Reading Instruction Today: Matching Books and Readers

"When a child chooses a book, she or he takes responsibility for learning. Children usually select a book because they are interested in the topic. Therefore, whether the book reflects their reading ability may be secondary, since interest can motivate a child to read a book that may be difficult" (Booth quoted in Dzaldov 223).

"...there is a thin line between leveling books and leveling readers..." (Calkins 120).

"The 'just right' book provides the context for successful reading work and enables readers to strengthen their 'processing power'" (Fountas 1999, 3).

Accelerated Reader/AR
Lexile
Fountas and Pinnell
Fry Readability Graph
Five-Finger Method
Book Level Comparisons
Resources

 

Accelerated Reader/ AR

What it is: "Accelerated Reader is the daily progress monitoring assessment technology designed to help you motivate and monitor student reading practice" (Using). AR "collects information on student reading practice through short, computer-based quizzes that assess reading comprehension." Students earn points for each AR book read (Paul 6).
History: Accelerated Reader was introduced in 1986 by Renaissance Learning, a Wisconsin Rapids, WI company founded by Judi and Terry Paul. It is used in over half of the schools in the U.S. (Paul 6).
How book level is determined: AR utilizes the ATOS Readability Formula for Books. This formula measures "text difficulty in the context of book reading." In addition to measuring the difficulty of both words and sentence structure, the ATOS formula adjusts for the length of the book as well as those with extremely long or short sentence lengths. The measure also takes into consideration the actual reading of 950,000 books by more than 30,000 students (Paul 67).
How children are assessed: Recent reading scores or the use of Renaissance Learning's STAR Reading, a computerized reading test, are recommended by the vendor. The next step is to compute the students zone of proximal development (ZPD) which is the "range of books that will challenge a student without causing frustration or loss of motivation" (Matching 7).
Pluses:

Focuses on independent reading and emphasizes "quality, quantity, and challenge" (Paul 8). The system can be motivating to many students. Students have some degree of choice within a set of materials (Johnson). Interest level rating addresses content.

Cautions:

While testing comprehension, AR quizzes to not test inferential or critical thinking. Students are limited to those books which are available in their schools (Johnson). There has been little independent research that indicates the quizzes and prizes included in the AR system actually lead to more successful readers (Krashen).

Sources:

Johnson, Tammy. "Accelerated Reader." Florida Center for Reading Research (2006). 1 Feb. 2007 <http://www.fcrr.org/FCRRReports/PDF/Accelerated_Reader.pdf>

Krashen, Stephen. "Accelerated Reader: Evidence Still Lacking." Knowledge Quest 33 (2002), 48-49.

"Matching Students to Books: How to Use Readability Formulas and Continuous Monitoring to Ensure Reading Success." Renaissance Learning (2006). 1 Feb. 2007 <http://research.renlearn.com/research/pdfs/62.pdf>

Paul, Terrance D. "Guided Independent Reading." Renaissance Learning (2003). 3 Feb. 2007 <www.renlearn.com/GIR2008.pdf>

Renaissance Learning. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://renlearn.com>

"Using Readability Levels to Guide Students to Books." Renaissance Learning. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://www.renlearn.com/ar/overview/ReadabilityBrochure.pdf>

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Lexile

What it is: "...a scientific approach for reading measurement that matches readers to text" (Lexile).
History: Twelve years of research went into the Lexile System by MetaMetrics, Inc., a North Carolina based company founded in 1984 by A. Jackson Stenner and Malbret Smith (Reid).
How book level is determined: The book level is a result of the examination of word frequency (as appearing in the Lexile Analyzer Tool) and sentence length (Lennon).
How children are assessed: The Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) can be used to determine a child's lexile (Lennon). In addition, lexiles correlate to many standardized tests and Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement in among Lexile's publishing partners (Reid).
Pluses: According the the company's web site, lexile is the "most widely adopted reading measure." The program is unique in that it applies a Rasch Model that measures both the book and the reader on the same scale (Lexile). When the book and the reader match, 75% comprehension should be obtained (Lennon).
Cautions: Founder A. Jackson Stenner acknowledges that content, quality or developmental suitablity are not considered in the measure (Reid).
Sources:

Lennon, Colleen and Hal Burdick. "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success." Lexile Framework for Reading (2004). 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.lexile.com>

The Lexile Framework for Reading: Matching Readers to Text. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://lexile.com>

Reid, Calvin. "Lexile: Will All Books Need This Reading Level Rating?" Publisher's Weekly 245 (1998), 240-1.

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Fountas and Pinnell

What it is: Guided Reading is a "teaching approach designed to help individual strudents learn how to process a variety of increasingly challenging texts with understanding and fluency." It is one part of a literacy program that also includes an emphasis on independent reading and literature study (Fountas 2001, 191, 193).
History: Guided Reading is the result of collaboration between Irene C. Fountas, a professor in the School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and Gay Su Pinnell, a professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH (Fountas 1999, cover).
How book level is determined: In addition to text difficulty, a number of different factors are taken into account when leveling a book: book and print features, vocabulary, sentence complexity, content, text structure, language and literary features, and themes and ideas (Fountas 2001, 225-228).
How children are assessed: Children are assessed using benchmark books. When these books are read at 90% accuracy that indicates the correct level of book for the child (Fountas 1999, 27).
Pluses: Allows for differentation in the classroom as small groups read appropriate texts. The small groups are dynamic as students reading abilities grow (Fountas 2001, 216). The combination of both the book level and the grade-level designations give teachers a sound basis for selecting books (Fountas 2001, 228-229). System acknowledges a "learning zone" identifying what the student can do independently in addition to what the learner can do with support (Fountas 2001, 191-192).
Cautions: All books at a particular level may not meet all of the descriptors for that level (Burns). While a significant number of books are leveled and available in Fountas and Pinnell sourcebooks or at www.fountasandpinnell.com, it may not cover all of the books owned by a school and leveling the books is a time intensive endeavor.
Sources:

Burns, Bonnie. "I Don't Have to Count Syllables on My Fingers Anymore: Easier Ways to Find Readability and Level Books." Illinois Reading Council Journal 34 (2006), 34-39.

Fountas, Irene C. and Gay Su Pinnell. Matching Books to Readers: Using Leveled Books in Guided Reading, K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman. 1999.

Fountas, Irene C. and Gay Su Pinnell. Guiding Readers and Writers: Grades 3-6. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman. 2001.

 

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Fry Readability Graph

What it is: Fry's readability graph provides an "estimate of the level of education needed to read the text with ease" (Fry).
History: This measure was developed by Edward B. Fry, Professor Emeritas of Education at Rutgers University. He was the director of the Rutgers University Reading Center and originally published his graphs in Elementary Reading Instruction, published by McGraw-Hill in 1977 (Schrock).
How book level is determined: Select three 100 word passages at random from the text, ideally these pages should be from the beginning, middle and end of the book. Plot the average number of syllables and the average number of sentences per 100 words to determine the grade level of the material on the graph (Schrock).
How children are assessed: Children are not assessed
Pluses: This method is easy to use and quickly gives an estimate of the reading level of the text.
Cautions: The Fry measure does not indicate anything about the book in terms of content, complexity, quality, vocabulary or design (Fry). Selection of 100 word blocks of text may not be representative of whole book.
Sources:

Shrock, Kathy. "Fry's Readability Graph." Discovery Schools. 3 Feb 2007 <http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide/fry/fry.html>

"The Fry Readablity Graph." Ontario Literacy Coalition. 3 Feb 2007 <http://www.on.literacy.ca/pubs/clear/19.htm>

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Five-Finger Method

What it is: The five-finger method is a quick and easy guide for students to self-determine the readablity of a book. It is frequently employed in elementary schools.
How book level is determined: Students select a page from the middle of the book. As they read the sample page, they open a finger from their fist for each word they stumble over. If they miss 3 - 5 words on the page, they should consider selecting another book (Five).
How children are assessed: Children are not assessed.
Pluses: Portable. Children readily remember the method.
Cautions: This method doesn't indicate anything about the content of the book. If the reading is done silently or privately, the student may still select the book even if it is too difficult.
Sources:

"The Five Finger 'Tips' of Choosing a Book to Read," Hartley Media Center,Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln, Nebraska. 3 Feb 2007 <http://sites.lps.org/mediahar/stories/storyReader$15>

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Book Level Comparisons

Book/Author
Lexile AR/ATOS Fountas & Pinnell Fry
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel/ Burton

820

Grade: 4th-5th

 

ATOS: 4.4

Interest : Lower Grade

Grade: 4.5-6th

 Level: L **

Grade: 3rd

Years: 12

Grade: 7th

The Chocolate War/ Cormier

820

Grade: 4th-5th

ATOS: 5.4

Interest : Upper Grade

Grade: 5.5-10th

 Level: Z **

Grade: 7th-8th

Years: 9

Grade: 4th

While My Pretty One Sleeps/ M. H. Clark

820

Grade: 4th-5th

ATOS: 5.7

Interest : Upper Grade

Grade: 6th-12th

 Not rated ***

Years: 11

Grade: 6th

The Mouse and the Motorcycle/ Cleary

860

Grade: 5th-6th

ATOS: 5.1

Interest : Middle Grade

Grade: 5th-7.5

Level: O *

Grade: 3rd-4th

Years: 10

Grade: 5th

Salem's Lot/ S. King

860

Grade: 5th-6th

ATOS: 5.4

Interest : Upper Grade

Grade: 5.5-10th

Not rated ***

Years: 9

Grade: 4th

Sources: Lexile and AR/ATOS from Follett's Titlewave (www.titlewave.com) accessed 3 Feb. 2007.

Fountas and Pinnell: * was included in the Fountas & Pinnell database, ** was leveled manually by Buffy Stauffer, Reading Specialist, Central Elementary School, Lake Bluff, IL, *** are regarded as adult books and would not be leveled.

Fry Readability Scale computations from texts.

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Resources

Burns, Bonnie. "I Don't Have to Count Syllables on My Fingers Anymore: Easier Ways to Find Readability and Level Books." Illinois Reading Council Journal 34 (2006), 34-39. Burns details a number of readability scales not covered by my overview and includes online resources for determining levels.

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. "Teaching Readers Within a Leveled Classroom Library." The Art of Teaching Reading. New York: Longman, 2001. 119-135. This chapter discusses the prudent use of leveled books in the elementary classroom with a view towards reaping the advantages and avoiding the pitfalls of leveling.

Dzaldov, Brenda Stein and Shelley Peterson. "Book Leveling and Readers." The Reading Teacher 59 (2005): 222-229. This study questions whether the excessive emphasis on leveling of books leads to negligence with regards to other factors that influence the text-reader match.

Fountas, Irene C. and Gay Su Pinnell. Matching Books to Readers: Using Leveled Books in Guided Reading, K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999. and Fountas, Irene C. and Gay Su Pinnell. Guiding Readers and Writers: Grades 3-6. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman. 2001. Both Fountas and Pinnell books detail the Guided Reading Program as it applies to those grades. Included are listings of book levels.

Fry, Edward. "Reading Versus Leveling." The Reading Teacher 56 (2002), 286-291. Fry discusses the important distinctions between "readability" and "leveling."

Groce, Robin D. and Eric C. Groce. "Deconstructing the Accelerated Reader Program." Reading Horizons 46 (205), 17-30. This paper examines four categories of the Accelerated Reader Program: assessment, aesthetics and text interaction, motivation and book selection.

"The Five Finger 'Tips' of Choosing a Book to Read," Hartley Media Center,Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln, Nebraska. 3 Feb 2007 <http://sites.lps.org/mediahar/stories/storyReader$15> This model shows how the five-finger method is used.

Krashen, Stephen. "Accelerated Reader: Evidence Still Lacking." Knowledge Quest 33 (2002), 48-49. This article highlights the lack of support for the use of AR in increasing literacy development.

Lennon, Colleen and Hal Burdick. "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success." Lexile Framework for Reading (2004). 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.lexile.com> This white paper from the Lexile Framework for Reading website details the lexile program and documents its effectiveness.

The Lexile Framework for Reading: Matching Readers to Text. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://lexile.com> Corporate website for the lexile method.

"Matching Students to Books: How to Use Readability Formulas and Continuous Monitoring to Ensure Reading Success." Renaissance Learning (2006). 1 Feb. 2007 <http://research.renlearn.com/research/pdfs/62.pdf> This report from the Renaissance Learning website details the AR program and its supporting research.

Melton, Cindy M., et al. "A Study of the Effects of the Accelerated Reader Program on Fifth Grade Students' Reading Achievement Growth." Reading Improvement 41 (2004), 18-23. Comparison of reading achievement of two groups of fifth grade students; one using AR and one not.

Mercurio, Mia Lynn. "In Their Own Words: A Study of Suburban Middle School Students Using a Self-Selection Reading Program." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 49 (2005), 130-141. Study of 108 students in a diverse seventh grade population focusing on the effectiveness of choice in developing reading interest and ability.

Pappas, Marjorie. "School Libraries Organized by AR or Lexile Scores?" Knowledge Quest 33 (2004): 69-70. Discussion of a trend to organize school libraries by AR or lexile levels.

Paul, Terrance D. "Guided Independent Reading." Renaissance Learning (2003). 3 Feb. 2007 <www.renlearn.com/GIR2008.pdf> This examination of the Accelerated Reading Program by its founder focuses on its supporting research.

Pavonetti, Linda M., Kathryn M. Brimmer and James F. Cipielewski. "Accelerated Reader: What Are the Lasting Effects on the Reading Habits of Middle School Students Exposed to Accelerated Reader in Elementary Grades?" Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 46 (2003), 300-311. Middle school students who used Accelerated Reader in elementary school were surveyed regarding their reading habits several years after their AR experience.

Reid, Calvin. "Lexile: Will All Books Need This Reading Level Rating?" Publisher's Weekly 245 (1998), 240-1. Discussion of the applicability of lexile levels.

Renaissance Learning. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://renlearn.com> Corporate website for Accelerated Reading Program.

Shrock, Kathy. "Fry's Readability Graph." Discovery Schools. 3 Feb 2007 <http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide/fry/fry.html> Introduction to the use of Fry's Readability Graph.

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Webpage created by Linda Diekman for LIS 590LRL, last updated 2/4/07