Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deciphering Reading Levels: You Need Three

I'm glad some of you were interested in this topic. I really hope that some of this information will be helpful. Make me feel like all those hours spent in inservice and training eating snack mix and drinking lemonade were worth it.

So, I know how to test children to find their reading level and I have the testing packet to do it. I have tested a few homeschooled kids and found their level. But levels change weekly. You don't need to know how to do that but there is something you should know.

Everyone has not one magical reading level but 3 reading levels. Easy, Instructional, and Hard. This is pretty easy to figure out and you probably already know this even if you've never heard it put this way.

A book that is on an Easy level for your child is a book that they read quickly with very few errors. When they are first learning to read, these books become memorized quite easily. That's OK. I heard once that good readers come to school with at least 10 books memorized. Like, for example, Brown Bear Brown Bear or Goodnight Moon or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. So mom, reading that book to them for the 178th time IS good for them! But it doesn't have to be a memorized book. For Sweetheart, the American Girl books and the Magic Tree House series would all fall in her Easy level. She reads them in one sitting, comprehends what she is reading, and doesn't struggle with the words. Easy.

Instructional level books are the ones they NEED to read in order to get better at reading. These are the chapter books that Sweetheart has to work at a bit more.  These are the books that she has to ask me questions about while she's reading. Technically, an Instructional level is one that they read with 90-95% accuracy. So, they may read it pretty well, but they need a bit of help. Maybe they are having trouble working out several words, maybe they aren't comprehending it as well, they just need some help. Instructional.

Now, every child also has a Hard reading level. This is bad. You don't want them to spend time with hard books. Hard books are frustrating and you don't get much out of them. Hard books are where they miss a lot of the words, struggle through a lot of the text, don't understand it very well, and have to pause, repeat themselves, etc. all through the reading. Hard.

YOU, Mama, have these three levels too. I can pick up pretty much any children's book and it will fall into the Easy category for me. Instructional might be hard to find, but there are books which I would have to work a little harder to understand and from which I could learn. And, sad to say, I found out earlier this year that the original version of Gulliver's Travels definitely falls into my Hard category. I read two whole pages, skipping some words, and when I was finished I was all, "huh?" Have you been there?

So what does this mean for your kiddos? It means your children need to spend time in two levels, Easy and Instructional. It means it's OK to let your children read that which is easy for them. Easy is enjoyable. Easy is good practice. If they don't read enough Easy books, then let them read "babyish" books to their little brothers and sisters. It's good practice. It builds confidence. And when a book is Easy, they are freed up from the work of reading and can notice details they haven't before. It will most likely be during a reading of an Easy book that your child pays more attention to punctuation. When you aren't struggling with the text, you can notice those quotation marks more. So, keep those Easy books around. Use them to teach grammar! Easy = good.

But you must find Instructional books for your child as well. This is much more difficult. Instructional books are not Easy, but they aren't hard. They are in the middle, but the middle is a narrow strip. Now if you have a reluctant reader, it might be more difficult to decide if the book is really Hard or they just don't want to try. But I'm going to give you some resources next week that you can use to find just the right book.

So, in summary:

1. Let your child read Easy books. Easy is different for everyone. Beginning readers might not have very many things that fall into the Easy category, but I'm going to teach you next week how to get your hands on some Easy readers for the just starting out child. Easy should be enjoyable but not boring.

2. Find books that are Instructional. Instructional is different for everyone. And it changes. I remember when Sweetheart couldn't read the American Girl books by herself. Now they bore her. These levels climb up and up each year. That's good. I guess the word I'm looking for is challenging. They should challenge them when they read, but not frustrate them too much. You should read Instructional books WITH your child because there will be a lot of teachable moments during the reading of the book.

3. Stay away from Hard books. But remember: what was Hard a few months ago, might be just right now. It changes. But don't make your child read books in their Hard level. Nothing will turn a reluctant reader off faster than that. Not sure? Have them read a page. Hold up a finger for every word they mis-read or struggle through or skip. If you get all 5 fingers up by the end of the page, there is a good chance the book is too hard. You know your child best though. If they are terribly motivated by the content, they may want to read it. Use your best judgement and don't frustrate them too much. If you need a reminder, try to read Gulliver's Travels. (or whatever is Hard for you!)

Next week: Reliable Leveling


  1. Hey, I was just thinking about the five-finger rule! :) This is a great series, Brenda! Thank you!

  2. I was right there with you on Gullivers travels.. I had to buy the cliffnotes book!!!

    I gave Kaitlin The Scarlett Letter a few weeks before Christmas (it was some abridged version) and she came back to me and said it was too hard. So you think it was just the language they used? She said she kept reading a sentence and still didnt know what they are talking about.

    Matt reads books that I think are NOT easy for him--- meaning he makes weird sounding out mistakes. BUFFETT- he says with a hard T, he will read a book and in discussing it with him, he will say words and I am like that is not how you say that. HE does it a lot BUT he has the comprehension of the situation down.

    so is that instructional for him? Should I have him read less books like it am more easy ones?

    and I DOOO like this topic I just want EMILY TO READ... can I whine more???

    Just today she is playing Oregon trail and she starts getting upset, I asked what was the matter, she said the enevelopes really frustrate her. Anyway, she means the bubbles that mean someone is saying something. I asked her if she READS the bubble to see what they are saying to her an she just says she cant! I MADE her and she can sound out 90% of the words in those bubbles.. SHE WONT.

    do you hear my cry for help.


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)