One Size Does Not Fit All (Grade Levels)

May 25th, 2010 by Eric M.

In a recent post, I wrote about my wife (“Mrs. M”), a substitute teacher who needed to be always prepared for the mysteries and challenges her day might present.  For Mrs. M., knowing the grade level and age range of the students she is about to teach is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle.  Which resources to use, which strategies to employ, even which clothes to wear—these are all influenced by the expectations she has of what a kindergarten-classroom experience will be versus what a day in sixth grade might bring.  (For example, Mrs. M. brings plenty of stickers and picture books for younger students, while she likes to assign writing prompts and read Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories books to grades 3 and up.)  Sure, there is some commonality to the two experiences, but if you were to create a Venn diagram with “Teaching Kindergarteners” and “Teaching 6th Graders” as your labels, the center-circle overlap would not need to be nearly as large as the outer areas.

This is not so different from how we approach our work in the world of educational publishing.  One of the first questions to ask when reading a manuscript or beginning the editing process is, “What grade level is this for?”  Once this question is answered, several other answers fall into place:

•  Which point size to use:  12 pt. vs. 14 pt.  (The younger the audience, the bigger the letters should be.)

•  Which font style to use:  serif vs. sans serif.  (The younger the audience, the fewer frills and flourishes those letters should have.  And it even goes further than that:  a font may seem perfectly suitable but then have a strangely-shaped lowercase “a” or capital “Q,” for instance.  Young students have just learned their letters a certain way, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to recognize alternate versions.)

•  Which write-on lines to use:  regular vs. primary  (Primary write-on lines are those big, wide ones that have a dashed guide line going across the horizontal middle.  They take up a lot of space on the page, and many are needed for each question.  Young learners write with such large letters that they can only fit a few words on each of line.)

•  Which art style to use:  cartoon vs. realistic.  (A smiling, whimsical walrus would most likely be inappropriate for an upper-level science book.)

These are just a few of the cosmetic things we try to keep in mind when we design the layout of our pages.  Content, of course, must also be considered and tailored to the specific learning level we are aiming to reach.  In the end, we are hoping to create the perfect balance between what best helps teachers teach and students learn.

We do get occasional feedback about some of the finer points of page layout, and we would love to hear from as many teachers as possible.  Do you have any suggestions for ways we can make our books easier and more practical to use for the grade level that you teach?  Here’s a topic to get you started:  name lines.  Would you prefer to have a designated space on the page that says “Name:  __________,” or would you rather that space used for an extra question?

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