More on Text Levels: Confronting the Issues

Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

New Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In response to the many comments the blog has received this week on the Text Levels- Tool or Trouble blog post:

You have shared many important thoughts on the topic of text levels.  Of course, children should read the books they want to read—those that engage their interests and that will bring them enjoyment throughout their lives.  Levels are simply not for children and should not serve as another means of labeling them and damaging their self-esteem.  Nor do they belong on books in libraries or on report cards.

Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.  Many of you have found the instructional benefit of levels in assessment and in the teaching of reading, so you can support each child’s successful reading development across the grades.  When a…

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Day 7: One of those days…

Have you ever had one of those days where you just need to not be who you are?  A day where you want to get away and not have anyone know where you are or what you are doing?  Well today was that day for me.  It seemed like the entire day had been a struggle from the beginning.  Neither of the kids would cooperate, my husband was stressed out and frustrated.  Everyone was in a bad mood, but why should they have been?  It was absolutely beautiful outside!!  Unfortunately none of them wanted to leave the house.  Each of them had a reason to be in and apparently a reason to be grumpy.  So I decided to leave.

In the car I fantasized about what it would be like to only focus on work.  I love my job, I love my field and I could be completely absorbed by it.  I dreamed about all of the kids and families I could help.  I dreamed about how good it would feel to be so focused instead of pulled in ten million different directions.  I longed for simplicity.  Before I had kids I was completely absorbed by work and so was my husband.  We liked it that way.  All of our social functions revolved around fundraisers for the non-profits we worked for or volunteered for.

However, since we had children and both changed careers all of that changed.  When I am absorbed by work I feel guilty.  Guilty because I am not there, guilty because I love it, guilty because I am missing out, and guilty because I have nothing left when I return home.  In recent moths my chronic illness kicked into high-gear which has thrown another monkey wrench into things.  No longer can I push myself like I have in the past.  When he is absorbed by work it is par for the course.  Not because he is a man, that would be easy to rail against, but because he gets a bonus based on his average hours worked.  It is technically ‘worth it’ for him to be absorbed.  My ‘me-ness’ feels less and less.  I was so sick a month ago that I had to miss an event I had been looking forward to for almost a year.  When I think about it I still want to cry.

So, I hopped in the car and drove to Stockdale’s.  Yep, that was my big rebellion.  A trip to purchase birdseed.  I drove with my favorite music blaring, rolled into the parking lot feeling like a true rebel – even if I did have a car seat and booster seat in the back.  In the parking lot I even turned off my google location so my husband couldn’t see where I was.  I walked in and grabbed my cart and then started walking.  My husband called – and I ignored it!  When he called a second time I answered, didn’t want the poor guy to worry. He wanted to see if I was going by the grocery store, which was his not so subtle way of trying to figure out where I was.  I felt like a tough guy when I gave him no info and just said I would not be going to the grocery store today, that would be tomorrow!  I continued to wander aimlessly looking for anything to make me feel more in charge, more powerful, less an invalid who has lost control of her own existence.  When I ended up on the horse care aisle I knew it was time to focus and leave.  But then I caught sight of the patio section.  I knew there was something there that I could buy that would make me feel better.  An owl lantern?  Nope.  A mailbox cover? Definitely not.  Wind chimes? Nah.  A new bird feeder?  No.  So I grabbed the 40 lb. bag of black oil sunflower seed.  I should have asked for help, but I am so freaking tired of needing help that I picked that sucker up and threw it into the cart.  I was feeling awesome.  I rolled up to the checkout feeling strong.  And then I realized I didn’t have my debit card.  Seriously?!  Thank goodness they took checks.  My whole plan was now shot to hell.  No debit card = no shopping.  Except that I had my Target card.  Yep, that was my next stop on my afternoon trip to reclaim myself.

Well, did that work? No.  I walked away with the crap I needed to keep the house running and the kids happy.  I even purchased a load of Easter candy that I was sure would help.  It didn’t.

This is a tough path.  My whole life has been.  I am not, nor will I ever give up on my dream to help families and kids.  I will never give up trying to be the best mom I can and I will never give up trying to maintain a relationship with my best friend.  Today though sucked.  Tomorrow will be better, I am sure.

Day 5: Don’t Tell the Guys

Yet another snow day, selfishly I am thrilled. Another opportunity to rest and try to get caught up – even though I don’t really know how I am seriously this behind – we just had almost 2 weeks worth of snow days!! Apparently all it takes is 3 days of work to undo it all again.


Instead of cleaning and organizing we decide to veg out and watch a high quality flick. Snuggled up on the sofa, surfing through Amazon for a movie to rent we spot the new Tinkerbell movie. The kids squeal, “That one!!” We three are nestled in, ready to begin, me the in the middle and a kid on each side. The movie had the classic highs and lows of Disney, blessedly with no deaths, and a heartfelt satisfying ending. The kids loved it, and I didn’t hate it. Unfortunately it is now time to actually tackle the mountain of dishes and actual dirt (yes, actual dirt! I potted flowers on the kitchen counter and thought my husband would be sweet and clean it up. Three days later I figured I should stop hoping and break out the cleaner.) that was preventing me from making oatmeal and raisin cookies – snow day priority!


As I am toiling away in the kitchen and my son is practicing his spelling, he yells to me “Momma, that movie was fun wasn’t it. I don’t know why I like the Tinkerbell movies, I just do.” I responded, “I don’t know either sweetie, the movie was fun and we like what we like.” Then I heard my least favorite phrase, “Mom, could you not tell anyone else that I like a girl movie?” Instantly I replied, “Buddy, there is no such thing as a girl movie, we all just like what we like. If it makes you feel better I will promise not to tell anyone.” <Oops! I hope he never reads this blog post!> He laughed, “I know that, but the guys at school laugh at other kids when they like girl stuff. It’s silly, but I just don’t want to be laughed at.” “I understand kiddo.”


This is only the second time in his short seven years that we have had this conversation. The last time we were watching Dora the Explorer with his sister. Even before he was born I have been so conscientious about being gender neutral. The idea that someone else can limit what my child is able to wear, watch, or play with infuriates me. It is so easy to insulate them from the insanity of culture when you are the most important person in their world. Putting them out there for the world, to be a part of the world, judged by the world, is terrifying. As a teacher I have seen how cruel children can be to one another – the thought of someone treating my child that way crushes my heart. One of my most difficult tasks as a parent has been and continues to be teaching my children how to be themselves no matter what. Teaching them that even when someone does not treat them well that it is more about the other person than them. It is incredibly difficult to equip both of them with the tools to handle the challenges that come their way. Hopefully these smaller ones they experience as kids will be great practice for handling the tougher things that come your way as an adult.

Connecting Funny Babies and Ferguson


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Thanks for the quote posted today, TwoWritingTeachers!  I finally have a writing topic! (trumpet fanfare in the background)

“Writers are outsiders. Even when we seem like insiders, we’re outsiders. We have to be. Our noses pressed to the glass, we notice everything. We mull and interpret. We store away clues, details that may be useful to us later.” –Dani Shapiro

This quote reminds me of this beautiful, hilarious moment captured by my dear cousin:

18496_10203517643411252_8639804334685980514_nWhat is it about babies that draws people in?  Being unbearably cute?  Exhibiting behaviors adults suppress? Living in the moment? One thing every person has in common with every other person on the planet is that we were all babies.  Not much else beyond that is exactly the same for each person.  This is important because common experience connects us as writers to the world at large.  To borrow Shapiro’s idea of writers being perpetual outsiders (with our noses are pressed to the glass), we are seeing, and I think, reflecting on what draws us together.   Perhaps not the exact same experience or moment in time, but more of the humanity of that moment.  The feeling.  The expression.  The attempts at connection.  I agonized over Michael Brown and the community of Ferguson for many reasons.  But I do not have that actual experience in common with anyone.  I don’t live in Ferguson. I’m not African-American.  I haven’t suffered injustice at the hand of others.  I haven’t lost a child.  I haven’t had my business destroyed.  I haven’t worried about losing my job or protestors becoming violent.  But in that writerly way, I imagined the tension and anxiety, I imagined the anger and frustration, I imagined the confusion, I imagined the fear- just by having my nose pressed to the glass and reflecting on what I saw and heard.  Some people say that if you weren’t there, you don’t know.  But I think that I soldo know something because, just like this sweet baby above is demonstrating, I took the risk of peering deeply into that moment with wide, open eyes, and I found that I am amazed by the courage, strength and resilience of my fellow human beings in those terrifying moments.  Until today, I didn’t feel as though I had the right to share any thinking on Ferguson, but thanks to Shapiro’s quote, I am reminded that being an outsider isn’t a waste- it’s an opportunity to observe, reflect and then connect with those on the other side of the glass.  I’m just beginning to do so.

Day 2: Sick Day

Sick days are normally some of my favorite days.  That sounds terrible, I know, but when my kids are sick they love to snuggle and they are still.


Lying there, head on my chest

Warm, soft, peaceful

Pitiful baby

Who is not really a baby anymore

Moments like this

Help me remember



Day 4: The FitBit

My husband is a pacer. Normally he paces only when he is talking, either on the phone or when he is talking things out. This all changed when he acquired his newest tech toy – the FitBit. He is now a man on a mission – a 10,000-step mission.

Normally he is not particularly health conscious. If he ate a healthy meal it was because I cooked it and if he engaged in exercise it was because I forced him. But he turned 35 in December and this seems to have brought about a shift, which started with the purchase of this FitBit.

In all of the years I have known him he has never even worn a watch – so this thick black band looks awkward and out of place. I really thought I would get used to it eventually, but 2 months in and I now loathe it. I dislike it not just because of the way it looks but also because of the changes it has brought about. As I write this I feel completely hypocritical. I have been attempting to get the man to take care of himself for nearly 20 years. Maybe I resent the FitBit because it was able to prompt him to take action in a way I never could.

I watch him walk across the floor, footsteps thumping, heavy breathing. Stupid FitBit. Cannot wait for the thing to beep and alert him he has reached that 10,000 step goal.sol

Donkey in the Mud and other musings on being stuck


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solWhy am I having soooo much trouble writing today?!

In the last 15 hours, I’ve experienced the thrill of spring (with a balmy 71 degrees) and the frustration of ANOTHER “snow” delay (2 hours tomorrow-  but yay, sleep!), the delight of reading with kindergarteners and the perplexing questions offered by middle schoolers,  the toe exhaustion and blisters produced by my really cute wedges and the comfort and relief of my snuggly slippers,  the laugh of an old friend and the curiosity of a new one- so many potential slice of life topics, and yet, here I am- stuck. stuck. stuck. stuck.  I remember being about 17 years old and my high school English teacher telling me that when I was stuck as a writer, I should just write, “I don’t know what to write.  I don’t know what to write.  I don’t know what to write.”  Then, the ideas would just come.  Well, dear reader, don’t worry!  I won’t force you to endure the “I don’t know what to write.”  I will, however, share with you all the ways I can describe the word stuck:

held fast. blank. mired down. heavy bucket. Milkduds on my teeth. steadfast. glued to the spot. weighed down. indelible. concrete in the britches.  fastened stiff.  donkey in the mud. staunch.  wedged in.  rocks in your boots. Rock City’s Fat Man Squeeze. encumbered. gum on my shoe. hand in the pickle jar.

I’ll try again tomorrow during the “massive” one-inch snowstorm!!

Day 1: Always Running Late

Running late seems to always be a state of being for me. When we finally arrived at the birthday dinner I thought my blood pressure might return to normal. Well, I wrong.   As we walked through the door we were instantly greeted by screams and hugs and glasses of water. Yes, glasses of water. It seems someone had the brilliant idea of placing water and glasses in the waiting area. This is truly brilliant, that is unless you are the parent of a four year old and the aunt of another who is extremely eager to serve and refill for everyone in the family.

As I stood and watched their tiny, cherubic hands grasp the small glasses with such care, moving from person to person I was filled with a the unique motherly emotional blend of anxiety, irritation, pure love, and awe. It seems that is how I feel on a daily basis – more times than I care to admit – as she learns to master these adult tasks she is so eager to take on – and I learn to let her.


Day’s End Approaching


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Here’s what I hear:

the cheer of elation from a television basketball crowd

the muttering growl of a pup being disturbed by a little boy

the kissy-kissy sound a little boy is making to aggravate the pup

the soft, muffled singing of a beautiful tween hidden away in her room

the deep voice of my beloved calling for children to get ready for bed

Here’s what I see:

the muted colors of my favorite paintings beckoning me to be inspired

the glaring light of a television keeping me from that very thing

the remnants of a delightful family dinner calling me to clear them away

two rumpled heaps of pup wrestling on the carpet

a silky cat stalking them from a far, waiting for the bravery to pounce

my favorite black rug wearing its daily coat of animal fur waiting to be vacuumed

Here’s what I smell:

the memory of my grandmother in the chicken casserole served for dinner

stinky boy feet and freshly showered girl as they come to kiss me good-night

warm vanilla, lemon and rosemary simmering nearby, releasing the day’s tension

the familiar fragrance of my beloved passing me by on his way somewhere

Here’s how I feel:sol


Young Love


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I watched and listened closely as Genna sat, cross-legged, in the meadow-green grass near the neighborhood drainage ditch and laughed- a strange laugh I hadn’t heard before.  It was a bit tinkly, a bit brassy, but most of all, confident and loud.  She tossed her long, blond-chestnut hair over her shoulder marked with the thin strap of her white cotton sundress.  Jay and Jonathan, our Saturday afternoon guests, were also watching Genna closely.  I noticed how their eyes took in every single strand of hair that landed, perfectly-placed, on her bare, tanned skin.

I looked at my own bare shoulder- pasty-white and dotted with heinous brown splotches other call freckles.  I tried tossing my own hair, but with its short, red-turned-pool-water-green, split ends…the effect was less than memorable.  The boys didn’t even glance my way.

As Genna continued to hold her audience captive, I climbed to my feet and wandered over to the dewberry bushes.  My favorite summer fruit grew wild along the edges of the ditch and was a favorite lounging spot, not only for 7th grade girls, but all sorts of lovely, untamed creatures- birds, mice, chipmunks, rabbits and even deer.  The fruit itself was an adventure waiting to be discovered; sometimes, it was small and tart, other times, plump and sweet; you never knew just what you’d find as you inched your fingers delicately along the bramble-covered branches.

I began to pick a few berries to place in the bucket I’d brought.  A few, especially plump fellows, detoured their way into my mouth, and their sweet juiciness filled my senses with the aroma of summer.  A few in the bucket, a few in my mouth- now the bucket, now my mouth.  An eternity might have passed, but in this moment of heaven on earth, I’d never have known if indeed it had done so.

Another hand appeared next to mine wandering along the thorns.  I shyly glanced to my side, then up, up, up into the face of my chosen guest.  Jay was looking down at me with sky-blue eyes as a lock of stubborn hair fell across his cheek.  Time stopped.  Or was it just my heart?

Either way, I definitely stopped breathing until he said, “The best berries are hidden in the back.  They’re the toughest ones to find! Ouch!”  He brought out a handful of plump, ripe berries (and a few scrapes) and offered them to me.  “But, they’re my favorite.”

I took them in my hand, and feeling bolder than ever before, I touched one to his lips.  He smiled, opened his mouth, and as he bit down, the summer-sweet juice of the very best berry squirted directly into my eye!!  Holy Stinging Mother of All Berries!!  I was no longer blinded by Jay’s good looks, the steamy mirage of summer, or Genna’s perfect white sundress- just the blasted juice of that dang, toxic berry!!

I dropped the bucket and sank to my knees as I grabbed my eyes, watering profusely from the burn.  After a moment, Jay offered my the corner of his shirt which I gently used to dry my eyes, and oh yeah- my now-snotty nose- all thanks to the newly renamed Hellberry!

Wait! Did I really just do that?  Wipe my nose with his shirt?!

I dared not look at his face (maybe he didn’t see?!  please, oh please?), so I dropped his shirt and scooped up the berry carnage from around my knees, tossing them back into the bucket.  I felt the red sting of humiliation on my face.

Smiling, Jay said, “That adds a nice touch to my favorite shirt.”

He reached down, took my hand, and as he helped me up, I mustered the last tumblr_myi2zv4sAp1t13b0fo1_500dribble of dignity I had and laughed- a strange laugh I’d never heard before.  It was a little bit tinkly, a bit brassy, but most of all, confident and loud.  Jay laughed, too.

As we walked, hand in hand, back to our friends and favorite grassy spot, I tossed my hair once again over my shoulder and this time, I felt the sweet kiss of the sun on my freckled, summer skin.