The more children read, the better readers they'll become in adulthood. This also means the sooner they can read, the sooner they'll learn how to read well.
Now, the question is, how can we help them read better and more voraciously? One of the methods is by using levelled texts in the classroom.
What Are Levelled Texts?
Levelled texts are books with assigned levels of reading difficulty. By assigning levels to texts, teachers can to match the books to the readers' reading skills.
The levelling method allows instructors to select books based on children's readiness to read and to digest complex concepts.
This system allows learners to level up from simple books to more complex ones that come with more reading challenges, as well as deeper meanings. Children's reading progress can also be recorded and evaluated over time.
Benefits of Levelled Reading
Education researchers have acknowledged that children's literacy development starts before attending school. At home, children have developed a sense of language. They have amassed a wealth of information about how the world works and the meaningful symbols they see on a daily basis.
When children are immersed in verbal activities, such as singing, playing, listening, and talking, they have built a foundation for reading. As they progress at school, at each grade level, they acquire more advanced literacy knowledge.
Teachers who use this method know that each student is unique and starts with a different level of reading ability. The pace of mastering each level also differs from student to student.
Thus, levelled reading prepares students to move from the simplest to the most complex texts at their own pace. The ultimate goal is to make them ready to study at college and be successful in adulthood.
Other benefits for having a levelled book collection include:
- Ease of selecting books for students
- The book collection doesn't need to be replaced every year, but can be expanded instead
Criteria for Levelled Texts
Considerations used in levelling texts include the following factors.
Theme and Content
Books for beginners focus on topics that children are familiar with, most likely things they actually experience on a daily basis. As they progress, the levelled texts become more complex by introducing ideas and abstract concepts that they're less familiar with.
Also, the content should move from fiction to non-fiction works. Beginning readers are likely to read fiction works with plenty of images to illustrate everyday concepts in vivid colours.
Length and Layout
The number of pages in a book, the number of words per page, and the number of lines on each page differ from level to level. For beginners, the book is short with only one or two lines per page in large fonts.
As the reading level increases, the fonts are smaller and the books are longer with more sentences and more lines per page. Fluent readers can expect to read novels and non-fiction books that are text-heavy with few, if any, illustrations.
Images, such as drawings and photos, ease beginners into reading by relating the images they see and recognise to the words that accompany them, which is key to connecting meaning. Illustrations become fewer as the reading level moves up. Advanced readers read books with very few or no illustrations.
Beginning readers read simple everyday words with easy spelling reinforced by images. It's common to have repetitive core words as well. As they progress, complex and uncommon vocabularies are used to convey abstract concepts requiring intense reasoning.
Phrases and Sentences
Beginners read simple sentences and phrases, while more advanced readers will encounter complex and long sentences with various embedded clauses, including the so-called "if clause." Uncommon (and therefore challenging) expressions and jargon might be included as well to expand their vocabulary.
Beginning-level texts have many repetitions and simple structures. However, as the levels increase, fiction readers will find complicated plots, climaxes, and anti-climaxes requiring further interpretation. Non-fiction books for fluent readers include abstract ideas, complex hypotheses, and analyses involving high-level thinking.
Complexity of Ideas
As reading level progresses, the levelled books become more challenging to interpret and comprehend, including complex plots, metaphors, characters, and flashbacks. Beginners can expect a more linear storyline with a simple message and obvious moral of the story.
7 Levelled Text Systems
According to Scholastic, there are at least seven types of levelled reading systems. They've created a guided reading levelling resource chart, where you can compare the Guided Reading, Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), and Lexile Levels systems.
1. The Fountas and Pinnell System
Fountas and Pinnell Levelled Books provides a database of almost 20,000 levelled books, which can be used by subscribers in the classroom. Each suggestion is accompanied by reading instructions, teacher manuals, and other supporting materials. This levelling approach is also called Text Level Gradient.
2. The Developmental Reading Assessment System
Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) is an assessment tool for identifying reading levels of K-8 grade students. Reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension are measured by numerical scale. Once the score is assigned, the appropriate books for that particular level can be matched for reading.
3. The Lexile Framework (Quantitative)
This framework works by assessing a book's difficulty and matching it with readers' ability based on the numeric Lexile scale. The algorithm is developed to simultaneously measure vocabulary and sentence length. Their free database can be accessed by teachers and researchers.
4. Grade Level Equivalent
This system is based on the readability of the text by grade. Students will be matched to a book with a Reading Level for the grade they're in. The range for each grade is 0.1 to 0.9. For instance, if they're in Grade 5, the levels are 5.1 to 5.9.
5. Using Students' Interest Level
This approach is based on most students' interests in a particular grade. Most likely, teachers already have some ideas on the students' favourite themes and topics.
6. Using Students' Grade Level
Using grade level to select books for a reading lesson can be quite simple. Any required reading for science and social studies subjects is usually appropriate for the corresponding grade.
7. Reading Recovery
This is a supplemental remediation program for K-2 students who are slower in reading than their peers. It's similar to Guided Reading Level, but the Reading Recovery levels aren't suitable for more advanced students. It's designed to be intensive and one-on-one.
Using a Levelled Text System in Your Classroom
Level the books, not the students
Get to know students as readers using multiple angles, such as their cultural and language background, goals and aspirations, motivation level, and existing knowledge on a topic. However, don't level the students. Level the books. Students aren't boxed in a "level."
Assess students regularly, not only once
Consider multiple factors when pairing students with books. Some students progress more rapidly than others, so assess them frequently, not merely once. However, despite the pace of progression or lack of it, students should freely move up or down the level.
Flexibility for self-selection
Encourage students to select their own books. Reading levels are used as a guidance, not to "imprison" learners. If they prefer reading books above their grade levels, welcome their liberty. After all, teachers are meant to encourage students to read and be successful.
Categorise books by level, but don't organise them by level
On the bookshelves, books should be organised based on topic, genre, author. The reading level itself should not be made prominent. It may not be the best interest for learners to be associated with their levels, as it may hurt their self-esteem.
How to Select the Right System
Which levelling system to use depends on the students themselves, the curriculum, and what their parents expect from the school. However, always remember that reading levels are guides, not labels.
For a straightforward guided reading program, the Fountas and Pinnell system is a good fit. If you want to use an assessment program, you can use either the Lexile measurement scale or the Developmental Reading Assessment system. If you need a remedial program, use Reading Recovery levels.
Within any system, give students the freedom to select their own books. Guide them, but never restrict them.
Since parents may compare their children's reading levels to their friends', it's wiser not to mention the exact level. Instead, simply give hints like "above grade level," "below grade level," or "at grade level."
Every child is unique, including in their reading readiness. Levelled reading systems allow them to start and progress individually. Teachers have the option to use one or more systems, depending on the curriculum and circumstances.
However, reading levels aren't written in stone as every child progresses differently. They should always be welcome to freely select books below and above their own level. Use reading levels as a guide for book categorisation, rather than to label students.