A Kid is Not an “H”

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.

16 thoughts on “A Kid is Not an “H”

  1. Kylene,

    “…the book lost the label and the child gained it” summarizes the sorry state of not trusting ourselves to teach well. I see it as a symptom of our mistaken reliance on a method that might offer some guidance, but clearly should not be cast into the role akin to Moses and the Tablets.

    How fortunate for the child and his grandpa that you took a ride in that cab and he took a chance on asking. I hope his teacher and teachers like him/her read this and reflect on the issues related to such loose language.

    Mary Ann

  2. Spot on. We need to remember that we must be carefully with how we label books because children will live ‘up’ to expectations and the labels no matter whether they are high or low

  3. When my son Max was in elementary school, he was excited to learn that an author, Dan Gutman, would be visiting his school. He asked me to buy a book by this author so he could have the book signed in the school the following week. Excited to show the other students his new book, he brought it to school the next day. His teacher explained to him that the book was at too low a level for him to read. The book level was “below” his independent reading level, so he was not allowed to read it. Sad, really.

  4. That third grader is not an H, or a cut score, or any other level designation. He’s a real person with real parents, grandparents, and other family.

    We cannot let data-crazed decision-makers guide us toward thinking of our students as quantified entities. We didn’t get into this line of work because we want to put kids in boxes. We got into this because we want to help them get out of boxes!

    Thanks for this story, Kylene.

  5. As a 3rd grade teacher I agree! I don’t even “level” my books because I am a firm believer that you should read what you want to read, not what you should! I read picture books to my kids every day and they still love being read to. I do use the “five finger rule” to help students not become frustrated with too hard books. And I encourage them to branch out into other genres, but labeling? No. Unfortunately many parents also feel it is a matter of status for what level their child is.

  6. I just shared this with students in my Introduction to Education class. Labeling, leveling, tracking, and the like are things that have occupied a lot of our class discussion time. It seems like we’re still looking for “redbirds and bluebirds” only now we talk about “leveling systems” and “basic and proficient”. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks for sharing a story, friend, that so wonderfully and simply sheds some light.

    • More thanks to you, Bob, for sharing this with your students. You’re right that all we’ve done is change the label: redbirds are now “H” kids and bluebirds are “M” kids. It does take longer to say, “These students are able to read independently books written with these characteristics” than “This kid is an H” but it’s more accurate. The kid is NOT the label.

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