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. 

 

Comprehension Levels:

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. 

 

Other Helpful Websites & Articles:

 

 

 

 

 


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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

One of the most puzzling situations a mother finds herself in is when she has a child who can read the words in a book but cannot answer the questions or tell her what has just been read. These moms frequently hear the phrase, “I don’t remember,” when queried about the reading material.

When working with bright, hardworking 4th through 8th graders in my reading class, I often had students who were experiencing this particular reading difficulty.

I realized that these students were not proficient at converting the words they were reading into a “movie” in their head, as the rest of us do when we read. They were merely doing “word calling” much of the time. I found that “movie making” was a skill that could be developed in them, using an easy fifteen-minute a day exercise. This exercise did not involve paper or pencil, but only the use of their brain. “Word calling” is a left-brain auditory task, while creating a picture or movie of those words is the responsibility of the right brain hemisphere. I merely showed them how to create a seamless flow of words to pictures as they were reading. You can do this at home very easily.

Converting Words to Pictures
When a child or teenager regularly reads a passage well, but “can’t remember what is said,” we know that he is using an inefficient strategy for comprehension. He often is trying to remember the exact words he read, rather than converting the words into pictures.

Whether he is reading for recreation or information, he must change the words he reads into images in his mind. The more these images involve the senses (sight, sound, smell, feel), the greater will be the comprehension of the passage.

Daily Training Sessions
The following steps can be used with a student to develop his ability to change the words he hears or reads into pictures for good comprehension. You will be surprised how fast his comprehension skills will improve after just a few weeks of these “training sessions.”

This method works well with one child or a group of children or teenagers.

 

STEP 1: PARENT/TEACHER READS A PASSAGE ALOUD
Choose material to read to the child that is interesting and very descriptive. Standing in front of him as you read to him, have the child sit upright and keep his eyes upward, creating a “movie” in his mind. You can pretend that you are looking at the projection screen in a movie theatre to further aid him in his “movie making.” Read a sentence or two aloud. Then ask him a few questions until you are sure he is seeing the pictures of the words you read, in detail.

For example, this is how your training session might look if you are reading aloud a passage about a beaver. The first sentence you read may be, “The beaver is the largest rodent in North America.” Stop reading, and point to the imaginary screen, and say, “On our screen, let’s draw a quick sketch of North America. Now put the beaver on that map.”

Your next sentence in this passage will read, “An adult beaver weights from 35-70 pounds.” Stop reading and point up to the imaginary screen and say, “Now, use the ‘zoom lens’ of your brain camera and write ‘35-70’ on the beaver’s coat. Let’s use white paint to do this. Is your paint dripping? Oh well, he’ll wash it off soon.”

The next sentence in the text will be, “Because of its large lungs, a beaver can remain submerged in water for fifteen minutes. Stop reading and look up at the screen and help the child see this in his head by saying, “Now we need to change our scene. Let’s make a picture of a pond, with beavers around it. Do you see it on your screen? Now have one of the beavers slip into the pond. See him down on the bottom of the pond. Picture a large clock next to him. Have the hands of the clock move from twelve o’clock to twelve fifteen.”

As you do this training, instruct your child how to “move” his pictures and “freeze” them when he wants to notice something. You both will have great fun with this!

When you get to the end of a passage you’re reading, instruct your child to “rewind” the movie, to answer some questions about the passage. As you ask the questions, direct his gaze upward as he reviews his “movie” for the answers. This is the exciting part. Your child will be amazed at how easy it is to answer the questions.


STEP 2: THE STUDENT READS ALOUD TO YOU

After your child has demonstrated proficiency in converting words to pictures as he hears them, he is ready to read the words himself while creating his “movie.” Select a reading passage that is easy for him to read so that he can concentrate on making pictures rather than sounding out new words. Repeat the process you used before, stopping him after he has read a sentence or two, to ask him some questions about his “movie.” Direct his gaze upward to see what he just read. Be sure he gives you detailed pictures. As this becomes easier and more accurate for him, you can increase the number of sentences he reads before you ask questions.

STEP 3: THE STUDENT READS SILENTLY
When your child is successfully reading aloud while making good pictures in his mind, you can have him read a passage silently, asking him to stop every few lines or so, and asking him to tell you about the pictures he has made. If the pictures are detailed and accurate, you can have him read to the end of the passage uninterrupted. At the end of the reading, have him “rewind” his film and tell you all that he has read. You will be surprised at the things he remembers! His “words to pictures” process will soon become automatic. The upward eye movement will soon be unnecessary for the storage and retrieval of reading material.

Remember:
No pictures = No answers
Few pictures = Few answers
Great pictures = Great Answers


This strategy is simple but very effective. Expect to see great changes in the comprehension and retention of reading material in your children.

 

 


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