Understanding What Leveled Reading Is and How It's Taught Today

Leveled reading matches children with books that suit their abilities

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Although American educators have embraced leveled reading for years, many people would be hard pressed to define what the reading method is. In a nutshell, leveled reading is a literacy strategy in which teachers pair children with books that best match their reading abilities. As children's reading skills improve, teachers assign them more complex books.

However, the way schools teach reading today has changed over the years.

Learn how teachers currently practice the technique with this review of leveled reading and other literacy methods.

How Educators Teach Literacy Today

Today literacy instruction is no longer about making sure a child can sound out the words on the page or vaguely understand the text. Although, some schools use textbooks to teach students to read, those textbooks no longer contain contrived stories designed to introduce children to vocabulary words. Instead, they have excerpts from published books, poems and essays.

Reading now belongs to a larger umbrella of learning referred to as "language arts." This is an integrated system of learning in which reading plays an important role during the whole school day. A teacher giving a lesson on the life cycle, for example, may use a series of nonfiction books about caterpillars and butterflies to introduce concepts that will be explored in science class.

The writing assignment for the day may reflect the same theme and require students to write in the same format as the book they read earlier in the day.

How Leveled Reading Fits In

Oftentimes, teachers will select a variety of books about the same subject, but which deal with the topic in a simpler or more complex way, according to the student's ability.

Depending on the leveling system the teacher uses, these books may be labeled numerically, alphabetically or by grade level. The library of books should be leveled by the same scale or system and be big enough to accommodate student growth. This set of books is sometimes referred to as a leveled book collection.

The Link Between Step Readers and Leveled Reading

Parents who want to start a leveled book collection for their children frequently turn to the series of "step" and "level" books that are commonly found at bookstores. These books are usually part of a series put out by publishers like Scholastic's "Hello Reader," Random House's "Step Into Reading," or Harper Trophy's "I Can Read" books.

While these collections benefit children learning to read in that they help to introduce vocabulary words and gradually increase in difficulty, the criteria for the leveling differs from that of classroom book collections. When choosing their own books or a publisher's reading system, teachers tend to  examine the books for the following qualities:

  • Length & Layout: The number of pages, word and lines per page are important considerations, as is the size of the font. Books for beginning readers should have clearly defined spaces between words and sentences contained to one page. More advanced readers can better read smaller fonts and sentences from line to line or page to page.
  • Vocabulary & Structure: Books for beginners will rely on simple core words and repetition to tell a story, which is often illustrated in a way to help a child gain meaning from the pictures. As readers advance, the books have more complex plots that have a beginning, middle and end and are told in multisyllabic words and with common idioms that need interpretation.
  • Content & Theme: Beginning books will focus on topics that children know about and experience in their own lives, making it easier to relate to the book. As students advance, the leveled books become more complex, introducing ideas that are not familiar and moving from fiction to non-fiction.

Choosing Books for Children

If you want to choose books for your children that are similar to the books they read in school, ask their teachers about the leveling systems used in their classes. Next, find out which themes and types of books interest your child. Is he into trains? Does he like to learn about history? 

Then, visit a website such as Scholastic's Book Wizard. This site is particularly helpful because you can search for books by different leveling systems, genres, authors and a number of other criteria. Or, if you like, you can simply type in the title of a favorite book into the BookAlike box and it will return a list of similarly leveled books with the same kinds of themes.
 

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