Lately I've noticed a trend, a call to stop encouraging students to self-select books on their independent reading levels. The blog posts, tweets and instagram outcries for student freedom of choice are gaining populatiry like a pop star's baby photos. Although, student freedom of choice is a foundational principle of literacy instruction, abandoining leveled readers is not the answer. If one allows students to self-select a text far more difficult than their reading level, young readers can become frustrated with the text. This frustration can cause a student to begin to dislike reading due to the labor and lack of comprehension associated with the difficlut text level.
The key to not limiting a student's choice is to provide students with a large variety of texts on their independent reading level. By filling buckets and shelves with large selections on every topic, at every level (a lofty aspiration I know), we can adhere to best instructional practice and also provide students the freedom and flexiblity to select a book that excites them.
I fear our attempt to stay in budget and limit the number of books we purchase for our classrooms has lead to a movement to allow students to read off-level texts. In the long run, this will hurt our emerging readers. If budgets are limited, seek out online resources that open the door to hundreds of thousands of titles. Principals and district leaders must make a commitment to prioritizing classroom libraries in order to both support best instructional practice, i.e. guided reading, and provide the necessary variety of text our students desire.