What K-2 teachers want parents to know - Reading levels

Welcome to my next blog series “What K-2 teachers want parents to know”. This is a series that will focus on common parent issues that teachers of Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 children face everyday. The series aim is to give parents more information about each area of concern and offer practical tips to ensure that these concerns do not become an issue in your household.

One of the biggest issues that is often brought to the teacher by a parent of a 5-8 year old child is the concern about what reading level their child is at. Many parents worry that their child is significantly below another child in their class or not moving up levels as fast as they should. The first thing that teachers want to shout from the rooftops is “Parents, stop obsessing over reading levels!”

A reading level (whether it be a number, colour or letter, depending on the book) indicates to the teacher what type of reader the child is. A child could be a beginner reader, emergent (developing) reader or an independent reader. The level is usually displayed at the front or back of the book. A reading level is given by a teacher who has conducted a “running record”, which is a reading assessment tool.

Below are 10 facts that teachers want parents to know about reading levels

1. Do not look at the back of the book

LeveledreaderIt is interesting to teach Kindergarten in the first term. Not for all the obvious reasons but rather to observe the way parents use reading levels as a way of competing against each other. At the beginning of first term in Kindergarten, children are given reading books and are happy to read them with the teacher during a guided reading session. They take them home at the end of this session to practise reading with their family. In Term 2 it all starts to change. When children are given their new reading books, they flip their books to the back to see what level they are on. The children say comments like “yes, I am on level 3″ or “My mum said I should be on a higher level than this” or “Level 3 again!” It is these comments that change the idea of what reading is about. It moves from reading for enjoyment and a chance to practise reading skills to a tool for parents to compare their child against other children. As a parent, it is important not to show your child your interest in the number, colour or letter but focus on the reading skills that your child is developing.

2. The book should be easy

reading 1The book that comes home should be easy for your child. Reading at home should be an opportunity for your child to practise a smooth clear reading voice. Reading for them at home needs to be enjoyable and not a time for struggling and arguing. Parents can ask lots of questions while their child is reading to check that they are understanding the story line or facts of the text.

3. Read the book many times

reading 2Many parents are concerned that their child has had the same book for a few nights or a week. They inform the teacher that they can read it easily and require a harder book. Teachers want the children to feel that reading is easy at home. Harder texts are given in the classroom under the guidance of the teacher. They do not want a child to believe that it is so difficult. Praise the child for how they read. Emphasise how smooth their voice is or congratulate them on working out an unknown word. Reading a book each time, can be a different experience. Have a different focus for each time you read it with them. You could focus on the use of punctuation one time, working out unknown words one time, the story line one time and what’s in each picture another time.

4. Staying on one level for a long time

Parents voice concerns about their child staying on a level for a long time. Teachers need a child to be secure (very competent) at a level before moving on. Being secure means that their reading voice is smooth and fluent, they can read a variety of texts at that level, have a variety of reading strategies they use to work out unknown words independently and they have great comprehension of the text. Children need to be exposed to both fiction and non fiction books at each level. Non fiction books tend to be harder for children as the vocabulary is more demanding. Lots of exposure to non fiction texts will help your child increase their vocabulary.

5. Reading strategies

images-5A child needs to develop a variety of reading strategies to work out unknown words in texts. While listening to your young child read, try to encourage them to work out the word independently. Informing your child of the word straight away will not develop their reading skills. Many children can not move to a new level as their undeveloped reading strategies will not support them at a new level. For further information about reading strategies refer to my previous blog “How to read with young children: Reading strategies”

6. Do not compare children

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, children are no different. Each child develops their reading skills at their own pace. A parent’s concern about a child’s reading level can be due to the fact that another child in their class is at a reading level much higher than their own child. Most children when they are learning to read have times where they move up levels quickly and other times when they plateau for a while. As long as they are making progress and their teacher is happy with this progress there is nothing to worry about.

7. Do not compare teachers

teacherAnother main issue that teachers face daily is the constant comparison of classrooms. As each child is different, each teacher is different as well. A teacher has their own idea of the most effective way of teaching reading, therefore some focus on moving up levels, some want to ensure a child is really secure before moving them up and some want the child to have more exposure of different texts at that level before moving up. Your child will have to work with all different types of people in their life so it is important that your child is given that opportunity with each teacher they have. As a parent you may not be completely happy with how the classroom is run but have faith that the school ensures that all teachers are working to the best of their ability for each child. If you have a real concern about a teacher, always approach them first for some clarification.

8. Comprehension

Unknown-2The most important part of reading is to be able to understand what you have read. So many times I listen to beautiful oral reading from a child, who is able to work out unknown words easily and pronounce all words correctly. However, they are unable to answer questions about what they have read. Moving up levels too quickly may cause more harm than good. A lot of children’s comprehension strategies are undeveloped as the focus has always been on how the child sounds. Parents need to ask lots of questions starting with “why” and “how” about the text. Having a discussion about what has come up in the text is invaluable for a student’s comprehension.

9. Children going backwards

Over the school holidays it is very common for a child to go back a few levels in reading. During the school holidays they are not having their targeted reading sessions at school, getting new readers and working on new strategies. Give your child a few weeks to get back into the routine of school before approaching their teacher about reading levels.

10. Assessing Reading levels

Teachers are constantly assessing reading levels of each child in their class. They observe how the child reads each guided reading session and writes notes about that child for the next reading session. They conduct “running records” regularly to give the appropriate levelled text. A running record is when a child reads a text at a particular level and the teacher records all the mistakes and self corrections the child makes. Using a few calculations, the teacher will know whether the text is too easy, correct or too hard for the child.

I hope this blog has given parents more insight into the world of reading levels. Teachers want parents to focus more on how a child is reading than what the reading level is. The more focus a parent places on a reading level the more focus a child places on it. Encourage reading for enjoyment and open their eyes to a whole new world inside books.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

What to read with your child

Exposing children to a variety of texts in both fiction and non fiction categories will enable them to understand that all texts have a purpose. Children need to have knowledge about the purpose of an author to have a deep comprehension of the text.

littleboyWelcome to my third and final blog in the series “How to read with your child” In this blog we focus on different texts we should be exposing our children to at different ages. This exposure will help build a solid foundation for your child in knowing about text types in our world and as a result give them more opportunities to develop their understanding about reading.

It is very easy to get into the habit of just exposing your child to picture books and story based books. There are so many wonderful story books out there that offer so much to a child. Even though these are extremely important, there is a whole other genre of reading that many children are not exposed to before school. Non fiction texts or Factual texts are very important to beginning readers. These texts give information about our world and are written in a different structure compared to fiction (story) texts. We need children to be exposed to all types of texts in order to give them a solid foundation in literacy.

Another aspect of reading that will be referred to in this blog is “Environmental Print”. Environmental print is simply the print of everyday life. It could be signs, advertisements, labels or logos. For beginning readers this print can help the child understand the purpose of letters and the use of letters in words.

A description of what to read to a child of a particular age and parent tips for that age group are listed below.

Age Group : Babies to 2 years old

This is the time when a child’s language is emerging. They are experimenting with different sounds and working out how to put sounds together to make words. This is a stage of rapid growth and learning and it is essential to give a child in this stage as many opportunities to develop their communication skills as possible. A child in this age learns through play. One aspect of play is reading. Simple non fiction (fact) texts are great to read with your child. Encouraging your child to point to objects on the page (or a parent points) and naming that object will help a child learn new words. Reading simple stories that are repetitive will help develop your child’s understanding of how our language works.

Recommended Fiction (story) texts for age group

  • Spot books by Eric Hill
  • Five Little Monkey’s Jumping On The Bed by Eileen Christelow
  • Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
  • Are You My Mother? By P.D Eastman
  • That’s Not My … Books by Usborne Children’s books
  • Moo, Baa, La, La, La by Sandra Boynton

Recommended Non Fiction (Fact) texts for age group

  • Baby’s Very First Little Book of Farm Animals - Usborne (Publisher)
  • Spot’s Fun First Words by Eric Hill
  • Babies - Baby Einstein (Publisher)

Environmental Print

  • For a child closer to 2 years old you can encourage them to find their name on objects (drink bottle, lunch box)
  • Focus on the letters of their name and the sounds they make. (Their name is important to them, therefore learning about it can be very motivating)
  • Shop names - Pointing out the names of shops to the child

Parent tips

At this age children need to be involved in a lot of conversation to develop their communication skills. This can occur successfully during reading time with your child. While reading a farm book together, try getting your child to make the sounds of the different animals when you point to them in a book. Talk to them about the animals and what things they do. For a child closer to 2 years old, point to the name of the animal (e.g. cow) on the page and tell them that it says the word “cow”. With a fiction book, encourage your child to read the book with you. You need to read the book many times for the child to remember some of the words. (especially the end word of rhyming sentences)

Age Group : 2 to 4 years old

This stage will see your child move from saying two words together (mum’s car, big ball) to complex sentences. It is another stage of rapid growth and learning. Children in this age group becoming increasingly aware of the world around them. This is an ideal time to point out all the environmental print around them. Children in this age group are interested in “why” things are the way they are, so using this thirst for knowledge with reading non fiction (fact) texts will help them make meaning of our world. They become very interested in story lines and how a problem is solved in the story. Children will begin to “pick up” how our written language works, but by pointing some features out (eg letters, words, punctuation) it will help to form the beginning stages of reading.

Recommended Fiction (story) texts for age group

2-3 year olds

  • Can I cuddle the moon by Kerry Brown
  • Koala Lou by Mem Fox
  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd
  • Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Brown Bear, Brown bear, What do your see by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr

3 - 4 year olds

  • Who Sank the Boat by Pamela Allen
  • Belinda by Pamela Allen
  • Alexander’s outing by Pamela Allen
  • Goodnight moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Recommended Non Fiction (Fact) texts for age group

  • From Tadpole to Frog by David Steward
  • From Seed to Sunflower by Gerald Legg
  • From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Gerald Legg
  • From Egg to Chicken by Gerald Legg

Environmental Print

  • Reading their name in a variety of situations (finding their name tag amongst others, finding their painting with their name, their name on a piece of clothing)
  • Signs in the environment (toilet signs, carpark sign, speed limits, own street sign, number plates on cars, stop signs, crossing signs, packets on food)
  • Reading shop names (Kmart, Coles, Woolworthes, Post Office, McDonalds)

Parent tips

  • While going for a walk, encourage your child to say the names and sounds of letters on number plates
  • Don’t limit your child to reading ‘books’ (whether fiction or non fiction). At reading time choose other types of texts.
  • During reading time read a few invitations that you have received for different celebrations. Point out features like who it is addressed to?, what is the party?, where it is?, Who is it from?, What is an RSVP? When is it?
  • During reading time read a few cards that you have received for a particular occasion. (birthday, christmas, christening) Point out features like who it is addressed to?, what is their message?, who is it from? What is common in most cards?

Age Group : 4 to 6 years old

Children in this age group are usually in daycare, preschool or Kindergarten. They are getting exposed to lots of texts and environmental print in their educational setting. An educational setting can open up a whole new world to children with a variety of new and exciting texts. The home environment can support this by using lots of environmental print and reading a variety of texts during reading time. It is said that in order for a child to learn something new, they need to have 200 “hits” at it. This means that a child needs to have at least 200 different reading experiences before they are even ready to start reading. This is the important stage to ensure that they are getting a variety of quality learning experiences about reading prior to beginning “big school”. It will give them such a good start to formal education.

Recommended Fiction (story) texts for age group

  • Hunwick’s Egg by Mem Fox
  • Shoe’s from Grandpa by Mem Fox
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr Suess
  • Animalia by Graeme Base
  • Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
  • We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Oxenbury

Recommended Non Fiction (Fact) texts for age group

  • Books about the weather
  • Books about animals
  • Books about our body eg senses
  • Books about People eg occupations

Environmental Print

  • Reading their name in a variety of situations
  • Reading shop names
  • Reading traffic signs
  • Reading packages of groceries
  • Reading number plates
  • Reading advertisements

Parent tips

  • Don’t limit your child to reading ‘books’ (whether fiction or non fiction). At reading time choose other types of texts.
  • Get family members to send simple letters to your child. Read them during reading time. Also look at the envelope and talk about the features (stamp, address, return address)
  • Read simple poetry with your child
  • Make a poster with your child using information about a text they are reading. You can write most of the words. Include labels and diagrams as this is a very important aspect of texts. Explain to your child how to read them.
  • Do activities about the fiction (story) books that you read. Do a craft activity, Draw a picture of the main character, role play the story, change the story to have a different ending. These activities will help a child comprehend the story and help with sequencing events.
  • Use labels around your house to increase the “environmental print”

Age Group : 6 to 8 years old

Children in this age group attend primary school  and are in the infant grades. These are the most important years in your child’s education as they lay the foundation of learning for the next 13 years of schooling. Even though the children attend school, there is still so much that the parents can do at home to give their child the best opportunity to reach their potential. Children receive levelled reading books as their home reader from school. A lot of parents focus on the reading level of the book rather then what reading strategies their child is or is not using. (See my previous blog for more detail about reading strategies) The reading book that comes home should be “easy” for your child. Its purpose is to encourage your child to read with fluency and expression. The readers (reading books) that come home will be from both fiction and non fiction genres. They may include information reports, letters, stories, recounts and poetry.

Recommended Fiction (story) texts for age group

  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr Seuss
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Suess
  • Alexander and the very horrible, no good, very bad day by Judith Voirst
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Early chapter books

  • 1 - Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
  • 2 - Cam Jansen by David A. Adler
  • 3 - Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
  • 4 - Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
  • 5 - Humphrey by Betty G. Birney
  • 6 - Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Corporation)
  • 7 - Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo
  • 8 - Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
  • 9 - Frankly Frannie by AJ Stern
  • 10 - The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
  • 11 - Agatha: Girl of Mystery
  • 12 - Keena Ford by Melissa Thomson
  • 13 - Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  • 14 - Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee,
  • 15 - Roald Dahl Stories

Recommended Non Fiction (Fact) texts for age group

  • Books about transport
  • Books about landmarks
  • Books about planets
  • Books about history

Environmental print

  • Reading words from a word wall (wall full of words in a classroom)
  • Reading words on signs, diagrams, labels
  • Reading words around them to help them with spelling them

Parent tips

  • Get your child to read instructions of how to do something e.g. how to put together something or reading a recipe
  • Get your child to make their own books. This will allow you to know if your child has a great understanding of how a book work. (Eg A factual book about a particular animal. Does it have a contents page?, page numbers, title, author, glossary)
  • Visit your local library often and borrow a variety of books
  • Encourage your child to read anything they write to you.
  • Share a chapter book with your child. Read a chapter a night during reading time.

Age Group : 8 to 10 years old

Children of this age are beginning to read harder texts on more complex topics. The fiction books they read have more complicated story plots as well as many sub plots. Some children can sound like they are reading quite well but they actually have low levels of comprehension (understanding what they have read). It is important that we do not rush children onto harder books without having the comprehension to match. Asking lots of questions and having lots of conversation about the book can really improve a child’s comprehension. A lot of children read chapter books at this stage but sharing a picture book with harder themes can have many benefits. Discussing themes and issues with your child that appear in a picture book of chapter book helps their knowledge and understanding of the world. At this stage children need to have lots of experiences with factual texts to become efficient at locating the correct information. This will help their research skills for projects they are working on for all subjects.

Recommended Fiction (story) texts for age group

  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Suess
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • The True story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
  • Prince Cinders by Babette Cole
  • An Ordinary Day by Libby Gleeson

Chapter books

  • The Croc Ate My Homework by Stephan Pastis
  • Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
  • Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson
  • Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis
  • Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  • The Alice Stories: Our Australian Girl by Davina Bell
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Specky Magee by Felice Arena and Garry Lyon
  • Give Peas a Chance by Morris Gleitzman
  • Our Australian Girl: Lina at the Games (Book 3) by Sally Rippin and Lucia Masciullo
  • Do You Dare? Bushranger’s Boys 1841 by Alison Lloyd

Recommended Non Fiction (Fact) texts for age group

  • Websites
  • Newspaper articles
  • Encyclopaedias (online)
  • Dictionary

Parent tips

  • Have a copy of a chapter book for yourself and your child (Borrow copies from the library) Read one chapter. (Take turns at reading paragraphs or read the chapter in your heads) At the end of the chapter have a discussion about what was read. Ask some questions to your child starting with the word “Why”
  • If a particular theme or issue comes up in a text, discuss with your child and then do something proactive about it. (Eg Refugees - Donate clothing or money to an organisation that helps refugees in Australia). Be as creative as you can.
  • Help your child highlight the important information from a website about a topic. Discuss why some facts are important and others are there to give more information about the topic.

The best gift you can give your child is a variety of experiences. It is wonderful to read about different aspects of our world, but for a child to experience these things first hand is remarkable. This will help them build their own connections and will help them to bring their own experiences into their reading. Share your love of reading with your child. Show them how we can be taken into another world with a story or learn some fascinating facts with a non fiction text.

I have really enjoyed writing this series of blogs about “How to read with your child”. I hope it has given you a lot of insight into the skill of reading and possible ideas to do with your child.

My next series will be about “Mathematics and young children” My first blog will be about the stages of counting. I am sure this will interest a lot of people.

Keep liking and sharing. I am so thankful for all your support.

Until next time ……

Kelly Pisani