Leveled readers make it possible to support reading progress at each stage and to instill confidence as children gradually acquire more complex reading skills.
Reading, like most learned tasks, occurs in stages. As one stage is mastered, children are ready to move on to the next stage. These leveled reading books are based on the child’s ability to decode text at their independent reading level; the level at which a child can decode 95% of the words with relative ease.
At this level, automaticity and fluency are supported. While students are learning new words or new reading concepts, they may be reading text at their instructional level which means that they may find some words challenging but can decode with 90% accuracy
When text has not been matched appropriately to the reader, children may be reading at their frustration level and experience difficulty decoding more than one in every ten words with less than 90% accuracy. Students who are required to read at their frustration level will be more likely to discontinue reading or to have a less positive reading experience.
A psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, developed the term Zone of Proximal Development to explain a concept of child development related to learning and cognitive functioning. His theory is that as children learn and grow, they require assistance from an adult or more knowledgeable peer to help them do what they cannot yet do on their own. This assistance may take the form of modeling, verbal directions, or physical support.
Reading is an activity in which children learn from adults or more knowledgeable peers ﬁrst as an interaction between two people, which is social and external, and later as a part of the child’s intellectual functioning, which is personal and internal.
Most reading instruction moves through the stages from being read to by adults and teacher-directed reading, to choral and guided reading with peers, to independent silent reading. By encouraging a growth mindset in reading, children come to believe that reading is a process and that more challenging text only means that they can’t read it yet.
As children develop reading skills, it is essential that they are provided with text to support that development. Leveled readers are based on the “Goldilocks Principle” that children learn to read most effectively when they are able to read text that is not too hard and not too easy, but one that is “just right” for the skills they have acquired. Fountas and Pinnell outlined the components of leveled readers in Guided Reading (1996):
Leveled readers are designed to provide steadily increasing text complexity as students mature and are often connected to grade levels. Unfortunately, there is no truly accurate system of establishing what students should be able to decode at any given time because this will depend on what skills they already possess or are practicing.
For example, a leveled reader at second grade may include multi-syllabic words which require a student to know the pattern for the soft sound of c (mercy). If a student has not been introduced to this skill and practiced it in text, they may be unable to independently decode books that appear to match their “level”.
While many leveled readers provide a grade level equivalent, these readability formulas are based on average number of letters in words, average sentence length, and total number of words. They do not generally measure quality or content, or the age appropriateness of the books.
This creates an issue for teachers and parents who may depend on book levels to select books and are confused and worried when a child can’t ﬂuently read a book on their grade level.
The solution may be found in using decodable text. Decodable text differs from leveled text because the words in a decodable book are correlated to the skills that the student has already acquired or is currently practicing. These books or reading passages are designed to facilitate automaticity and fluency in beginning readers while reading connected text. 90-100% of the words in decodable text correlate with the sequence of skills and most common words that a student is mastering.
For example, as students are practicing reading skills such as digraphs (e.g. th, sh) or murmur diphthongs (e.g. ar, or, ir), the text will provide words using these skills as well as words containing skills previously learned. Decodable text offers another important feature in reading instruction. If a student is unable to read text at the decodable level after receiving instruction with ﬁdelity, this indicates that the student may need more intensive instruction or more time for practice.
Reading Horizons Discovery® Little Books are examples of decodable text. These short books, 20 for Kindergarten and 54 for Grades 1-3, correlate to the lessons found in the Reading Horizons direct instruction and software programs.