Leveled text is a topic that is receiving much attention. Publishers are scrambling to market sets and lists of leveled books, and schools are using leveled text to expand their collections of instructional reading materials well beyond the basal. Informal reading assessments based on leveled passages are becoming increasingly popular, and teachers are refining the process of matching texts to readers. This increased awareness and availability of leveled text is resulting in much conversation about the topic; indeed, it is a recurring theme on the RTEACHER electronic mailing list (listserv). In preparation for this column, we invited the listserv members to share their insights, questions, and concerns about leveled text. As we read their reflections and exchanges, we were reminded of the many good things that are happening as the result of attention to leveled text. Several listserv teachers reminded us, however, that "bad things will inevitably happen to good ideas" (Duffy, 1999, p. 109) like using leveled text if the ideas are driven more by trend than thoughtful application. In this column, we blend our voices with those of RTEACHER members and of teachers with whom we had face-to-face conversations to explore the good and bad news about leveled text.
What are leveled texts and why are they important?
Leveled text is a widely and sometimes, loosely used term. In general, leveled text refers to reading materials that represent a progression from more simple to more complex and challenging texts. Texts that have been leveled include books created for commercial programs, selections for basal reading anthologies, and children's literature. Different text progressions use different leveling criteria. Some are based on readability formulas; others apply multiple criteria related to language predictability, text formatting, and content; still others present progressions of lettersound relationships. These progressions also reflect varying degrees of precision. Some progressions provide estimates of grade-level difficulty (e.g., Grade 3); others use smaller increments (e.g., Grade 3.2); still others depart from grade levels and order texts using letters (e.g., A-I) or numbers (e.g., 1-20).
Progressions of leveled text are important because they encourage teachers to select materials that are just right for students. For effective reading instruction to occur, struggling readers must have opportunities to read comfortable texts rather than experience constant frustration with texts that are too difficult. Similarly, proficient readers must be motivated with texts that offer sufficient challenge to stimulate growth and engagement. Access to leveled text frees teachers from dependency on grade-level materials that may not fit the instructional needs of all students. Attention to leveled text has increased awareness of an instructional paradigm that emphasizes guided readings with instructional-level texts as critical components of balanced literacy programs. Exploring leveled text and guided reading has inspired many teachers to develop or adopt holistic performance assessments that use leveled books as benchmarks of reading progress. This is all good news.
The bad news is that some schools are caught up in a "leveling mania" (Szymusiak & Sibberson, 2001, p. 16). Many listserv members shared their observations of...
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