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

How to read to your young child - Reading Strategies

Teaching children about reading strategies is equipping them with tools to solve reading problems. Using reading strategies effectively will help children become confident, fluent and expressive readers who develop a love of reading.

children readingWelcome to my second blog in the series “How to read to your young child” This blog outlines the strategies (or tools) that children need, to decode (work out) words that they are unsure about while reading. All these strategies need to be developed to enable the child to become an efficient reader.

In my experience, most parents tend to focus on one or two strategies to help their child work out a word. These are usually “Sound it out” or just tell the child what the word is straight away. Unfortunately neither one is helpful to the child!!

Why we never say “Sound it out” to a child

“Sound it out” was a familiar statement used by many teachers and parents in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. It requires the child to look at each letter in a word and say the corresponding sound. The English language is a complicated one. There are many spelling rules that we follow; however, there are many exceptions to these rules. It is a phonetically irregular language that doesn’t always follow the expected pattern.

Consider the word ‘rough’ - How would a child sound this word out? If they did, it would sound completely different to what the word really is. Then there is the other problem of letter patterns changing their sound from word to word. If you think of the ‘sound chunk’ ough; does it have the same sound in the following words; thought, dough, through, drought?

“Sounding it out” really confuses beginning readers and struggling readers. It is not a successful strategy in working out unknown words.

Why we do not tell the child the word straight away

Usually if a child cannot “sound an unknown word out” the parent resorts to telling them the word. This really limits a child’s ability and offers them no alternatives to problem solve the word for themselves. What happens if you were not there? Would the child have any idea as to how they could work out the word?

Now let’s look at the reading strategies that will benefit your child. I like to think of these as tools for your child’s reading toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose and when used correctly can help a child solve an unknown word successfully.

Strategy Number 1: Look at the picture

Encourage your child to look at the picture to help them work out what the text might be. In simple books, the texts match the pictures exactly. As the books get more complex, the pictures still relate to the text but they do not always show everything that is written in the text.

blue sheep

Text relating very strongly to the picture – excerpt taken from “Where is the Green Sheep” by Mem Fox

 

 

 

This is one of the first strategies that your child should become an expert at. Many parents tell me that they cover the picture when their child reads so the child doesn’t “cheat” by looking at the picture. Looking at the picture is a very efficient problem solving strategy for beginning readers. If a child is reading and gets stuck on a word, tell them to look at the picture carefully and try reading the sentence again.

Tip for parents: Do a picture walk through the book with the child before reading the text. This means you talk about each picture with your child and you may focus your child on a particular aspect of the picture that will come up in the text. This will emphasise to your child the importance of pictures in a book.

Strategy Number 2: Get your mouth ready

This strategy is another great one for beginning readers. Using this strategy with the strategy of looking at the pictures will help your child think of a word that makes sense in the sentence. Getting your child to make the initial sound with their mouth will help the word “pop” out if they are reading in a smooth reading voice.

For example if the sentence is “A sheep lives on a farm” and your child is stuck on the word ‘farm’, encourage them to make the first sound of the word (f) with their mouth and it may just come out if they are listening to what they are reading. If they have stopped reading, give them the instruction to get their mouth in position to make the first sound and then tell them to have another go at the sentence and this time try not to stop.

Tip for parents: Encourage your child to read like they talk. A lot of children resort to a “robot type” reading which stops the child from understanding what they are reading as it is very disjointed. You want them to read, like they are talking so when they come to a word they don’t know and they get their mouth ready to make the first sound, it will usually just come out.

Strategy Number 3: Does it make sense?

The main goal of reading is for the child to comprehend (understand) what he/she is reading. They constantly need to be reminded that if they read something that doesn’t sound right, that they need to have another go at reading it. Parents can help with this by asking them if what they read made sense. By the parent repeating what the child said , they will be able to hear that what they said does not make sense. This is a strategy that develops over time as their reading ability improves.

Tip for parents: Record your child reading on your phone, iPad or any other recording device. Let your child watch it and ask them to comment on what they did well and what they could do better. Children love watching themselves and this can be a powerful tool to teach them how important it is to listen to how they read while they read.

Strategy Number 4: Sound chunks

This is a strategy used to help the child look at the entire word to see if they can use any prior knowledge they have about the sounds that letters make together or prefixes (letters added to the beginning of a word e.g. un, dis, in) or suffixes (letters added to the end of words e.g. ed, ing, less) Parents can help the child locate these in an unknown word.

Parents tip: Always try to get the child to come up with the word by asking the right questions. This will lead them to ask their own questions to themselves while reading if this is a common practice that you do with them. For example “Do you notice anything at the end of the word? ”

Strategy Number 5 : Little words in a big word

A lot of words in our language are made up of smaller words. Children can look for known words in a larger word to help them work out the entire word. Using this strategy with the “Does it make sense” strategy can help your child  work out a word.

Parents Tip: The child needs to have a good knowledge of sight words (words that are rote learnt by sight) to be efficient at this strategy. Practice sight words often with your child and encourage them to find them in texts that they are reading. Examples of sight words are; I, am, in, on, look, like, here, there, is, it,

Above all, reading needs to be enjoyable. If you find that your child is struggling on every second or third word, the book is too hard for them. We want children to be challenged but also experience a sense of accomplishment. Too often I hear about the arguments family’s experience to get their child to want to read each night (or day). Give your children time to develop their reading. Pushing harder books onto them too early will do more damage than good.

When a child finishes reading a book make sure you praise them for using some strategies to work out unknown words. Flick back to the page or pages that they worked out a word on and show them what they did again. Emphasis how proud you are of them that they are working out words independently.

If your child has tried to work out the word by using different strategies and they were unsuccessful, the parent can say the word and ask the child to reread that sentence.

Thank you for taking the time to read my second blog from the series “How to read to your young child”. I will be finishing off this series next week with my blog “What to read with your young child”

If you liked this blog and found it informative and useful please share it with your friends and family. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.

Until next time …….

Kelly Pisani