Typical Classroom Reading Books for Young Children: Problem and Solution
Typical early reading books for grades K-2, known as “leveled readers”, do not offer the kind of practice with critical phonics skills that many children need. This is particularly true for those in the bottom third of their class. When students first learn about specific letter sounds or word patterns (e.g. the Silent E Pattern–as in made), they should have multiple opportunities to read words and sentences that contain them. Regular targeted practice enables children to consistently recognize specific kinds of words and become successful in decoding them (“sounding them out”). When adequate practice is not provided, far too many students fail to master or apply these essential reading skills in an effective way. This prevents children from utilizing highly efficient ways of learning new words. The lack of adequate instruction and practice in phonemic awareness and phonics is a major explanation for why lower performing students resort to excessive and inaccurate guessing when encountering new words (Kilpatrick, 2016). Left unchecked, this leads to low literacy levels that are all too common today (Kilpatrick, 2016).
In addition to having an exceptionally minimal focus on phonics, typical classroom reading books often present too many challenges at once for lower performing students —setting them up for frustration and failure. Without proper intervention, their progression becomes halted, or it takes an exceptionally long time for this population to progress from one level to the next. That is why I have always provided struggling students with significant phonics training in my career, along with a mix of phonetic and leveled reading texts. The phonetic/decodable texts allow me to offer adequate practice in reading many of the specific kinds of words that children encounter in other texts. This increases word proficiency as well as confidence, and it enables students to handle the new challenges they encounter in leveled readers. To be clear, I’m not advocating a “phonics only” approach. Leveled texts offer more authentic reading challenges and exciting, motivating content. Phonics/Decodable readers, along with proper pre-instruction, provide many children the opportunity to become proficient enough to handle them.The key is to offer the two types of texts strategically, so that one compliments the other — decreasing difficulties and increasing overall success in reading.
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2016). Equipped for reading success. Syracuse, New York: Casey & Kirsch Publishers.