Faith Berens, M.Ed., Reading and Dyslexia Specialist &
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
When it comes to reading levels, choosing books at just the right reading level can help your child enjoy reading and will help them succeed in becoming a better reader. Being able to determine your child’s instructional reading level and then select books to match this level can certainly be a helpful skill for you, the parent-teacher, to master. Doing so will aid in your child’s success and can save your sanity because it means fewer tears of frustration! Let’s face it, most of the time, people avoid things that are too hard! Books that are too hard, or at “frustration level” can be very discouraging for children. However, reading books that are too easy (while helpful for practice for fluency and expression) don’t provide enough of a challenge to help kids grow in their decoding and vocabulary skills.
There are 3 different levels of reading:
- Easy level: at this level, the student can read the text with 95% or better accuracy for word recognition
- Frustration level: at this level, the student is only able to read the text with 89% accuracy or less
- Instructional level: at this level, the student can read the text with 90-94% accuracy; this level is the “sweet spot,” known in the education world as the “ZPD”-zone of proximal development. In this zone, learning is just right! You want to find text that is in this zone.
Follow these easy steps to select books at just the right level for your child.
1. Determine your child’s measured reading level.
Parents can get an approximate (but pretty accurate) idea of their child’s reading level by using the San Diego Quick Assessment of Reading Ability. (Download a PDF of the assessment.)
2. Look for books that match his/her level.
Many children’s books list a reading level on the back cover, book jacket, or spine. Scholastic’s Book Wizard can help you search for books at your child’s reading level.
3. Use the five-finger check to determine if the book is too hard, too easy, or just right!
Ask your child to hold up five fingers and read one page of a book. Each time your child doesn’t know a word, put one finger down. If all five fingers end up down, the book is too hard.
4. Use oral narration or retelling to do a quick comprehension check.
After reading a few pages, have your child pause and tell you about what was just read. Get him to describe what he was picturing or imagining in his mind while he was reading. If he is unable to tell you what he was picturing, he may not be “making a movie” in his mind while reading and this skill can be taught.
“Often, there can be a discrepancy between a student’s silent reading comprehension level and oral reading comprehension level. If the student performs better with comprehension by reading aloud to himself, this can indicate the need for more auditory feedback and could perhaps signal weakness in auditory, working memory, or even visualization skills. “
When it comes to reading instruction, it can also be helpful for parent-teachers to understand that there are different comprehension levels for reading:
- Listening level comprehension: what level of text the student can listen to being read aloud and understand
- Silent reading comprehension level: what level of text the student can read to himself silently and understand
- Oral reading comprehension level: what level of text the student can read out loud and understand
Many bright but struggling readers can listen to and comprehend text at much higher levels than they can decode on their own. So, reading aloud, shared reading and echo readings, and providing books on audio are great ways to accommodate and facilitate reading. Also, using audiobooks while following along with text (audio assisted reading) is a research-based intervention that has yielded positive results with struggling students. Often, there can be a discrepancy between a student’s silent reading comprehension level and oral reading comprehension level. If the student performs better with comprehension by reading aloud to himself, this can indicate the need for more auditory feedback and could perhaps signal weakness in auditory, working memory, or even visualization skills.
Looking for teaching tips and types of texts to motivate and encourage struggling or reluctant readers?
- Use a program, intervention, or curricula such as Visualizing and Verbalizing, available at Gander Publishing, Equipping Minds, available at www.equippingminds.com, or Diane Craft’s resources, available at www.diannecraft.org, to train and equip students to make connections, visualize, comprehend, remember, and express their thoughts with language in organized ways.
- Graphic novels, such as the Histronauts series, can be a great choice for struggling students! Read this post at Understood.org about why graphic novels can be a great choice for struggling readers.
- Try Reader’s Theater, poetry/rhymes and jingles, and repeated readings to increase fluency and develop expression and prosody, which will, in turn, improve comprehension skills. Be sure to check out Dr. Timothy Rasinski’s teaching materials, available through Scholastic publishers.
- High interest/low or easy readability materials can be particularly motivating and helpful for older students or reluctant readers. Check out the many resources at High Noon Books, https://www.highnoonbooks.com/index-hnb.tpl
Let’s Talk Book Leveling Systems:
Keep in mind that finding books that are not too hard, not too easy, but in the “just right” zone is not an exact science, but rather an art that homeschool parents can master. However, understanding designated reading levels can sometimes be confusing for parents particularly because there are several different leveling systems out there—grade level, interest level, Lexile levels, guided reading levels, to Accelerated Reader (AR) levels, your head could be spinning!
And you may be wondering, where did the levels/numbers come from? They are generated by a mathematical readability formula. Readability formulas were created in the 1920s when science teachers expressed an interest in having simplified texts for students. Readability formulas were created to count the number of syllables and words and then rate the complexity of sentence structure in any given passage; the higher the number, then the more difficult level the text. And textbooks were then created/written at varying levels of difficulty. Series of books, such as those used in classrooms around the world during guided oral reading lessons, are “leveled” on a text gradient of difficulty, from levels A-Z. The popular homeschool reading curriculum A Reason for Guided Reading, https://areasonfor.com/collections/guided-reading, employs this leveling system.
Today, libraries often use reading levels and also book publishers use them to provide adults with an age range or reading level on the back of the book which then makes selection easier and handy. In public and private schools across the nation, computerized reading programs, such as Accelerated Reader (AR) have been adopted. Such programs use readability formulas to calculate a reading level as well as assign numbers of points that are awarded for passing a comprehension quiz after the student has read the book.
But when it comes to reading leveling systems—here’s the rub—each publisher and each computerized reading software company uses different readability formulas, so the same title can have several corresponding levels depending upon the formula that was used. It can be confusing trying to understand what is meant, for example, by a Guided Reading level M as opposed to a Lexile of 240.
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