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Reading at Grade Level

There are many, many things to dislike about Facebook and the other social media. I am constantly conflicted but there are two reasons I keep using them. First, we use it for business and promotional purposes for Fab Lab ICC and second, I do enjoy staying in touch with folks from my hometown of Satanta. I rarely make it back to Satanta, west of Dodge City, on the nearby planet of southwest Kansas, so I don’t get to see many of my high school friends in person. I like seeing what they are up to by following them on Facebook.

One such friend posted a cartoon recently that portrayed a young boy in a library asking the librarian if he can check out a book. Librarian says, yes, any book. In the next frame, said boy returns, book in hand, stating that his teacher told him he should return the book because it was above his grade level so he can’t read it. Librarian says “Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can read part of it. Maybe you just want to look at the pictures. You don’t have to return it. (Until it’s due.)” The teacher then returns with the student again trying to return the book, saying she just wants to make sure students read within their capabilities. The librarian replies that he wants students to know they have no limits.

Attempted Reading Above Grade Level

When I was in about the 7th grade, a friend of mine and I won the local science fair at Satanta Grade School and got to travel to Pratt Community College for some kind of regional, or maybe state, science fair for kids our age. I don’t think we won that one, but we placed and got to choose our prizes from a list. I chose a subscription to the magazine “Scientific American.” I was very interested in science and thought it would be cool to read the scientific articles each month. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand most of the articles. “Scientific American” was above my reading level, but I’m glad no one told me it was above my reading level, I figured it out on my own.

Attempted Projects Above Grade Level

Looking back further, I once told my second-grade teacher I wanted to build a rocket. That was before there were model rocket kits available. She could have told me that building a rocket was above my grade level and that we had other things to do in class. Instead, she helped me find the rocket section of the encyclopedia—a volume of books, pre-Google, where you could look up information about a plethora of subjects—and basically said, “OK, figure it out.” She actually let me go off and figure out on my own that building a rocket was “above my grade level.” Quite a difference between telling a kid he/she can’t do something and letting them figure it out on their own.

Later, in 7th grade, I was just learning about these things called lasers, I wanted to build one. My 7th grade science teacher (who was the father of the friend that posted the library cartoon) didn’t tell me that building a laser was above my grade level, rather he encouraged me to figure it out. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that, indeed, building a laser in a junior high (we say middle school today) science lab was above my grade level.

Attempts Above Grade Level Promote Learning and Self-Confidence

These two examples about a second grader trying to build a rocket; a seventh grader trying to build a laser, now demonstrate to me the power of project-based learning. Even when the projects can’t be finished or are self-discovered to be “above grade level,” they can provide for valuable learning and increased self-confidence. These two teachers and others along the way, by not limiting me to working within “grade level” made a big difference in my adult life and, on several occasions, I have accomplished things that were, indeed, way above my “grade level.”

We need to figure out how to incorporate more project-based learning for our youth, actually, adults too. Projects allow for individuals to work at their own pace and discover for themselves all the things they can do that are above “grade level.”

We welcome opportunities to bring students to Fab Lab ICC from area schools and home-school families to discover the power and satisfaction of project-based learning even when some of the projects are self-determined to be “above grade level.”

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at

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