Helping your child learn how to read is not easy. It becomes even more challenging since schools often use leveling systems unfamiliar to most parents. One of the most popular leveling systems in use today is the Guided Reading Levels (GRL). This system was developed by two renowned teaching specialists, Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas, in the late 1990s and has been found in classrooms around the world ever since. Guided reading is also referred to as Fountas and Pinnell Levels after its founders.
How Does Guided Reading Work?
Guided reading is used in the classroom for small-group instruction. When your child enters a new grade, he or she is assessed and assigned a guided reading level based on word knowledge, comprehension, and fluency. The levels range alphabetically from A to Z, with level A representing the lowest level and level Z the highest. This allows the teacher to work closely with each student to help them become better readers by introducing increasingly challenging books while meeting the varying instructional needs of each child in the room.
Books are assigned guided reading levels based on several general expectations and capabilities of a reader. As the levels progress, the books become more difficult. Each level is based on the increasing complexity of ten benchmark common book characteristics that readers encounter at all stages of the reading process, from when your child picks up his or her first book to the time when he or she becomes a fluent reader. These guided reading categories are:
Genre: The type of book (here's your guide to children's book genres)
Text Structure: How the book is organized and presented
Content: The subject matter of a book
Themes and Ideas: The big ideas that are communicated by the author
Language and Literary Features: The types of writing techniques employed by the writer
Sentence Complexity: How challenging the syntax in each sentence is
Vocabulary: The frequency of new words introduced in the book
Words: The ease at which the words in the book can be figured out or decoded by a reader
Illustrations: The correlation and consistency of images and pictures in the books to the words printed on the page
Book and Print Features: The physical aspects of the printed word on the page
What Are the Benefits of Guided Reading?
In the classroom, the teacher meets with small groups of students to work at their specific guided reading level or on a reading skill the group needs assistance with to grow as readers. This allows the teacher to tailor instruction to fit the needs of your child. Students will leave each guided reading session with a specific strategy to try in their own independent reading. This sequential and specific support helps your child on their reading journey.
As an educator, I prefer guided reading because it allows the teacher to focus on your child's individual needs and provides an opportunity for your child to feel successful with a "just-right" piece of text. The Guided Reading Levels system is commonly used throughout many districts, so many families and educators are familiar with it. It is usually easier to find leveled books by GRL versus another leveling system, and as an educator myself, that makes it my preferred means of leveling.
How Can I Find Books at My Child’s Guided Reading Level?
Many teachers label some of the books in their library with its alphabetic level, so it is easy for a child to go to a bookshelf in school and grab a book at his or her appropriate level. Students practice independently in books that are one level lower than their Guided Reading Level.
There are many characteristics and benchmarks used to calculate what level a book is, and books should only be leveled by trained levelers. You may choose to have some leveled books in your child’s book collection so that he or she can practice reading with fluency at home (you can find a number of guided reading packs at The Scholastic Store, including this guided reading pack that develops kindergarten reading skills).
To determine if a book is the right level for your child when a guided reading level isn't present, use the five finger rule for reading. Ask your child to read a page from a book and raise a finger for every word they don't know or can't pronounce. If they have no fingers or just one finger raised by the end of the page, the book is too easy. If they have four or five fingers raised, it's too difficult for them to read alone. The sweet spot is two to three fingers — which shows the level is just right. It's also a good idea to ask them about what they just read, to guage their reading comprehension.
Find a variety of guided reading products for your child's level below! For more tips on finding books at the right level for your child, visit our guide on reading levels for kids.