The advent of leveled readers was a great step forward in reading instruction for the classroom. No longer did students have to read just one whole class text that may have been above, below, or at their reading level. Teachers now have the ability to target groups of students, and give them texts that will provide the right challenge for their individual reading abilities. However, as with many new concepts, we sometimes forget how to get the best out of what we have. The following techniques are some of the best ways of using leveled readers with your students.
Probably the most popular use of leveled readers today is guided reading. In guided reading groups, the students are given a text to read by the teacher. Students may then be questioned by the teacher on literary features associated with the text, or be given tasks to complete based upon objectives that the teacher wishes to achieve by using said text. For instance, the teacher may want to focus on the author’s use of descriptive writing, and ask the students to find good examples of descriptive writing. Later, students may try their own short descriptive passages, based on what they learned from the author’s example. Guided reading groups and focused and controlled reading sessions, and they give the teacher the opportunity to work closely with a small group of students. Using leveled readers in guided reading groups, ensures that the students are learning new skills at their level of ability.
The Accelerated Reading program, (often abbreviated as AR), is a motivational program that seeks to reward students for their reading and understanding of a given set of texts. With the AR system, books are given a points value according to length and difficulty of the book. Students look for books in their range to read and take a computer based comprehension quiz to show how well the understood it. The students earn points for the books and tests they take and can exchange these points for prizes that are chosen by the school. Many schools have a lot of success with this program, but others are more skeptical of how the program uses rewards to make children read. For more information on the AR program, see the Accelerated Reading website.
Some leveled readers are also used by teachers for independent or free reading. When you have leveled reader sets that are available to your students in independent reading times, you can always be confident that the students are reading at an appropriate level for their ability, and are not making bad choices on which books to read with their free time. If you have Lexile scores for your class, and take the time to find Lexile measures for your classroom library books, your students will always be able to find books to read at their level, even when it is not through direct instruction.
Using leveled readers for partner reading can be a good way of establishing a peer modeling system in your classroom. Pairing advanced readers with less confident readers can be a great way to provide peer support in reading, and lead to improvements in reading abilities. Although you will not always want your best readers reading with your weakest readers, it is still worth making time for this type of scaffolding to bring along your struggling readers, because these readers are sometimes more motivated to read well for their peers, than they are for anyone else. Of course, you can also have times when students of the same reading ability are paired up, and times to use guided reading sessions to really challenge your gifted readers.
Cross Curricular Uses
Reading is an important skill for all curriculum areas. So if you are not differentiating it to meet the needs of your students in Science, Social Studies, or even Math, you are missing out on an opportunity to further improve the reading in your classroom, because texts in these subjects can be wordy and technical. Many popular Science and Social Studies now come with leveled readers to use in the classroom. These can be great ways of making sure that all of your students are getting to grips with what is sometimes difficult content to comprehend. By pitching the subject material at different levels, you can spend more time going over the basics with your low ability readers, and really challenge the abilities of your brightest readers. These readers usually complement the textbook on a similar theme, so there is no reason why you could not use books you already own, or ones the school or yourself have bought separately. You may also find that weekly publications like Time For Kids or Weekly Reader can also be good reading supplements if they are on a similar topic to your curriculum.
Using leveled readers for the first time may seem daunting, but the effects it can have on the reading in your classroom are much greater than what may occur without using them. The modern classroom now has students with a broad spectrum of academic abilities, and it is the resposibility of the teacher to meet these needs. The use of leveled readers is a great first step in that direction.