Many parents and teachers think that lower-level books are better for kids to read. This is a misconception that lots of reading programs are trying to address. In recent years, many reading programs have opted to increase the amount of reading kids do during the school day.
Take for example the Open Up Resources organization that many school districts reference to make curricula decisions. Open Up Resources is a non-profit organization that focuses on increasing equity in education by making excellent, top-rated K-12 curricula freely available to districts. They review and recommend curricula that are authored by experts, designed for diverse classrooms, supported by professional learning, refined by teachers, and that are available to teachers in digital and print.
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Open Up Resources reviews curricula for kindergarten to high school. Their website contains English language arts curricula for kindergarten through eighth grade and mathematics curricula for middle and high school. Their website is a one-stop-shop for curricula and professional learning that’s vetted by experts.
Changes in reading instruction
A higher number of kids in school are learning to read using chapter books as ready as second grade. Researchers like Tim Shanahan has a dedicated presentation titled Teaching Struggling Readers with Grade Level Text. A presentation I highly recommend for teachers and parents to watch.
What is clear is that learning to read is no easy task. To learn to read, a student must master foundational skills before they are able to comprehend grade-level text. When a child comprehends text they have the ability to make sense of ideas expressed in text.
As a reading expert, Timothy Shanahan has done extensive classroom observations throughout the United States. His observations have found four distinctive misconceptions that he often sees in the classroom observations. These misconceptions are patterns that I often hear as a district coordinator.
To teach kid’s reading, teachers mistakenly:
- Move students to easier text
- Read aloud text to students
- Tell students what texts say
- Ignore the problem
It is important to realize that each misconception lowers learning expectations for students. As a result, student reading ability is limited or capped. The above four misconceptions can be detrimental to reading development. When we choose not to teach students using text at their respective grade levels, we are denying students the opportunity to thrive. As a result, we hold kids back in reading development and contribute to their learning gap.
Using Lexile Levels
Lexile levels can help ensure that we expose kids to grade-level A Lexile level is a score that provides educators a way to interpret reading level. Lexiles are one way to predict how hard a text might be. To predict text difficulty developers figure out how complicated vocabulary and sentence complexity are in a text.
The chart below shows the equivalent Lexile levels to grade level. For instance, you’ll see that a book with a Lexile level of 640L to 850L is considered to be at the 4th to 5th-grade level. According to the below Lexile level chart, a typical 4th and 5th grader can read that book with about 75-89% comprehension.
This is when the importance of teaching and exposing kids to grade-level text comes into play. The chart below also shows the text-level difficulty that the Common Core Standards recommend. In the example above kids in 4 and 5th grade should be taught using 740 to 1010 Lexile level. In other words, researchers recommend teaching kids to read books that go up to CCSS bands.
|Grade||Lexile Bands||Common Core Standards Bands|
|2-3||450L – 730L||420L – 820L|
|4-5||640L – 850L||740L – 1010L|
|6-8||860L – 1010L||925L – 1185L|
|9-10||960L – 1120L||1050L – 1335L|
|11-12||1070L – 1220L||1185L-1385L|
Researchers continue to investigate whether teaching kids at their reading level support reading development. What stands out in the research is that no particular study has found any benefits when teaching kids using their reading level. Hence why recent curricula materials are using grade-level text, such as chapter books, to teach reading.
Exposure to grade-level text
To avoid getting kids frustrated when they read the higher-level text there are several things we should do to support them. Effective reading instruction must incorporate scaffolding of reading and content learning to support grade-level text access. Scaffolding is a “special kind of help” given to kids during specific instruction (gibbons, 2015).
Scaffolding can happen during math, science, social studies, or reading instruction. During reading, instruction scaffolds provide temporary language support to support grade-level text. Some scaffolds often recommended are the pre-teaching of vocabulary, direct teaching of reading skills such as making connections, and teaching syntax. There are many other ways to scaffold reading instruction however this post is only sharing some examples.
How parents and teachers can help
There are many ways that parents and teachers can help to support appropriate reading instruction. Parents can support by exposing kids to grade-level text at home. The use of Lexile levels is one way parents can compare their child’s reading level when selecting books for their kids.
Teachers can help by making sure that kids are not placed in lower reading groups during core English language arts instruction. We must learn to scaffold by taking intentional steps that give access to challenging texts. Such access can only come with explicit instruction that can only happen in a structured classroom.