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Hot List 3: Criteria for Leveling Beginning Reading Textbooks

Compiled by Shailaja Menon and Leigh Ann Martin

Released August 10, 1998

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Gunning, T. G. (1998). Best Books for Beginning Readers. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

This book provides a compilation of more than 1,000 high-quality children's books from the emergent, to the Grade-2 reading levels. Apart from being a valuable source for identifying high-quality literature, this book also provides objective and subjective criteria for leveling books. The levels described are: picture level; caption/frame level; easy sight-word level; beginning reading A, B, C, and D; and Grade 2 level. The books are leveled according to objective and subjective criteria. Objective criteria include estimation of total text, sentence length and high frequency words in the text. Subjective criteria include estimating interest level, contextual support, and the like.

Chall, J. S., Bissex, G. L., Conrad, S. S., and Harris-Sharples (1996). Qualitative assessment of text difficulty: A practical guide for teachers and writers. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

This manual is teacher-oriented, and tries to provide qualitative rubrics for leveling different types of texts across difficulty levels (not restricted to beginning reading levels). The authors assume that there is an interaction between the reader and the text, and consequently their criteria or benchmarks used for evaluating literature and popular fiction include estimating reader characteristics, such as vocabulary required to read a book, familiarity with sentence structures, life experiences, cultural and literary knowledge, and skill in literary analysis (p. 51-52). Examples of graded passages from popular fiction and literature are provided (p. 20-28).

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

The purpose of this book is to introduce classroom teachers to guided reading. Since a principle of guided reading is that children should read texts that are mostly at their current reading level, teachers need to provide texts appropriate to individual children's reading levels. This book includes several chapters describing how books should be leveled, starting with kindergarten up through third grade. Criteria used for grading are interest, illustrations, length, format, breadth, depth, genre, and multicultural representation. An index provides a grading of many popular books from a variety of publishers.

Peterson, B. (1991). Selecting books for beginning readers. In D. E. DeFord, C. A. Lyons, & G. S. Pinnell, (eds.) Bridges to literacy: Learning from Reading Recovery. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

This chapter describes the 20 different reading levels used to level Reading Recovery books. The levels progress from simple predictable texts to texts appropriate for the end of first grade. Although no specific criteria are specified for assigning books to each level, the author mentions several factors that are taken into consideration such as reader's background experience, picture text match, language patterning and vocabulary, and story structure. A bibliography of books at each level is included.

Hiebert, Elfrieda H. (1997). Selecting texts for beginning reading instruction, In T. E. Raphael & K. H. Au (Eds.), Literature-based instruction: present issues, future directions (pp. 195–218). Newton, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

This article provides a research-based framework for text selection based on a model of beginning reading processes. While it does not attempt to provide formulas for evaluating text difficulty, it does elaborate on features at both the text as well as the word level that feed into determining its readability. Features at the text level include the total amount of text, its predictability, familiarity of concepts, and word density (the ratio of distinct words to total words). Characteristics at the word level include decodability of individual words, high frequency words, and the repetition of word patterns, or rimes, in the text. [Available at the CIERA Web site: Hiebert (1997)]

Martin, L. A., Menon, S. & Hiebert, H. (AERA conference presentation proposal, 1998).

Following up on some of Hiebert's ideas (described above), this paper describes the analysis of three popular first-grade basal reading series. The analysis is not aimed so much at grading or leveling these texts, as to identifying key features of text accessibility for this age-group, and describing the basal series in terms of these. In the paper that will accompany the presentation, the authors will describe each of these series in terms of crucial text accessibility features across five time points in the academic year.

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