Why Level-Appropriate Reading?


Why Level-Appropriate Reading?

As language educators, we know that reading in the target language is crucial for language development (both in the L1 and L2). We also know that we have choices about what we choose to read in the classroom. This includes, level-appropriate readers, authentic texts, graphic novels, etc. With these choices also comes the discussion about what is most effective and beneficial for students. Such discussions can be fruitful and leave educators with things to consider as they approach reading in the classroom.

(Note: Before I go on, please note that I am not here to argue against any reading material. I believe there is a time a place for different reading materials, such as authentic texts and level-appropriate (graded) readers. Exposure to different reading material benefits students and the use of these different materials in the classroom is fundamental to learning and acquisition. I am here to simply talk about the benefits of reading level-appropriate material and why it is highly effective in language acquisition.)

After many discussions about reading in the classroom (and related material), I find that a similar question often arises. And that question is:

“Why is reading level-appropriate material effective in language acquisition?”

Here is my response:

Reading level-appropriate materials provides learners with the opportunity to engage with language in a contextually relevant and manageable way, and fosters improved comprehension, vocabulary development, and overall language skills.

Now, let’s take a closer look at three key reasons why level-appropriate reading material is so effective:

  1. Comprehension: Reading materials at an appropriate level ensures that learners can understand the content without struggling too much. Level-appropriate reading allows learners to focus on comprehension rather than decoding. When learners are reading material that is too difficult for them, they must spend more energy on trying to figure out the meaning of the words, which can lead to frustration and disengagement. (This causes a high affective filter.) However, when learners are reading material that is at their level, they can focus on understanding the meaning of the text, which is essential for language acquisition. Furthermore, when learners understand what they are reading, they can extract meaning, infer context, and build a deeper understanding of the language.

Reference: Research by Anderson and Freebody (1981) in their “Reading Comprehension and the Assessment and Acquisition of Word Knowledge” demonstrates that reading materials matched to a learner’s reading level significantly improve comprehension, thereby also facilitating the acquisition of word knowledge.

  1. Vocabulary (and Grammar) Acquisition: Reading level-appropriate materials introduce learners to new words, phrases, and structures in a context that makes it easier to infer their meanings. That is, when learners are reading material that is at their level, they are more likely to be able to understand the meaning of new words and grammar structures from the context of the text. This helps learners to not only acquire new language in a natural and effective way, but it also enhances vocabulary retention and usage. Moreover, exposure to well-structured sentences and paragraphs in appropriately leveled texts helps learners internalize proper grammar and syntax patterns. And this can lead them to becoming more adept at constructing sentences correctly.

Reference: The study by Nagy and Anderson (1984) titled “The Number of Words in Printed School English” found that reading is a primary source of vocabulary acquisition, especially when the materials match the reader’s current vocabulary level.

Reference: Krashen (1985) in his “Input Hypothesis” suggests that comprehensible input, which includes language at an appropriate level, is essential for the acquisition of grammatical structures.

  1. Fluency (and Confidence & Motivation): Reading level appropriate material helps learners to develop their reading fluency. Reading fluency is the ability to read text quickly and accurately with good comprehension. When learners read material that is at their level, they are able to develop their fluency. This fluency will help them to read more challenging material in the future.

    Furthermore, reading materials that are not too challenging (but also not too easy) can motivate and build confidence in learners. If the material is too difficult, learners may become frustrated (high affective filter), but success in understanding the reading materials builds confidence in learners. This confidence can lead to more extensive reading and a willingness to tackle more challenging texts over time.

Reference: The concept of “flow” in educational psychology, as proposed by Csikszentmihalyi (1975), suggests that people are most motivated when they are engaged in tasks that are challenging but still within their capabilities. Reading level-appropriate material can help achieve this balance.

Reference: Bandura’s self-efficacy theory (1977) posits that individuals who believe in their ability to succeed are more likely to persevere in learning tasks. Reading level-appropriate materials contribute to this sense of self-efficacy.

In summary, research supports reading level-appropriate material. It shows that reading at the appropriate level is effective in language acquisition and provides a supportive environment for learners to develop their language skills. It also promotes comprehension, vocabulary growth, grammar acquisition, fluency, motivation, and confidence.

I hope this gives you something to consider when approaching reading in your classroom. Please share your thoughts below in the comment section! I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts and insight!

Mach’s gut!

Further Resources: Here are some more sources that support the use of reading level appropriate material for language acquisition:

  • Brown, H. D. (2004). “Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy”. Pearson Education.
  • Graves, M. F. (2009). “The reading comprehension workbook: Effective strategies for teaching all readers”. Jossey-Bass.
  • Krashen, S. (1989). “We acquire vocabulary and grammar by reading: Additional research and reflections”. In D. R. Hall, J. J. Wolfram, & J. K. Leggo (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition: Theory and methodology (pp. 89-102). Cambridge University Press.
  • Kaplan and Baldauf (2003). “Language Planning and Policy in Asia”.

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