by Stephanie Kraft
Lakeview Design Center (@ldclibrarylions)
I was an elementary classroom teacher for 10 years. It was wonderful, challenging, and rewarding. However, when I became a school librarian, I felt like I had found my people, my niche, and my calling. I love helping students choose books that make them excited; books that they like to show off to their friends, even if they can't read every word. Students will often return books the next day--I know they didn't read them, but they ACCESSED them, they were proud of them, they gave it a shot...that is what matters to me. They will find their way to the books they can read, because they have the access to try and try again.
I am also passionate about helping teachers, and my teacher heart remembers the pressure of reading instruction; how easy it becomes to see reading only as instruction, constantly trying to measure progress in fluency and comprehension. Being on the hook for student reading growth is an overwhelming responsibility, and it is tempting to direct students to read ONLY on one level, even for at home reading. I'm sure we've all experienced students being sent back to the library to choose a different book, because the one they chose didn't meet classroom level requirements.
The school library exists to bridge the gap between school and home; to aid students in discovering reading in a broader sense and to build a foundation for life-long reading. So what do we do as school librarians to meet those seemingly conflicting needs? How do we balance what teachers want (levels, levels, levels) and what we want (choice, choice, choice)?
For the teachers that require levels, I use every opportunity to encourage them to allow students at least one "free choice" book from the library. When students think they are limited to a level, I remind them that they have a free choice option; to look for the books they are excited to try, and then we can check the level if needed. I help teachers understand that there can be value or joy in a book even if "he/she can't read it." Fortunately, my message of student choice has been catching on at our school.
There is value in choice, there is value in instruction, and true learning will happen when students have the chance to use their instructional tools in books they have chosen for themselves.