I was in a cab in Baltimore talking with the driver. He eventually asked me what I did and I told him I spend most of my time working with teachers of middle and high school students who read below grade level. He asked if I’d give him some advice. He said he has 12 grandchildren, and number 9, “our third grader who is the nicest kid you will ever meet,” is having trouble with reading. “He’s a H. Do you know what that is? His teacher keeps telling his mom that he’s a H. We don’t know what that is.”
While I didn’t give him a crash course in the leveling systems for books that schools use, I did explain that a book might be labeled an H, but his grandchild is not an H. He’s not a J or M or a P and he, his wife, the child’s parents and most importantly that little eight-year-old boy should stop thinking of himself as an “H.” We talked about things they could do at home to grow his confidence as a reader and improve his enjoyment of reading while improving his fluency and comprehension. I have a feeling this grandpa is doing all of them, right now. And as good as I feel about this family’s concern about this child, I feel as bad that somewhere between the teacher learning about leveling books and talking with children and then the parents of those children, the book lost the label and the child gained it. Let’s please be careful and not confuse the designation we might give to a book with a label we place on a child. A child is not an H.