Text Levels– Tool or Trouble?

 

By Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

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This post was originally published on October 23, 2013

When my colleague Gay Su Pinnell and I created a gradient of text for teachers to use in selecting books for small group reading, we were excited about its potential for helping teachers make good text decisions to support the progress of readers.

Our alphabetic gradient is widely used by teachers for this purpose and has become an essential tool for effective teaching in guided reading lessons.

With every good intention, the levels may have been applied by professionals in ways we would not have intended. We did not intend for levels to become a label for children that would take us back to the days of the bluebirds and the blackbirds or the jets and the piper cubs. Our intention was to put the tool in the hands of educators who understood their characteristics and used it to select appropriate books for differentiated instruction.

We are well aware of the importance of communicating student progress accurately to families. Rather than the use of levels in reporting to families, we have encouraged the use of terms like “reading at grade level expectation” or “reading above grade level expectation” or “not yet reading at grade level expectation” on report cards along with other clear indicators of a student’s processing abilities such as understanding, word-solving abilities, accuracy or fluency. In addition we have encouraged the use of indicators related to amount and breadth of independent reading.

Students actually experience a variety of books at varied levels in a rich literacy program. They may experience complex texts as read aloud or shared reading selections and a range of levels in book discussion groups or independent reading. Highly effective teaching provides a range of opportunities with different texts for different purposes.

In our best efforts to use assessment indicators, we want to be sure that our purposes best serve the children we teach and give families the important information they need. This may not mean using labels such as book levels that hold more complexities and are intended for the use of the educators as they make day-to-day teaching decisions.

Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons

By Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

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The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching:

  1. Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors.
  2. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do.
  3. Select a text on which the reader can learn how to read better- not too difficult and not too easy.
  4. Teach the reader not the text.
  5. Teach the student to read written language not words.
  6. Teach for the student to initiate effective problem-solving actions.
  7. Use clear precise language that passes the control to the reader.
  8. Only ask the student to do what you know he can do.
  9. Don’t clutter the teaching with too much talk.
  10. Focus on self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors so this reader becomes independent.
  11. Build on examples of successful processing.
  12. Teach for fast responding so the reader can process smoothly and efficiently.

If you’re looking for an introductory course on Guided Reading either online or on-campus, click here!

Setting the Stage for ­­­­Joy and Independence in Reading

by Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Author, and Featured Speaker at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference

A classroom is a place where children can thrive in a language-rich, print-rich, social environment every day of the school year. When you support continuous inquiry, children’s fascination with people and the world, and multi-text based learning, you engage the hearts and minds of your students. They learn how to learn and develop a sense of agency that will propel their literacy learning across the year.

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The foundation of growing up literate in our schools lies in authentic literacy learning that brings together children’s language and background experiences with the world of print and media. It begins with getting wonderful books in every child’s hands and selecting high quality complex texts that capture children’s attention with the language, craft and ideas of fiction and nonfiction texts. And it continues when the fabric of the classroom is reading, thinking, talking and writing about books.

The early milestones for developing students’ views of themselves as readers and writers include setting up an organized classroom library in a range of relevant and appealing categories, providing a variety of enticing book talks and teaching your students to do the same, teaching students how to select books that interest them and they can enjoy, teaching students how to talk to each other about books, and introducing the reader’s notebook as a place to reflect on reading through writing.

When students spend their time reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about them, they build the stamina and independence that places books at the center and promotes a lifetime of joy in reading.


Irene Fountas will be speaking at the upcoming Literacy for All conference, October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her sessions include:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of Guided Reading: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Differentiated Instruction (Grades K-5) 

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging Deep: Teaching for Reading Power in Guided Reading Lessons (Grades K-5)

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

More on Text Levels: Confronting the Issues

New Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In response to the many comments the blog has received this week on the Text Levels- Tool or Trouble blog post:

You have shared many important thoughts on the topic of text levels.  Of course, children should read the books they want to read—those that engage their interests and that will bring them enjoyment throughout their lives.  Levels are simply not for children and should not serve as another means of labeling them and damaging their self-esteem.  Nor do they belong on books in libraries or on report cards.

Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.  Many of you have found the instructional benefit of levels in assessment and in the teaching of reading, so you can support each child’s successful reading development across the grades.  When a text is too difficult to support new learning in small groups, the reader becomes passive and teacher dependent.  Reading becomes laborious and nonproductive.  When a text is just right, the reader can process it with successful problem-solving and expands his reading power with the teacher’s support.  We hope teachers go beyond the level label to understand and use the ten text characteristics to understand the demands of texts on readers.

The classroom text base needs to include a variety of texts for a variety of purposes.  All children deserve numerous opportunities every day to choose books to read and participate with peers in listening to and sharing age-appropriate books that fully engage their intellect, emotions and curiosity.  Alongside these opportunities, all children deserve responsive teaching in small groups for a part of their day with books that are leveled to support the continuum of competencies that enable them to become independent, lifelong readers.

Each of you can advocate with your school team to educate all involved in the appropriate and effective use of levels as one small part of an excellent instructional program that meets the needs of diverse students.

Five Keys to Power Up Talk About Reading in Your Classroom

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photoby Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

The amount of talk your students do each day in your classroom matters. Your students’ talk about reading reveals and expands their thinking. A set of learned behaviors and talk structures will provide rich opportunities for deep thinking and valuable learning about texts that will serve your students for a lifetime.

How many opportunities are there for meaningful talk about reading in your classroom? Of course I don’t mean just increasing the number of times or the amount of talk, but increasing opportunities for the kind of focused talk that promotes deeper understandings and new ways of thinking and conversing about texts.

Think about the following five ways that you can build a culture of thoughtful talk in your classroom.

1. Help your students understand that reading is thinking and that when they talk, they share their thinking and learn from the thinking of others.

When students are in a classroom environment that promotes reading as thinking, they learn to bring together their own thinking with the writer’s thinking and with the thinking of others. They take risks by sharing their voices and build a richer understanding of a text than any one reader can get for himself.

2. Teach your students to turn and talk effectively with each other.

Turn and talk is a structured opportunity for your students to share their thinking and learn from the thinking of their peers. When students turn and talk, every student gets the opportunity to talk.

Help your students learn how to turn and talk first with a partner and then in threes or fours in ways that are productive. Be sure to help them learn how to get started right away, to look each other in the eyes when talking and to listen attentively to the speaker. Model how to respond to and build on what the speaker said in a way that results in authentic dialogue that accomplishes richer thinking not just random talk.

Consider having your students turn and talk during interactive read aloud, reading minilessons, guided reading discussions, literature circles, whole group share as well as during lessons in any of the disciplines.

3. Give your students wait time and teach them to give each other wait time.

Wait time gives a person a little time to process. Help your students develop patience with a little wait time for their peers and be sure you model doing the same. Often a little wait time is followed by evidence of good thinking that is well articulated. Wait time is think time. Your students can develop the kind of sensitivity to each other that is supportive to each other’s learning.

4. Demonstrate through your talk the kind of language that fosters equal participation, respect for each other’s thinking, and promotes building on each other’s ideas.

Your language provides a model for the productive talk your students need to engage in with each other. Your tone of respect and patience and the careful modeling of language that promotes analysis becomes the language that your students will use with each other. It creates an expectation for the kind of talk about reading that is valued in their classroom.

Be sure to demonstrate and prompt your students to support their thinking with personal experience or evidence from the text. Invite a variety of perspectives and encourage your students to notice the writer’s decisions. Encourage inquiry through genuine curiosity about the content of the text and the craft of the writer. Use language or prompts such as:

  • What made you think that?
  • Is there another way of think about that?
  • What was the writer really trying to say?
  • I noticed the writer ……..
  • I didn’t think about that so now I am wondering…
  • Talk more about that.
  • I want to understand how….
  • What do you notice about the way the writer….?

5. Listen carefully to your students and set the norm with them that they listen attentively and respectfully to each other.

A good listener can understand the speaker better and respond better than one who is always thinking about what he wants to say next. Teach your students to listen actively to each other to honor each other’s thinking and respond in precise ways to one’s ideas. Encourage them to share their thinking generously and graciously with their peers and be sure to invite the thinking of each member of their group. To help the group develop their talk power, be sure to plan for them to evaluate the quality of the talk and their participation.

When you power up the talk about reading in your classroom, your students will take all their rich thinking to their writing about reading. They will develop essential tools for a lifetime of successful literacy.

If you’d like to learn more about how to support student comprehension through talk, we have sessions at the upcoming 2015 Literacy for All conference! You can also view the full brochure to see the entire conference schedule and workshop listings.

Thinking about Text Choices for Readers Who Struggle

by Cindy Downend, Assistant Director of Primary Programs and Helen Sisk, Intermediate/Middle Grades Faculty Member, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

We’re busy in the Center right now preparing for our Summer Institute on Teaching Struggling Readers: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Grades K–6 and we have been pondering all that we need to consider when selecting texts for our students who are finding it difficult to read. Fortunately, Gay and Irene have provided us with some guidance in When Readers Struggle that is (as always) sage advice:

  1. Readers need to be engaged with delightful texts. Often, the most struggling students are given the least appealing texts that would be off-putting to any reader. Select texts about interesting topics in nonfiction or appealing characters in fiction. Also be sure to provide visually interesting books with compelling illustrations or photographs.
  1. Next, think about how the child will understand the text. Struggling readers need something they can relate to their own experiences and understandings. When selecting a text ask yourself, “Does the text have enough support to allow them to predict, to make inferences, to learn something new?” (Page 402)
  1. Consider if the print features of the text will support comprehension. Beginning readers need simple font with clear spaces between lines and words. Print layout becomes more complex along the gradient of text, but you will want to ensure that the text layout is not confusing. Students need to learn to deal with complex text features, but be sure that there is not too much for the reader to handle.   
  1. Use books with language that is accessible to the reader. Written language will always be different than what is spoken. However, you will want to think about the match between a child’s oral language and the language structures in the text. At the earlier reading levels the match needs to be close so children can use what they know about language to help them read. As readers move into higher text levels, the language becomes more complex. This gradual increase then expands the reader’s processing system. 
  1. Analyze the text structure to ensure that the reader will be able to understand the meaning. Think about how the book is organized and the reader’s current ability to follow a story or manage different kinds of organization. Stories with a repeating pattern are much easier to comprehend then a text with a more challenging structure of multiple episodes, flashbacks, etc. With nonfiction, consider how the text “works” and support the reader by explaining any unfamiliar structures. The ultimate goal is to enable readers to figure out how texts are organized.
  1. Evaluate the illustrations to ensure that they support meaning and do not confuse the reader. Beginning readers need a well-defined story and the illustrations at the earliest text levels carry most of the meaning. Look for pictures that are clear with no distracting information. At higher text levels, the illustrations will extend understanding and are meant to enhance the meaning of the book.

If you would like to think more about the role of text selection as well as all of the other facets in supporting readers who struggle, come to Cambridge this summer and join us for Lesley University’s summer institute on readers who struggle being held July 13–16.

During this four-day institute, you will join educational leaders Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, and university faculty in exploring the characteristics of students who struggle with reading and examine the teaching practices that support their reading growth. Students who struggle with reading require instruction that builds on their strengths and scaffolds their next steps.

This institute is available for noncredit or credit. To register go to: http://www.lesley.edu/summer-literacy-institute/

Are You Teaching or Testing Comprehension?

irene_fountas_photoby Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

All too often, successful comprehension has been regarded as a student’s ability to answer a teacher’s questions (which is one way of assessing comprehension), but it does not enhance the reader’s self-regulating power for processing a new text with deep understanding. Think about how your teaching moves may be focused on testing when you continually pose questions, or how you can shift to teaching or helping students learn how to comprehend texts for themselves.

Teaching for comprehending means supporting your students’ ability to construct the meaning of the text in a way that expands their reading ability. You can help them learn what to notice in a text and what is important to think about, how to solve problems when meaning is not clear, and provide scaffolds to develop their in-the-head systems for working through the meaning of the text. These abilities are generative, so students will be able to transfer what they learn how to do as readers before, during, or after reading to a variety of increasingly challenging texts in every genre.

Introduce the text to readers

When you introduce a challenging text to your students, be sure to help them notice how the writer constructed the meaning, organized the text, used language and made decisions about the print features. Help them know how the book works and get them started thinking about the writers’ purpose and message and the characteristics of the genre.

Prompt the readers for constructive activity

As students read orally, interact very briefly at points of difficulty to demonstrate, prompt for, or reinforce effective problem-solving actions that they can try out and make their own. Your facilitative language is a call for the reader to engage in problem-solving that expands their reading strengths.

Teach students how to read closely

Take the readers back into the text after reading to notice the writer’s craft more closely. Select a phrase, sentence or paragraph, or focus on helping them notice how the writer organized the whole text. Revisiting the text calls the reader’s attention to particular features.

Engage students in talk about texts

Talk represents thinking. When students talk about a text, they are processing the vocabulary, language and content aloud. This enables them to articulate their understandings, reactions and wonderings. When they learn to be articulate in their talk, they can then show their ability to communicate their thinking about texts in their writing.

Engage students in writing about texts

Writing about reading is a tool for sharing and thinking about a text. When students articulate their thoughts in writing, they confirm their understandings, reflect on the meaning and explore new understandings.

Testing is a controlled task for measuring what students can do without teacher help. Teaching is the opportunity to make a difference in the self-regulating capacity of the learner. Reflect on your teaching moves and engage in a discussion with your colleagues to shift from testing to teaching. When students focus on meaning-making with every text they read, they will be able to show their competencies on the test.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative’s events and trainings, visit http://www.lesley.edu/crr