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How To Provide Effective Reading Practice – Leveled Readers

By Alan Scalone,  CNK Digital co-founder

Now that you have identified an effective reading program for your child—something I reviewed in my last article—it’s time to discuss the importance of leveled readers.

When your child is learning to read, practice makes perfect. This is more than just a cheerful saying–it’s confirmed by studies from the National Reading Panel and many others. It’s also a reading strategy that is used in all of our public schools. That doesn’t mean, however, that your child should be eagerly devouring every book in the library. The body of research on the development of reading skills shows that specific practice texts must be used to achieve the proper results. These practice texts, which are commonly known as leveled readers, are carefully matched to your child’s decoding skills.

Why is it so important to use  leveled readers while your child is learning to read? Well, if a child is reading with confidence at a first grade level and you suddenly substitute a third grade text, they will start struggling with the words they do not know. If they have not yet been taught the decoding skills to decode these words, they will quickly become frustrated and the reading practice becomes unproductive. As a parent, you know that when a child is frustrated, it’s very easy for them to sometimes just give up. It is also a simple fact that when a child struggles with decoding the words, reading comprehension goes right out the window! It’s downright counterproductive to expose your child to reading material that is too far beyond his or her decoding skills.

That’s why leveled readers are so vital to the development of reading and decoding skills. These are not books that are designed to entertain, they have but one purpose: to practice decoding skills.

Because leveled readers have such a specific purpose, you generally won’t find them in a local bookstore next to Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss. I personally recommend two separate leveled reader series for the best results. The first is Bob Books, which have been around for more than 35 years. These books are carefully arranged in sets that start with beginning reading skills and move very gradually into advanced skills such as word families, complex words and long vowels. Bob Books are available through their website, but you may be able to find used copies at Amazon.com.

The second leveled reader series I recommend is the Now I’m reading series, which is available in the CNK Digital store. Like Bob Books, you may be able to find used copies at Amazon.com. The Now I’m Reading series contains such features as strong picture clues, patterned text and sound recognition that will reinforce reading skills. The first books in the series concentrate on short vowel sounds, sight word construction and simple consonants. The later sets focus on consonant blends, longer words and sentences and silent letters.

Once you have selected a leveled reader series for your child, you may be wondering about all those children’s books you already have around your house. I’ve told you that moving beyond your child’s decoding skills is counterproductive, and you might think that your child will miss out on a lot of the excitement, adventure and fun of those other books. Well, those books have their place, and your child will certainly be able to enjoy them while they’re learning how to read.

Again, it’s simple. Leveled readers are for reading practice. They are designed to teach your child to develop decoding skills. If your child struggles with a word in a leveled reader, you should let them decode it on their own. If they cannot do it, it is time to go back to the last leveled reader in the series and practice some more. You should not be telling them the answers. Those other books, however, are for fun. They are to be used for family reading time. If your child doesn’t recognize a word, it’s perfectly okay to tell them what it is.

That brings up one last important point, one that ties all of this together. Remember how I said that reading material that is beyond your child’s decoding skills can discourage and frustrate them? Well, the same goes for the world outside of books. There are plenty of words written all over this planet of ours, and many of them are beyond your child’s decoding skills. You should avoid pointing out words and asking what they are—that will frustrate a child as well. (If your child asks you what a word is, that’s a different story.)

Stick with leveled readers, and in a relatively short time there will be only a few words that are beyond your child’s reach.


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One Comment

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