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