“Read at your level.” What the hell does that mean?

Disclaimer:  This post is not directed at teachers, but those making the rules.

“Read at your level.”  I can’t even comprehend that sentence.

What does it mean, oh wise educators rule makers?  Is that your way of telling kids not to learn more than we think they should?  Don’t expand yourself?  Don’t excel because you might make another student look bad?  I’m confuzzled.

I remember as a child my teachers encouraging us to read beyond our grade level.  They wanted us to strive for more than See Spot Run.  My mom read Heidi to me when I was five years old.  I read it by myself at the age of 7.  Soon after that, I read Call of the Wild and White Fang.  I was 8 years old.  A Wrinkle in Time soon followed.  By the time I reached 7th grade, I’d read Ulysses, Homer, The Grapes of Wrath (some of which I didn’t understand at the time), and Great Expectations.  By my sophomore year in high school, I had read Tolstoy, Tolkien, Ayn Rand, Hemingway, Frank Yerby, Twain and many others.  I had an insatiable thirst for books and was never content at ‘reading at my level’.

Can someone please explain to me what ‘read at your level’ means, and who determines such nonsense?  Sure, we all have to start somewhere, but by the time a kid leaves 1st grade, unless they have a learning difficulty, they should have the basics of reading down.  It then becomes a matter of the child learning new words and what they mean and developing comprehension (which comes from more reading).  Of course, grammar, and punctuation follow, but I have to tell you , I learned more words and how to use and write them from reading than I ever did from tests.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard agents and editors in the past year or so tell authors not to put big words in YA novels because teens don’t want to stop and look up what a word means.  Say what???  As a child, my teachers encouraged us to keep a dictionary at our side when we read. They encouraged us to increase our vocabulary, to learn how words are used. I am thunderstruck that some teachers nowadays not only don’t encourage the use of dictionaries and thesauruses, but discourage young people to read books that are not suitable to their grade level.  Really?  This is the most insane, idiotic notion I think I’ve ever heard.  Hey, you school system, core curriculum weirdos, please explain?  Do you want our kids to not strive beyond their comfort zones?  Do you really want them to go unchallenged?  Are you trying to keep them ‘dumbed down’?  Do you know there are studies out there that show struggling readers improve their comprehension and reading skills when placed with more advanced readers?

I’m not saying kids need to stray totally out of their comfort zone, and I’m not talking about struggling readers.  That’s where staying in your comfort zone and sticking to what you like to read is sooo beneficial.  No, I’m talking about your average kid in school who is told by their teachers not to pick books to read outside their age-appropriate level.


Now, I don’t believe jumping from Old Yeller to books by Frederick Nitche is wise, but kids should always be pushing the envelope when they read. And with dictionaries and thesauruses so readily available on phones, tablets and computers, there is no reason why kids shouldn’t be encouraged to look up a word or two they stumble upon while reading.

So, parents, go on and keep reading age-appropriate books to your little one, but every now and then throw in The Hobbit, Great Expectations, Harry Potter or Watership Down. Expand their minds.  Feed their imaginations.  Increase their vocabulary.  Shower them with your love for the written words.  Don’t dumb them down.  They’ll thank you later when they’re graduating at the top of their class, with honors coming out of their ying yangs.

“Read at your level?”  Ha!  Never!

So, what do you think?  What was the most difficult book you read as a child?

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