Leveled Reading Books

Leveled Reading Books

At the end of this short article I will leave you with a ‘pearler’ from the other night after a discussion about data and going through leveled book systems in the order that they come (without being mindful of challenging students to ascertain ‘real data’).
You may be familiar with these book systems as your school will have spent a lot of money on them over the years. 100s of stories that start at a basic reading level (Level 1) and slowly but surely get more difficult. All are often very well illustrated and well thought out. After a few years of teaching you get familiar with the levels and the stories and go to the shelves where they are stored and grab the next set of books on the wrack. No thought required and very comforting to know that children will be incrementally challenged, and to some degree, the challenge of reading practice will be managed for you. But hang on, do students really learn in such a linear fashion, are the books ‘perfectly’ leveled and wouldn’t a whole lot of variables come into play?
We know the books are not ‘perfect’ but we need a system and these leveled systems help us immensely. Howe ever, how do we make sure that we are meeting needs and making the reading practices valuable if we are just going to the next book on the shelf and waiting for the mid year or end of year test to let us know how well the student is doing? Well we could spend an hour or two on that discussion – in a workshop maybe – but here is a little tip. From time to time, in your reading group, let your students read a couple of pages without any help from you – NONE. Get them to read aloud. Don’t help them. See what happens!
If you are going through the books in the order they come,
There are chances you and they will learn slow, little or none.
If you are monitoring their challenge and pushing them harder,
There is no doubt that you will get much clearer data.

Data Collection


Data collection is always a bit of a ‘quiet area’ in our workshops. Quiet in that we don’t know if people are really listening or are switching-off in total disagreement with our point of view.  So what do you think?

Our line on data collection is hardening as we think there is too much pressure on primary school teachers to collect data on “everything”.  As a result we think some teachers get ‘bamboozled’ by assessing a wide range of skills that may not meet the present specific needs of their students.  Teachers end up rushing to get through all their groups and deliver skills practices without seeing the obvious and important needs in front of them.  Students slip through the gaps.  Don’t get us wrong we are not saying the skills that are being taught are not useful we are just suggesting that it is time we put some order back into our expectation and delivery of those skill sets. We need to free up teachers to have a much more manageable reading programs. Teachers need clear direction about what skills a beginner reader should be taught.

For example is it really okay to ask teachers to check a student’s ‘critical thinking’ skills as they are reading a text when the students are still struggling to decode?  When a student is reading “The bus is big” and only just getting the words out do we really want to stop the student mid stream and ask them why the bus has 6 sets of wheels?  There is good research (M.Pressley) to suggest that early readers cognitive capacity can be easily overloaded when they are decoding and so comprehension can be impaired and sometimes not occur.  Is this being considered?

Teachers are now asked to tick off that they have taught and covered x, y and z throughout a school year.  To do this they have to meet weekly time frames.  If we are not careful we may end up teaching to meet a list of indicators and lose sight of teaching our students to read.

Okay enough sweeping statements… some ‘food’ for thought for our teachers of reading:

  1. Is your data collected regularly so you can truly get a sense of what the child can / CAN’T do. OR do you rely on one snapshot every 6 months and possibly get a “bad day” result?
  2. Is your data relative to the level of the learner.  ie if your reader is still a beginner are you spending more of your time on decoding strategies or are you more concerned about comprehension or critical thinking strategies and stretching them too far?
  3. Does the collection of data that you are presently doing give you CLEAR information on what the students CAN’T do?  So clear that it is a ‘no-brainer’ as to what you need to be teaching?
  4. Do you collect data in such a way that any other teacher can pick it up and know exactly what they need to teach or do you collect data and write it up so that it sounds like you are writing a report?
  5. And finally are all the above points done in a minute or less after each reading group so that the data collection is manageable for you?