Above and Below Reading Level
The current trend is to restrict reading to the student’s reading level, which is determined by testing the child. A child who reads at the fourth-grade level is allowed to read books only at that level. The level of a book is determined by mechanical formulae based on factors, such as average sentence length, and whether frequently used words appear in the text.
We don’t think this is necessary. There is a much easier way for readers to select texts: Are they comprehensible and interesting? It doesn’t take long for a reader to determine this. All it takes is sampling a little of the text (reading it).
If a child needs help, we feel that teachers and librarians, people who know the children and know children’s literature, are much better at providing it than a reading test and a reading formula. Restricting the range of reading, in fact, could be harmful. While children may select easy books for free reading, they often select books that are above their “official” level.
Also, reading easy books is not a waste of time. It may be that the lighter reading we are denying readers contains text that could be meaningful and important to the reader. Kathleen Sespaukas has pointed out to us that easy books may contain sections well above their indicated level, that is, a book considered to be at the fourth-grade level may contain quite a bit of material at the fifth- and sixth-grade level. Reading level is an average and this average does not apply to every sentence. In addition, easy reading may help readers get started in an unfamiliar topic or genre. Betty Carter points out that librarians frequently suggest that adults read books written for younger readers when dealing with unfamiliar material. This reading builds background knowledge that makes subsequent reading more comprehensible.
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