The Confusion of Levels
I have moved from school to school, and tutored students attending different schools and one thing I am asked frequently is 'What level reader should my child be using?'
My answer is always the same 'That depends on the book publisher'.
There is no universal system for leveling books.
Each company, publisher, system has it's own system.
What is more important is: Where does the child fit on the Scope and Sequence of that book series?
Recently I did some research to compare different companies.
This chart shows where a book would fall in just the first few levels of some of the leading, leveled book systems.
Just this small snap shot, demonstrates the similarities and differences between the different systems.
Each system (or publisher) tends to differ in the depth of focus each level has.
For example, Jolly Phonics is a program which focuses largely on beginning phonics and does not progress into more advanced morphology (how words are built, including suffixes, past and present tense etc). While Oxford has greater range, but does not go in to as much detail as Jolly Phonics.
What to look for when choosing a level for your child
The one thing that all these systems have, is a structure which is built on a carefully constructed and researched scope and sequence.
Here is a quick break down of that term;
Scope refers to how far the system progresses. A narrow scope is a system that focuses only on basic phonic sounds. A wide scope progresses to advanced morphology such as 'tion' as a suffix.
Sequence refers to the order that skills are proceeded through. This is often where the most difference occurs. Though, it is widely agreed that the basic letter to sound correspondence comes first. The order of skills such as vowel teams (or digraphs, eg ou) and consonant digraphs (such as ck) can differ from school to school and even teacher to teacher.
Here is the first group of skills from the Bookbot Scope and sequence;
From this chart, you can determine that the books in this group will mainly use the listed sounds (or blends) in its text.
That is not to say other words will not make it into the book. This very limited vocabulary makes it tricky to create a story. So, words that do not fit into the above list will be highlighted as irregular words (meaning they are not included in the level).
To bring this explanation all together, the parent or educator looking to select a book for their child can view the scope and sequence (of a system or producer) to determine which skill they would like to focus on (usually one that is just above the child's current mastery). Once that is determined, the parent or educator can look in the list of books for that level (within the selected system) and choose an appropriate book.
Alternatively, the parent or educator can present a selection of books from within the level to the child for them to choose from according to their interest.
I hope this helps demystify the process of how phonics books are levelled and how to choose one.