Why Should Kids Read Grade Level Books?

Many parents and teachers think that lower-level books are better for kids to read. This is a misconception that newer reading programs are trying to address. In recent years, new reading programs have opted to increase the amount of reading kids do during the school day. 

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Reading grade level books is an important component of reading development. The most recent Nation’s Report card (NAEP) shows that a large percentage of kids are struggling to reach their grade level reading levels. As a result, researchers are encouraging schools to use reading curriculums that increase reading exposure for kids.

Over the last years, school districts are referring to the Open Up Resources organization to choose reading curricula for schools. Open Up Resources is a non-profit organization that focuses on increasing equity in education by making excellent, top-rated K-12 curricula freely available to districts. They review and recommend curricula authored by experts, designed for diverse classrooms, supported by professional learning, refined by teachers, and available to teachers in digital and print.  

Open Up Resources reviews curricula for grade levels from kindergarten to high school. Their website contains English language arts curricula and mathematics curricula for middle and high school. Their website is a one-stop shop for curricula and professional learning vetted by experts and researchers.

Changes in reading instruction

Researchers Tim Shanahan has a dedicated presentation titled Teaching Struggling Readers with Grade Level Text that I highly recommend for teachers and parents to watch. The presentation presents how kids benefit from learning to read using grade level text and how teachers can use grade level text to teach reading.

What is clear from this presentation and many other researchers is that learning to read is a challenging task. To learn to read, a student must master foundational skills before they can comprehend grade-level text. When a child comprehends text, they can make sense of ideas expressed in text.

“Reading is the ability to make sense of ideas expressed in text- the ability to negotiate the linguistic and conceptual barriers or affordances of a text.”

Timothy Shanahan

Misconceptions

Timothy Shanahan has done extensive classroom observations throughout the United States as a reading expert. His observations have found four distinctive misconceptions he often sees in classroom observations. These misconceptions are patterns that I often hear from educators about learning to read.

To teach kids reading, teachers mistakenly:

  1. Move students to easier text
  2. Read aloud text to students 
  3. Tell students what texts say 
  4. Ignore the problem 

All four misconceptions are examples of way some educators negatively influence reading development in the classroom. Each misconception lowers learning expectations for students. As a result, student reading ability slows down and in some cases reading development is capped. The above four misconceptions can be detrimental to reading development. When we choose not to teach students using text at their respective grade levels, we deny students the opportunity to thrive.  This holds kids back in reading development and contribute to learning gap.  

Using Lexile Levels

Lexile levels can help ensure that we expose kids to grade-level text. A Lexile level is a score that provides educators a way to interpret reading level. Lexiles are one way to predict how hard a text might be. To predict text difficulty, developers determine how complicated a text’s vocabulary and sentence complexity are.

The chart below shows the equivalent Lexile levels to grade level. For instance, you’ll see that a book with a Lexile level of 640L to 850L is considered at the 4th to 5th-grade level. According to the below Lexile level chart, a typical 4th and 5th grader can read that book with about 75-89% comprehension. 

This is when the importance of teaching and exposing kids to grade-level text comes into play. The chart below also shows the text-level difficulty the Common Core Standards recommended. In the example above, 4 and 5th-grade kids should be taught using 740 to 1010 Lexile level. In other words, researchers recommend teaching kids to read books that go up to CCSS bands.  

GradeLexile BandsCommon Core Standards Bands
K-1N/AN/A
2-3450L – 730L420L – 820L
4-5640L – 850L740L – 1010L
6-8860L – 1010L925L – 1185L
9-10960L – 1120L1050L – 1335L
11-121070L – 1220L1185L-1385L
lexile.com & commoncore.org

Exposure to grade-level text

Effective reading instruction must incorporate scaffolding of reading and content learning to support grade-level text access. Scaffolding is a “special kind of help” given to kids during specific instruction (gibbons, 2015). Scaffolding is an instructional strategy that teachers can offer during math, science, social studies, or reading instruction.

During reading, instruction scaffolds provide temporary language support to support grade-level text. Some examples of scaffolds to use are pre-teaching vocabulary, direct teaching of reading skills such as making connections, and teaching syntax. There are many other ways to scaffold reading instruction, however, this post only shares some examples. 

There are several reasons why kids should read grade level books:

  1. Helps with Language Development: Reading grade level books helps kids improve their vocabulary, grammar, and language skills. It exposes them to new words and phrases that they may not have encountered otherwise, which can help them in their everyday speech and writing.
  2. Builds Comprehension Skills: Reading grade level books requires kids to focus and comprehend what they are reading. This can help improve their reading comprehension skills, which are important for academic success.
  3. Develops Critical Thinking: When kids read grade level books, they are required to think critically about what they are reading. This helps them develop their analytical and problem-solving skills, which are important for success in school and in life.
  4. Increases Empathy: Reading books at their grade level can help kids relate to characters and situations in the books. This can help increase their empathy and understanding of others.
  5. Prepares Them for Later Life: Reading grade level books prepares kids for reading and comprehending more complex texts later in life, such as academic texts and professional documents.

Ways to support reading

There are many ways that parents and teachers can help to support appropriate reading instruction. First, parents can support this by exposing kids to grade-level text at home. Using Lexile levels is one way parents can compare their child’s reading level when selecting books for their kids. 

  1. Provide an Enriched Reading Environment: Children should have access to a wide range of books, magazines, and other reading materials at their reading level. Parents and teachers should also provide a comfortable and quiet space for reading.
  2. Establish Reading Routines: Setting aside regular reading time helps students establish good reading habits. Parents and teachers can encourage sustained reading by providing books that match or exceed their reading level and interests.
  3. Set Goals: Setting realistic reading goals help keep students motivated. Teachers can help set goals for the classroom, and parents can set individual reading goals for their children to accomplish at home.
  4. Monitor Progress: Teachers and parents must monitor their children’s reading progress. In the classroom, teachers can use resources like running records to track reading progress, and parents can use reading logs to track their children’s reading progress.
  5. Encourage Reading Aloud: Encouraging reading aloud helps students with their fluency and comprehension. Teachers can provide students with opportunities for reading aloud, and parents can encourage reading aloud during family reading time.
  6. Celebrate Success: Celebrate small successes and big milestones to keep students motivated. Teachers can celebrate by providing positive feedback, and parents can reward their children with small treats or praise for their progress.
  7. Provide Additional Support: Students that struggle with reading may need additional support. Teachers can provide support through small group instruction or tutoring. Parents can also seek support from the school or after-school reading programs.

Conclusion

Teachers can also help by ensuring that kids are not placed in lower reading groups during core English language arts instruction. We must learn to scaffold by taking intentional steps that give access to challenging texts. Such access can only come with explicit instruction that can only happen in a structured classroom.  

The use of grade level texts/books is an important component of reading development. The exposure to grade level books empowers kids to become fluent readers. It also encourages kids to improve their reading and to love to read.

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2 thoughts on “Why Should Kids Read Grade Level Books?”

  1. Hello, Ms. Solano,
    Would you recommend reading material on the topic of scaffolding for students who are in middle school, but reading lexile is 550L to 700L?
    Thank you,
    Nina Cuetlach

    1. Hello! Exposure to grade-level text is essential for reading development. This is because the more kids read the more comfortable they get reading their grade-level text. There are exemptions for example if the student has a reading disability then reading can be scaffolded for these kids.

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