On the Use of Leveled Text

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion going around reading circles about the use of leveled text. The argument centers on the question: “Should students read grade-level complex text, or should they read text at their instructional or independent levels?”

Dr. Timothy Shanahan strongly supports the use of complex text for the following reasons:

1.     Easier text is not more motivating.

2.     Not all texts need to be at an instructional level.

3.     Text level is not the only feature of the learning situation that can be varied.

4.     More challenging text will not disrupt kids’ development of decoding skills.

Personally, I find Shanahan’s reasoning for the reading of complex text convincing; however, I find the research that he has used to support his position compelling. You can read his blog (there are actually many that he has written on complex text) and decide for yourself, but be sure that you don’t skip the references Shanahan has listed that support his position and compare it to the research basis in articles you find in support of using leveled text.

But that’s not really what concerns me here.

What concerns me is that we are more interested in the debate about using leveled text than we are about teaching all students to read at grade level, thus eliminating the discussion altogether.

We have 40 years of research (and brain imaging studies) that identifies good reading instruction. In a her keynote address at the 2016 Literacy Symposium, Dr. Louisa Moats highlighted this “settled science” that is supported by an overwhelming amount of scientific research.  Science has identified how children learn to read, why some children have difficulty with reading, and how to prevent reading failure. Science has also identified reading programs that contradict the research, yet teachers continue to use these programs.

In a recent meta-analysis of the reading research, the National Reading Panel (2000) listed phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension as the critical areas for developing grade-level readers. You may wonder why research conducted in 2000 is considered recent. It is because the science is settled; we don’t need to continue to research what we know is true.

We have assessments that help us identify a potential reading difficulty even before the child begins reading. We have diagnostic assessments that guide the instruction that each child needs in order to become a grade-level reader. Teachers have access to a wealth of literacy resources.

So why are we still debating the appropriate use of leveled text?

Why aren’t we teaching children how to proficiently read grade-level text? 

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