kitchen table math, the sequel: Sara on leveled books

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sara on leveled books

I agree that the focus on high quality literature was the one bright spot in the original Whole Language of the 80s and early 90s. As I understand it that focus on quality literature left in the late 90s, and it was replaced by "Leveled Libraries." The early readers focus on "predictable text" with just one new word on each page, usually a word that can be guessed from the picture. "Ducks live in a pond. Fish live in a pond. Plants live in a pond." and so on.

This is causing me to think of snakes on a plane....

Possibly because I am living with a 15-year old boy.


farmwifetwo said...

We love levelled reader's here.

We have books from:

1. Kid's can read -
2. I can read book -
3. DK Readers - non fiction -
4. Ready to read - Scholastic

And when Scholastic re-released "Dick and Jane", I bought it too.

Children's books you find in libraries are too big for children who have the slightest learning dx's to read. There's simply too many words, takes too long and everyone gets frustrated quickly.

These gems are child sized. And I have 2 readers - on either end of the Autism Spectrum - that read easily and at Gr level.... to prove how well they work. And in our collection we have or had everything from Dora/Diego/Blues Clues to Star Wars/The Trogan Horse/Space/The Titanic... etc.

Lisa said...

The problem I've had with leveled readers is that the story isn't interesting to my kids. My now kindergartner calls them 'dumb'. She prefers for me to read her things, right now The Wizard Of Oz. I use the leveled readers for the kindergartner to read to the two year old.

Anonymous said...

Leveled readers are not all bad. They work well for very emergent readers, and for English learners who need limited, repetitive vocabulary, and to complement decodable phonics readers. There are lots of high-frequency words that are not phonetically regular (the, could, through, etc.) and those must be recognized by sight. The repetition in early leveled books is beneficial and very appropriate at K and first grades.

Erin Johnson said...

Leveled readers are horrific and are the prime reason that balanced literacy has failed for so many children.

They are boring. The vocabulary used is too simple to enable positive language growth. And they mistakenly reinforce the inefficient decoding strategies (whole-word or part-word sight memorization) that are the cause of the vast majority of decoding inabilities.

palisadesk said...

Yes, for the most part, the "leveled books" used in the BL classroom are not quality trade books like those from Kids Can Press, DK or Scholastic I Can Read! books or others of that sort. They are instead specially written to conform to Fountas and Pinnell/Reading Recovery "Levels" and are published by The Wright Group, Harcourt and other school publishers.

The criticism often made of "decodable books" is that they are unnatural text and boring (Nan ran to the tan van). But these "leveled books" at the early stages are every bit as contrived, unnatural and boring as any decodable text could possibly be -- and worse, they do not permit the new reader to develop solid decoding skills, but rather encourage a maladaptive habit of "predicting" words from the pictures or the pattern of the sentence.

Many kids wull learn no matter how you teach them, but for those who have difficulty mastering the early stages, "leveled books" are equivalent to toxic exposure. They can be quite damaging and actually prevent the child from having early reading success.

Ken De Rosa had a couple of posts on the topic here

Anonymous said...

I agree that many very early readers are "boring", repetitive or what have you. But they serve a purpose, as a stepping stone for novice readers. In K-1 classrooms, quality literature must also be provided via reading aloud and for children to access in classroom libraries.

Whether it's decodable books (Fat Matt can splat), or leveled sight word readers, both support beginners in both phonetically decoding and recognizing phonetically irregular words. Many children quickly move past these earliest books and move on to more complex text, and there are many quality trade books available for early readers at later stages.

I'm curious what those who so strongly oppose leveled readers recommend for learning phonetically irregular words?

Erin Johnson said...

It is better to not teach phonetically irregular words at the beginning, but to teach the decoding strategy that is the most efficient and is only one essential for fluent decoding: sounding out each and every word.

Frankly, if the English code is taught well, there are only minimal amounts of phonetically irregular words and these should be taught by using the concept of code overlap (one letter or group of letter represents more than one sound) not a "phonically irregular word" which can confuse students into thinking that English doesn't make sense. (It completely does, it is just a little more complicated that it should be.)

Most of the commercially available "decodable readers" are just as bad as the leveled ones at including an excessive amount of irregular words. Frankly there are not a lot of high-quality, interesting decodables (I ended up writing my own and use them to enable complete non-readers to progress to reading Magic Tree House books in the span of 6-9 months).

But some places to look would be Jelly and Bean (from the UK) and keep an eye out for the Core Knowledge Early Literacy program (here in the states) which is currently being piloted.

Jennie said...

1. The only aspect of "the," "could," and "through" that is "irregular" is the spelling of the single vowel sound in each word, thus the common suggestion that such words need to be learned as wholes does not make sense.
2. The so-called "irregularity" is simply part of the advanced part of the alphabetic code, and is taught systematically in synthetic phonics programs.
3. Truly systematic phonics programs (such as Jolly Phonics and Direct Instruction) use a couple of different methods for introducing the most common HFWs while STILL ensuring that the student decodes all through these word until they become recognizable on sight.
4. I am not at all convinced there is a scientific basis for the term "emergent reader."

Erin Johnson said...


There is no basis for "emergent reader". Those students really have limited code knowledge and inefficient blending skills.

I would concur that the words "the", "could" and "through" are very regular words as the 'e' is a singular sound; the letters 'oul' represents a singular sound; and 'ough' also represents a singular sound. All other letters are the most common representation.

There is no need to confuse children by calling these "irregular" words. They are not.

SusanG said...

We are truly lucky in the UK to have a growing choice of excellent decodable readers available.

Do have a look at my page on decodables -lots of advice, information and links:

palisadesk said...

I posted these links to the best-ever decodable books for very beginning readers:


These are public domain, printable books. They were done by well-known children's writers and illustrators, and have clever plots and engaging characters.

See Liz's post with more info
Liz Ditz' post on SWRL books

SHe has links to interviews with the writers and other info.

You can buy the books already printed up from several sources, probably on Susan G's links above.

The UK version is printed in the Sassoon font, which is widely used in UK clildren's books and has good research support. However, I have found enormous resistance to it over here (it's almost never used in children's materials) and when using it with young children have found they frequently confuse the i, j, and l, and find the f, q and k difficult as they don't look like most North AMerican fonts. You can buy these books in Times New ROman font from this site, which also has a lot of free support materials. The books are printed on heavy-duty paper and withstand a lot of school use.

Most children lovethese stories and they lend themselves to teaching other facets of early reading, such as narrative structure (story maps), retells, inferring character's feelings, predicting outcomes, and so on. Children like reading the stories over and over, which helps build fluency. You can also get the children to write about the characters, and use the words for spelling practice at the early stages.

palisadesk said...

Oops, Blogger hiccuped before I could proofread and edit the previous comment and links. Click on the link to Liz's post, it has both the sources for printing the decodable books. For some reason the links didn't come through on my comment above.