Appropriate reading levels
The other day my friend Ashok Banker shared an interesting comic strip in which a parent rebukes a librarian for giving a child a book above his reading level. The librarian asserts that a child should read at whatever level he would like to.
In fact, appropriate reading levels for children have been much in discussion for quite some time. Psychologists and experts have even devised various systems and indices to ascertain how to match children and books. These indices depend upon how well the children can read, their age, and how hard the books are. Reading books within the specified ranges of these indices can provide the ideal level of challenge for children of varying ages while maintaining age-appropriate comprehension.
Two reading level systems stand out among the many, the Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading program for classroom reading, and the increasingly popular Lexile Measure for general reading. The latter is now even being used by Amazon and other online booksellers for book recommendations for children.
However, some people have varying opinions on these indices. The same book can have different gradings and varying age-appropriate ranges on different reading indices according to their differing emphases. This can lead to confusion. There is also a discomfort with the underlying assumption that each reader has a level of reading skill that can be measured accurately. And, of course, the biggest criticism towards reading level indices is that parents get too pedantic about enforcing them.
While growing up had I only been reading books that were oriented towards my age group, I’d have been very bored and perhaps even gotten turned off from books. So, in my opinion, parents should judge for themselves if their child can cope with advanced reading. If unsure, they could browse through the book first and determine whether it is appropriate according to their own outlook and value system.
I personally feel that children today quite frankly are aware enough to refrain from reading a book if it is too inappropriate.
Reading is an act of discovery, of exploration, and like any kind of intrepid journey, it requires venturing into territories unknown. As in every voyage of discovery, some amount of struggle with complex books should be expected. This is often a healthy tonic for bettering one’s reading level.
To paraphrase Star Trek- to read is to boldly go where you haven’t gone before.
(Piyush Jha is a contemporary storyteller who practises his craft by directing films and writing books.)