Getting Started: A Primer on Reading Levels

The kids and I have been working on book reviews and the like this week, preparing for our first blog post, and I realized that before starting all of our recommendations it might be a good idea to begin with a primer on reading levels. I know that a lot of people reading this won't have children who are reading yet, but since I will be including reading levels with our recommendations I thought it would be important  to explain beforehand. 

First, why is it important to know a child's reading level? To promote children becoming readers, reading needs to be fun and enjoyable. If a child is trying to read a book that is full of too-difficult-to-read words, the child becomes stressed and reading is no longer fun. Similarly, if a child can pronounce all of the words but is unable to comprehend their meaning, the book becomes difficult to understand and again, it becomes stressful. When readers feel forced, pressured, or stressed, they don't want to read anymore and their progress slows. If children are reading interesting books at their appropriate level, on the other hand, they want to read more and they will move right along the reading level scale. 

There are a lot of different reading level charts out there that you can go by. Today I'll talk about two: Lexile Level and Guided Reading Level (sometimes called Fountas and Pinnell.) Personally, we use the guided reading level since it happens to be how our first books were rated and I find them a bit easier to keep track of than the Lexile Level. What I don't go on is the grade level equivalent. While it would work and is fine, I feel that the other two are a bit more exact in their leveling. 

Let's start with Lexile Level. Lexile Level is kind of the "standard" gauge of reading ability. Essentially, the book is split into "word slices." These slices are then compared to the whole lexile corpus; the difficulty of words and the length of sentences are both analyzed in this comparison. The results are put into an equation and a Lexile score (like 1250L) pops out. This leveling does not look at age appropriateness, themes, or anything like that. Once you know a child's Lexile Level, you can find a "sweet-spot" range of books that your child can read and comprehend without difficulty. 

Onto Fountas and Pinnell's Guided Reading Levels. This is our go-to leveling system. Unlike Lexile Level's numbering system, the Guided Reading Levels score books on reading levels from A to Z.  I find this so much easier to keep track of. In order to determine the Guided Reading Level, text is classified according to various parameters such as word count, sentence length and complexity, word repetitions, number of high frequency words, added support a reader may get from illustrations, number of different words, etc. Similar to Lexile Level, you can also have multiple Guided Reading Levels for children. For example, a child may be at a level F when reading independently but a level G when reading with help. 

Many books choose not to list either of these reading levels. Instead they list a grade level. I am not a huge fan of this however since some grade levels have multiple Lexile Levels and Guided Reading Levels. This makes the other two systems much more exact to ensure that your child is reading appropriate material. I am attaching a chart below that will show this along with a few other things, so be patient with me, I'll get there. 

Honestly I find Guided Reading Levels so easy to work with that there has been no reason to switch. As I said, not all books have a guided reading level listed, but there are some great websites that you can use to find them. Here is my favorite:

This is scholastics' book wizard. When you search for a book, you can actually pick which reading level system you want to search under. It is really convenient to use, and they even have an app so you can scan books at the store you are currently shopping at. National Geographic also has some really great non-fiction early readers and you can search by reading level on their website here:

So what happens if you can't find the guided reading level and you don't know how to switch back and forth? There's a chart for that. Perma-Bound actually put a really great one online. It shows how the different reading levels correspond to one another. The chart also shows how a single grade level can overlap with more than one Lexile or Guided Reading Level. 

 Guided Reading Level Correlation Chart

Some schools may have goals that they like to meet for their students. You can always ask your child's teacher what their goals are for their class. As a homeschooler, I keep track of this so that I know what books are appropriate for the kids, but always, most importantly, is that your kids enjoy the books that they are reading. Abby is currently obsessed with a series of books an entire grade level below her reading level, but we go with it. Reading should always be fun.