I put this photo here because Marilyn is often dismissed as being a dumb dizzy blonde. Which make me think I should tell a blonde joke, except that being able to read Ulysses is not a joke. Clearly, Marilyn read like an adult. Better than many adults.
Last week my good friend Susan the Book Chook, an ex kindergarten teacher and passionate advocate for children's literacy wrote a post on her blog about whether we should be encouraging reluctant readers to read books at their grade level or whether it is okay for them to read easier books provided they're enjoying the experience. Pop over and have a read. Go on - I'll be here when you finish...
Clearly Susan and her many erudite colleague commenters feel that it is more important that a reluctant reader enjoy reading easy books than it is to have her reading books at her 'appropriate' grade level. I agree with her. To me the battle we have is not to teach our children the mechanics of reading but rather to give to our children the love of reading that will follow them throughout their school years and into adulthood and beyond. It is so exciting when a child catches the 'reading bug'. To prevent a reluctant reader from reading the books that she enjoys would be lunacy...in my humble opinion.
That's all very well, as far as it goes. But is it okay for children to continue to read below their grade level? The Book Chook points out that as adults we often do. We're reading Alice in Wonderland at the moment. Charlotte Sometimes, Swallows and Amazons and Mistress Masham's Repose as well. Now these are all fantastic books, and I am enjoying them very much, but they are Jemimah's reading level. They're not adult level books. Take a look at this list of classic books and total how many you've read in each of the three lists. How did you do? Have you, like me, read far more of the Children's and Young Teens' list than the Adult list? Does this matter?
To me it doesn't, but the reason it doesn't matter to me is that despite the fact that I often read and enjoy children's books, if I want to read an adult book I can. I can read anything I want to.
Clearly Marilyn could too, and that's what I want for my daughter.
Sadly there are children and adults who will always struggle to read for one reason or another. These people will never be able to read Ulysses. For most of them that won't matter a bit. Provided you can read the newspaper, use a bus schedule and understand health related information you'll get through life just fine. The concerning thing though, is that according to the 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, only 54% of Australians can. Does this matter?
To me it does. It matters a lot.
To me it means that we do need to encourage our children to reach their appropriate grade reading level because if they never reach that level they'll never reach adult literacy, and according to the ABS survey that translated into a median weekly income of $298 for people assessed at the lowest level compared to $890 a week for those with the highest level of prose literacy. Now I know that's mercenary, but I chose that indicator because it's measurable and it shows us one thing - being able to read well as an adult matters.
Back to reading grade levels. They're not arbitrary, they're not. Grade levels are there because they're an indicator of what an average child is able to read at a particular stage. If your child is not there yet it doesn't matter. What does matter, I believe, is aiming to get him as close to that level as you can.
How do you learn to read better? By reading more books. Remember the 95% rule? I spoke about it in a post recently and you can read about it in Ruth Beechick's A Home Start in Reading. The 95% rule that says that a child should be able to read 95% of the words on a page with ease for him to enjoy it. How do you discover this? By counting! Count 100 words. If there are more than five that the child doesn't know then the book is probably too difficult for independent reading. Works for adults too, by the way. Most of the books your child reads - say 80% - should be at this level - even if it is below his grade level. These are the books that he will enjoy reading, and that will build his confidence as well as his reading skills. We want our kids to learn to love reading and it is independent reading that will help them to do that.
To improve reading, though I also encourage Jemimah to read books on her instructional reading level - one where she'll miss say 5-8 words per hundred. These are the ones she reads aloud to me so that I can help her not to get too irritated when she encounters difficulties. Reviewing vocabulary helps with these books as does narration after each chapter. We read instructional books each day as part of school work.
I believe a child should never be made to read a book that is on his frustration level. If that is his grade level then he shouldn't be reading at that level...yet.
So that's my opinion. Does that mean I disagree with the Book Chook? Yes? No? Maybe? Do you disagree with me perhaps? Clearly many of the Chook's commenters would. Hopefully though, many of them would also agree with me, because I think we're on the same page. We all want our kids to enjoy reading - now and into the future. If the books they need to achieve this are below grade level well so be it. It's just that I want to encourage you to keep aiming for that level. Because eventually I want my child to be able to read Ulysses. I want her to read like a grown up. Just like Marilyn Monroe.
Which brings me back to that blonde joke:
Two gorgeous blondes were walking home form a party one night. One blonde turns to the other and says, "Which one's closer - London or the moon?" "Duh," says the other scathingly, "Duh. Can you see London from here?"Sorry.
To informally assess your child's reading level try this. I keep this in my Homeschooling Folder (which I'll share with you one day!) and test Jemimah once a blue moon just to ensure that things are on track.