PSA: Leveled books are not a best practice in teaching reading anymore.

[Read a previous post on: Reading is more than an Academic Subject]

You may have seen this recent New York Times article, or this New Yorker article, on the literacy crisis in this country. Currently, only 37% of 4th graders are reading at or above grade level. 63% of fourth graders are below grade level nationwide. There is a literacy crisis. This means that even if your child goes to an excellent school, they or their classmates are likely to be reading below grade level.

You may be experiencing this first hand, seeing your child’s struggles with reading at home. 

What’s a parent to do?

First, it’s important to know each of our roles. 

Your job as a parent is to truly create a love of reading, A fondness for spending time with books, warm memories of snuggling up before bed to read, new books while traveling, and trips to the library. No teacher can do this for you, and it requires a low-pressure environment to be able to create this love successfully!

It is the job of a literacy professional to teach your child to read. Either your child’s teacher, or someone with outside support. Unless you also received your masters in literacy, it’s unlikely that you have the skills to teach your kid systematic, explicit phonics instruction. About 60% of kids need systematic phonics instruction to be able to read successfully, and, unfortunately, this is hardly taught in schools.

If your child is bringing home leveled books, your school is not using best practices in literacy instruction. 

Why not?

The leveled books your child brings home encourages “cueing” – asking your child to “look at the picture and the first letter of the word, and guess the word” or “skip the word and come back to it if you’re not sure.” These strategies rely on guessing. None of these strategies teach your child to sound out each sound in a word to decode the entire word. This is a problem, because decoding is what good readers do. 

It’s not your job as a parent to teach your child to read. Many schools, unfortunately, don’t have up-to-date training for teachers in literacy, and many teachers don’t know about the importance of phonics instruction. If your child isn’t getting what they need in school, it’s time to hire an outside professional to give your child all of the literacy skills they need. 

If you’re not ready to hire someone just yet, I recommend getting your child decodable books instead of leveled books for at-home use. Decodable books allow your child to pronounce all of the words and the letters make predictable sounds. So they can actually read, decode, and pronounce the sounds of each word in the book.

Even if your school is sending home leveled books, and telling you “your child is on a level A (or B, or G, or K, or M),” consider getting decodable books to use at home instead. 

Decodable books on their own won’t teach your child to read, but at least they’ll experience some success with words they can actually pronounce. It’s a great first step! 


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