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How are Decodables different from Leveled Reading

How are Decodables different from Leveled Reading

 

An article published in The Elementary School Journal (2014) by Murray et al examined the impact of the first 10 levels of 1st Grade versions of these two types of readers (books). Table 1 below summarizes how the decodable and the leveled readers varied in terms of content, on the average. When teaching reading to beginning and developing students, and also those who have some difficulties in learning to read, these decodables and leveled reading texts are used:

 

  • Decodable texts break down the “code” of words by concentrating on a large number of phonetically similar words, and groups of words whose “phonemes” (the smallest unit of language, representing a short speech sound) occur most frequently. The readers then become familiar with “graphemes” (syllables or sounds). These words are sounded out repeatedly while reading to help the student develop familiarity and knowledge.

 

  • Leveled readers, on the other hand, are asked to focus on the “meaning” of words. They are replete with words that occur with higher frequency in written language and also focus on patterns that are commonly used as part of the syntax.

 

There have been many studies on how to make reading learning more effective, especially in the past 35-40 years. We present results from a well-known publication below.

Analysis by Murray, Munger and Herbert

An article published in The Elementary School Journal (2014) by Murray et al examined the impact of the first 10 levels of 1st Grade versions of these two types of readers (books). Table 1 below summarizes how the decodable and the leveled readers varied in terms of content, on the average.

Table 1: Comparing Characteristics of Leveled vs. Decodable Readers

Category Type Decodable Reader (%) Leveled Reader (%)
Word Decodability (percent of phonetically regular words) Much higher (62%) Lower (42%)
High-Frequency Slightly lower (59%) Higher (66%)
Concreteness Similar (~25%) Similar (~25%)
Multisyllabic Approximately half (11%) Double (23%)
Text Pattern Words used once Similar (~41%) Similar (~45%)
Repeated Words Slightly lower Slightly higher
Program Level Match between phonic lessons and reader text – 1st phase 28% 4%
2nd Phase 68% 31%
Upper Limit 76% 50%

Why is it Beneficial to Shift from Leveled Reading to Decodables?

The 2014 study concluded that the best readers contain a majority of words that the student can decode using his or her current phonic knowledge, within the context of the chosen teaching curriculum. One can then introduce high-frequency words – which are not necessarily decodable at the student’s current phonetic knowledge – to build on the confidence and fluency they have gained from their decodable training.

 

Table 2 below discusses some of the key advantages and drawbacks for each type of reader based on the 2014 study and other detailed scientific research.

Table 2: Leveled vs. Decodable Readers Advantages/Drawbacks

Category Decodable vs. Leveled: Who Has the Edge?
Development of “site word” vocabulary The two types of readers are even, since both have lots of high frequency words. However, both types of readers have more words that occur only once, which may cause a small drawback. But once again, the drawback is equal.
Learning rather than guessing Decodable readers have a clear advantage, since they feature a high percentage of decodable words and few multisyllable words – so young readers are more likely to be developing their phonic knowledge rather than guessing. Leveled readers are exactly the reverse and encourage a reliance on guessing and picture cues.
Increased knowledge application and systematic progression Decodable readers are phenomenal at this. Unlike the guesswork of leveled readers where children are struggling with unknown words at every level, decodable readers are building on a base of phonetic knowledge and expanding step by step. This systematic progression is key to the youngsters’ confidence and eventual graduation into becoming independent readers.
Orthographic memory (aka, information stored in memory that allows us to represent spoken language in written form and recognize text) By its very definition, decodable readers are key to creating long term memories in young readers that make it possible for them to spot familiar site words in texts without picture cues.

 

As the 2014 study showed, and the table above reinforces, decodable readers have a few drawbacks – which they mostly share with leveled readers. But they have significant advantages in most areas that concern how young readers can learn in a systematic fashion to become independent readers. Explore the best decodable reading programs, books and other learning resources available at Reading Teacher for better learning.

 

We recommend other Reading Resources from our growing library:

Decodable Books: Do they actually work?

Using Decodable Books in Kindergarten & First Grade 

Ways to Help Struggling Readers 

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