Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deciphering Reading Levels

First of all, this is going to take more than one post. I know that right now.

Second of all, I am not an expert. Some of you have more years of homeschooling under your belt and will have lots to share on this subject. I welcome your thoughts.

Thirdly, I sat through a LOT OF TRAINING in my former life as a teacher and I'd like it all to mean something, OK?

There is a lot of confusion in the way books are leveled. Please do not think that teachers just walk over to the library and pull a book off the shelf and have a student read it. Teachers, at least in the district where I taught, have whole rooms full of emergent readers that have been specially leveled. Testing occurs at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to let teachers know what level each student reads on. Then they put the kids in a group with similar-leveled children, pull leveled emergent readers out, and read with them. Throughout the year, teachers take "running records" on students as they read...which helps them know to the percentage point if a child read the book with 95% accuracy or 60% accuracy, and whether they should move up or down a level for that child.

Teachers have a lot of work, folks.

In the olden days when I first began teaching, we had none of that. We had a set of "basal readers." Basal readers are a textbook adopted and chosen by the state and given to teachers at the beginning of the year in the form of a class set of 22. Every child in the class got out the book, turned to page 17, and started reading together. Which did not work, by the way. By the time I finished teaching, 11 years later...teachers just left those basal readers on the shelf.

Where I taught, all the teachers in Kindergarten through second grade were trained in guided reading. In addition to the book levels that regular classroom teachers used, which were the Fountas and Pinnell levels, I also had training in Reading Recovery. But we had charts that told you how a F&P level corresponded to a RR level. Then, there are Scholastic Levels, DRA levels, just plain old grade goes on and on. Oh mercy, there is science to this stuff I'm telling you.

There are many, many other ways to level books and none of them seem to have anything to do with the other. For example, some publishers just go ahead and level their own books. This results in frustration when a parent or grandparent purchases a book that says "Pre-Kindergarten" and the child cannot read it. I do not trust ANY book that has been leveled by a publisher. I want to know that book's level based on F&P, or RR, or DRA....levels that are based on research.

There is so much that goes into deciding a book's level. You, dear homeschool mom, don't need to know everything about book levels, but it is helpful to think about what all is considered when leveling them the correct way. How many syllables are in the words, the level of vocabulary, the length of sentences, the decodability of the words, the number of different words used, the predictability, the use of patterns, and on and on and on.

It is probably not too hard to figure out when thinking about emergent reading books, but leveling gets a lot harder when your child moves on up into chapter books. Then, if you have a great reader they may be able to read books they really don't need to be reading content-wise, or if you have a child who is struggling to read and are way over the age of reading Fancy Nancy, even though the level is appropriate... what do you do then?

Here is an example of a publisher leveled book.

It's confusing though. If you read the notes inside, they intend for parent to read this TO the child. Big difference.

Let's assume this was a book for your young child to read: the only word that repeats is "the." There is a pattern though, and the pictures support the text. Also making it harder? The text begins in a different place on each page and sentences are broken into 2 or 3 lines which requires visual tracking.

Still, "borrowed"? Later, the words "juggled" and "attached" show up. These are HARD words folks and not ones that will naturally be assumed by looking at the pictures.
I'm going to share some things to help all us homeschool moms---all we homeschool moms? to figure all this out. Knowing a bit about reading levels can really help you choose the proper books for your children.

Up next: Everyone needs three.


  1. Brenda, great post. Thanks...looking forward to more!

  2. ummmm.. how about I shop for you and YOU teach Emily to read! m'kay~

    I dont wanna know nothin about no readin' level. I gots enuff stuff on my plate already'.

    Just make her read.........................................................please, please with a cherry on top!

  3. Oooh, I am so excited to see what you've got planned to post about! I found this post fascinating!

  4. Just found your blog. I have a weekly fitness post as well! I am going to follow your blog, and I hope you check out mine and find something worth following too :D

  5. Us in the predicate. We in the subject. Yo? Do I remember that correctly? So, it would be "us". :)

    Where's your post on teaching phonics when you sound out words and they don't make sense because you live in ARKANSAS?!

    We have the book you show here. And I've had to explain this to my kids because they get to the really early reading stage and want to know which books in our house they can read by themselves. I've always intuitively known some are not right, but haven't been able to put words to it. You put such lovely words to it!

  6. Subjects and predicates? I remember those! :)

    Yes, I KNOW Homeschool moms know this. Intuition is a good thing! Teachers would be horrified to know how many moms teach their kids to read without any training at all! :)

  7. Oh and about Arkansas....please honey. I'm from Texas. I have no help here. I've heard your family tawk.


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