Should children be taking levelled books home as readers?
Recently at my school a discussion has commenced as to whether our students should be taking levelled readers home to read with their parents. The way this works (in year 3 – as the children are more fluent readers) is that, as teachers, we use running records to determine our students’ progress over the year. This gives us an instructional level which we use as a guide for texts used in guided reading sessions in class. It also gives us an “easy” level (the level below) where a child should be able to decode a text with greater accuracy and comprehension. It is this “easy” level that the children use to select their own books from our vast library of texts.
I like this because the children are given choice of what texts they take home – choosing texts that they are interested in, making decisions between fiction or non-fiction, choosing whether to take a text home more than once, giving children opportunities to check if the level is appropriate for them (explicitly taught strategies to help them with this).
However, some teachers believe that the students (years prep to 3) should be able to choose any book, that the books should not be levelled.
Firstly, I believe that it should be noted that children are at different stages of learning to read, with preps just emerging and the year 3’s becoming more fluent, and therefore the answer should not be a blanket answer for all. We need to take into consideration what the purpose of the take home readers are for each stage of the reading journey. For example, in prep I support my colleagues in sending home the book used for guided reading that day, as well as allowing the children to choose a book that they have previously read to take home as well to re-read. This helps to consolidate their learning from the lesson in a planned and progressive way, using texts that are suitable for the children and the learning objectives and sequence that they are following. So as you can see, this discussion needs to be selective in what age/ability we are talking about.
Secondly, I believe that good readers have a balance of reading material. At our school: the children read guided reading texts (at instructional level) in class (these do not go home – perhaps this is a shame (?) ); they take home up to 3 books from our extensive library (this is encouraged to be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction but whether the children choose chapter books or picture books is up to them and the success of which will depend on the support and reading etiquette at home); and they take home 5 readers over a week (which they choose from levelled boxes that are at their “easy” level). The children are also fortunate to have access to local libraries and have parents who frequently buy them good literature. To me, there is a good balance here.
So why do my colleagues believe that our children should not take home levelled books?
Image and article can be found at: Fountas and Pinnell
So, I read the blog. I agree, reading should be about “enjoyment and discovery” but it should also be about supporting our students to learn to read. Fountas and Pinnell suggest that as teachers we:
- help students build a love of reading and self-esteem – apparently individuals knowing their levels stops others respecting them (?) !
- make ‘choice’ authentic – encourage them to choose books that interest and engage them.
- advocate for appropriate use of levels in our schools, e.g. levels should not be on report cards.
This blog post is in my opinion, flawed in providing evidence as to why children should not take home levelled readers. For one, there is no research to support this. Two, it suggests that taking home a book from an appropriate box is not giving the children choice. Three, the blog is titled: A level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label, i’m not sure using it as a teaching tool definitively makes it a label. Four, this article fails to recognise they history of learning to read and the importance of using appropriate texts in learning, as research below demonstrates. Five, whilst Hattie agrees that concentration/engagement has a positive effect on learning (size: 0.45) student control over learning has very little effect (size: 0.01) and he considers this control over their learning as a positive effect to be a myth.
Image from: evidencebasedteaching.org
Research has shown the validity of using a levelled reading programme in schools to promote reading ability. See: http://www.musec.mq.edu.au – no. 13: Book levelling. This research found that:
From searching the internet for research I have found little research that actually discusses this question of whether children should take home levelled readers.
But I did find research that supported using levelled readers for guided reading sessions in class:
from: Fountas and Pinnell
Image from: Heinemann.com
from discussion forum on Fountas and Pinnell website
And further research by http://www.musec.mq.edu.au – no. 21: Choosing effective programs for low-progress readers, which found that:
Reading should be a balance between giving children choice (which research and opinions increasingly says works) and texts which are level-appropriate. So in my opinion, as long as your students have opportunities to make their own reading choices, I believe that there should be some availability of them taking home levelled texts to adequately progress their reading. Perhaps a compromise would be that they get to choose from 2 or 3 levels? But what is the point of them taking home books that are too easy or too hard, especially if they do not have the support at home.
Image from: freepik.com