At EVCS, your kids read every day. They read letters sent through the 1st Grade Post Office from friends. They read books in their classroom book clubs. They read articles to learn more about the world around them. They read their own writing to themselves and peers. They read funny stories with their Reading Buddies. They read complex math problems before solving them. And they read library books they’ve picked out themselves.
The way we teach reading at EVCS has many components. I want to highlight just one way we approach learning to read – with Just-Right Books.
Each child at EVCS is assessed multiple times each year and his/her reading level has been determined by the use of a Fountas & Pinnell Running Record. This assessment consists of your child reading a story fluently aloud to a teacher, retelling what they read, and answering comprehension questions about the text. Through this running record assessment a teacher can pinpoint the reading level your child is currently at. Levels range from A-Z, with A books being the easiest to decode and to understand (kindergarten) and Z books being more complex (7th grade). While there are benchmarks for each grade level, students move at their own pace, progressing through the alphabet as they master new reading skills and strategies. Below are the goals for each grade level, but at EVCS we know that every child is different and is growing as a reader.
There are many reasons why it is important for children to read at their Just Right reading level. Each level has its own set of skills that must be learned and practiced by reading at that level. While it often appears that children can read at higher levels, your child may simply be decoding those higher level books fluently and accurately. The comprehension skills and strategies specific to that reading level may not have been mastered yet. Reading the words on the page is only part of truly reading – understanding must also occur.
The level of a book is determined not just by the sophistication of the vocabulary or sentence structure but also by the complexity of the characters and subject matter. For example, when your child begins first grade, he/she is expected to be reading books at Level E. These books not only have fewer words per page and easier vocabulary than books read later, but they also have more simplistic characters. A character in a level E book will have only superficial characteristics and no inner struggles. The problem in the story is almost always external to the characters. A popular second grade series, the Henry and Mudge books, are Level J. They feature characters with small inner struggles (such as sadness about the rain) but they don’t change much as developed characters. Henry may not be sad at the end of the book, but he’s still the same boy – the sun is simply shining. Compare this to a Judy Moody book in third grade (Level M), where the characters have many inner struggles, make many motivated choices, and have changing character traits throughout the text. Judy learns a lesson, changes her attitude toward something, and reacts emotionally to people’s words, not just their actions.
At EVCS we ask that students read books at their Just Right level 80% of the time. Everyone enjoys reading books that are easier sometimes – just look at the popularity of “summer beach books” with adults! – but most reading at school should be Just Right. This includes both reading workshop in the classroom and reading for homework. If you want to check the level of a book – or find books on your child’s level – the Scholastic Book Wizard is a good place to start. (The level is listed as the “Guided Reading” level, but it also tells what grades the book might appeal to the most.) We want children to love reading and enjoy their books, but we also must continue to push them to their appropriate level to grow as readers and thinkers. There are many times built into our week in school when students do not have to read a Just Right book – quiet time, reading buddies, and choice time all allow students time to enjoy books, regardless of their level.
Of course, reading to enjoy great, high quality books is incredibly important too! I strongly encourage your family to find time to read together as often as possible. A nightly routine of a chapter before bed as a family not only creates lasting memories for you and your child, but it increases their language skills, boosts their reading comprehension levels, and fosters a lifelong love of reading. Regardless of your child’s age, reading a book together that is a higher level than your child’s Just Right level is a wonderful way to help your child be more successful in school and in life. To learn new vocabulary and to understand more complex characters, they have to experience them as well. Like I said, Just Right books is simply one piece of how we teach reading. Book clubs, guided reading, read-alouds, partner reading, reading buddies, phonics instruction … our teachers approach learning to read from many directions, all with the goal of creating strong and engaged readers.
Your kids are reading here at school every day and I hope they’re doing so at home, on the train, or in the park too. If you need to know your child’s reading level or want suggestions on books to have your child read to you or for you to read with your child, reach out to your classroom teacher(s) or your local Public Library.
All the best,