Thinking critically about text complexity when selecting leveled books for Guided Reading...

There’s no way around it—when selecting leveled books for Guided Reading instruction, sooner or later you’re going to have to consider levels.

What Are Guided Reading Levels?

Leveled books aren't a new concept. Grade level, Lexile level, DRA level, Fountas and Pinnell level — all of these “readabilities” exist to support teachers as they scaffold students as they read increasingly complex texts. For some teachers, leveled books can create a false sense of security, as if the top of the scale is equivalent to a high-stakes test. For others, it leads to distrust in their own judgment about what books to use with their students. Understanding how leveled texts are created can help teachers use leveled books more securely and authentically during guided reading instruction.

How To Determine the Reading Level of a Guided Reading Book

The books used as “leveled texts” in Guided Reading are written within a set of criteria. The criteria may be mainly quantitative or mainly qualitative in nature. Quantitative measurements use different mathematical algorithms to determine a level of text complexity. They look at a passage or passages of a certain length, counting factors such as the number of sentences in each passage, the number of words in each of those sentences, and the number of syllables in the words in those sentences. A quantitative level can be adjusted when these factors are controlled. Collections of leveled texts that use trade literature (books originally written for aesthetic reasons) may use quantitative measures to place books at a particular level.

Qualitative measures look at qualities of a text such as content, ideas, genre, vocabulary, sentence structures, placement of print on the page, and illustration support to determine the “level” of the text. Leveled texts using qualitative measurements are written with ideas that appeal to a particular age group and language that is accessible to these readers. Engaging stories and fascinating content are crucial so that kids want to read the books. However, these texts must also balance the supportive and challenging elements based on the reading behaviors to be developed. Details matter, even down to how print is placed on the pages and the color of the background and fonts.

For example, when a text offers challenging vocabulary or unknown concepts, the text may also include illustrations, photographs, or even a glossary, to support the learner to make meaning. Rather than choose a different word, quality leveled texts use the wonderful words kids enjoy learning —they just support kids to make meaning of that word in multiple ways! Good leveled texts are crafted in these exacting ways to offer some challenge to a reader so they continue to extend their reading abilities yet offer supports that allow students to build on their strengths.

Knowing the criteria for how leveled books for Guided Reading are created can support teachers in making the best teaching decisions possible as they match books to their readers.

Leveled books for Guided Reading deserve a closer look into how the creation of the book and its purpose impacts the complexity of the text.