware that there are a variety of problems with the standardised tests and evaluations that are used to determine a person’s level of reading proficiency. Those of us who say we see education as a means of emancipation and liberation from oppressive structures need to rethink the ways in which the tools we use can be weaponized and frequently are, causing extended harm to those who rely on us for assistance.
Sharing vertically aligned stacks between students has the additional benefit of assisting students in becoming curators of content and independently forming connections. This benefit is realised when students work together to share vertically aligned stacks. They will then be able to build library collections, create displays, and even lead reading initiatives for the entire community. When I go to the library, I occasionally come across parents who read longer books to their young children. Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of lending Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time, which has a Lexile level of 1230, to a sixth grader. The possibilities are endless when we remove barriers and think more expansively about what it truly means to develop a lifelong love of reading.