Over the past few years, the controversy over reading instruction has become increasingly vocal. This is not the first time the reading community has disagreed about how children best learn to read. In the 1990s, a debate occurred between phonics-based instruction and whole language. At the time, whole language became the primary instructional method embraced by schools. As further research was conducted, it was determined that some phonics instruction was necessary for many students, resulting in the balanced reading instructional approach. Most recently, the science of reading, a more structured approach to reading instruction, has been embraced by decision-makers, shifting the pendulum toward the five foundational literacy skills elements: phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and, more specifically, systematic phonics.

This debate leads one to think: Is there any agreement the reading community can come to? One could state that no matter which side of the debate one is on, there is one agreement: reading is fundamental to ensuring that children become positive, active members of a democratic society. For this reason, it is essential to expose young readers to tools for building their foundational literacy skills, access to high-quality reading materials, opportunities to practice shared and independent reading, and the development of a reading community that ensures students are supported at school and home.

Elements of Literacy for Early Success

The National Reading Panel Report (2000) stated that students need explicit instruction in the essential components of reading. These include phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. In their evaluation of the research in these areas, they identified “phonemic awareness and letter knowledge as the two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first [two] years of instruction” (pp. 2–9). The National Reading Report (2000) found further evidence of “solid support for the conclusion that systematic phonics instruction makes a bigger contribution to children’s growth in reading than alternative programs providing unsystematic or no phonics instruction” (National Reading Panel Report, 2000, pp. 2–92). Researchers Ehri, Nunes, Stahl, and Willows (2001) sought to determine the effectiveness of systematic phonics instruction and its role in helping students learn to read by conducting a meta-analysis of 38 studies. They found that integrating a systematic phonics approach into reading instruction is more effective than teaching phonics in isolation. The researchers also found that students’ reading performance is better when phonics instruction begins earlier than first grade.

LevelUp Reader, an adaptive reading platform for PreK–grade 3, is specifically designed for early learners by focusing on foundational literacy skills, including the integration of phonics-based interactive eBooks that build alphabetic knowledge as well as activities and teacher resources to support learning to read. The collection of resources provides appropriate content for young learners and builds the bridge from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” as students become more skilled readers. In addition, educators will find engaging curriculum-correlated content to support reading instruction and interactive resources that provide students with additional skills and practice.

Importance of Independent Reading

Among many other significant findings, the National Reading Panel Report (2000) concluded that guided oral reading practices, repeated reading, and increased time spent on independent reading promote word recognition, fluency, and comprehension growth. The importance of independent reading has been found throughout the literature, and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Statement on Independent Reading emphasizes the significance of independent reading. It states,

[A] routine, protected instructional practice that occurs across all grade levels. Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. Student choice in text is essential because it motivates, engages, and reaches a wide variety of readers. The goal of independent reading as an instructional practice is to build habitual readers with conscious reading identities (Shaffer, R., Cruser, B., McKoy Lowery, R., & Shults, L. 2019).

In a review of research on reading, it was found that in many reading programs, publishers promote about fifteen minutes devoted to reading practice (Brenner, D., and Hiebert, E. H., 2010), and Allington (2014) concludes that this is not enough time for students to practice reading on their own. Many have stated that students who read more read better (Shaffer, R., Cruser, B., McKoy Lowery, R., & Shults, L. 2019; Krashen, 2013; McQuillan & Au, 2001), which leads to increased content knowledge and vocabulary (Krashen, 2013). For these reasons, classroom teachers are tasked with providing students with the time to read “challenging connected texts with the proper scaffold [which] will lead to improvements in word reading efficiency and reading comprehension” (Kuhn et al., 2006, p. 382).

For many students, one of the barriers to independent reading is access to high-quality texts. According to Krashen (2013), research demonstrates that if students are presented with understandable and interesting texts they will read them, and that teachers and school librarians are responsible for providing conditions that encourage reading. Every child must have access to high-quality, authentic texts in multiple formats. LevelUp Reader is designed to meet students where they are, engage them, support them, and grow with them on their path to literacy. Reading on level by third grade is a critical national initiative. It can only be accomplished if children build strong foundational literacy skills in their earliest education stage and have access to authentic literature that motivates and inspires young readers.

This includes access to various texts in both print and digital formats. LevelUp Reader reduces this barrier through its library of more than 2,500 books available digitally or as downloadable take-home books. LevelUp Reader student usage has shown that when students are given the time to read independently and access high-quality reading materials, they demonstrate tremendous growth. One example can be found at Philipsburg Elementary School in Philipsburg, PA.

During the 2021–2022 school calendar, Philipsburg Elementary School saw significant gains in their first and second grade students who used LevelUp Reader for independent reading, outpacing expected reading growth for one academic year. Throughout the year, students spent dedicated time reading on the LevelUp Reader platform. The average student completed 90 books (almost three books per week) and experienced an average Lexile measure growth of 223L. First grade students outperformed their peers by 30L, and second grade students topped their peer group by 91L (Figure 1)

Table 1

Furthermore, reading growth was evaluated based on the number of books each student read. For example, a student who read more throughout the year saw more significant Lexile measure gains. Students who read between 1 and 99 books had an average Lexile
growth of 184L, and those who read between 100 and 199 books saw an increase of 226L. Finally, those who read 200 or more books saw the most significant average increase, 385L (Table 2).

Table 2

The student data from this study supports Krashen’s research that students engaged in independent reading as a part of the school day experience reading gains. Another way
of supporting independent reading is by creating a culture of reading throughout the school community.

Motivating the Reluctant Reader

The reluctant reader lacks the motivation to read independently or for recreation. This type of reader is found in children at all reading ability levels, not just those who are poor at reading (Turner, 2019). Turner states, “Many students perceive reading as only school or work-related because of how it is taught and practiced in classrooms” (1992, p. 50). He also provides six factors that lead to reluctance:

  1. No interest or a lack of interest in reading
  2. Limited access to appropriate reading materials
  3. Poor reading ability and personal frustrations about reading
  4. Improper reading instruction
  5. Does not value the importance of reading
  6. Lack of value placed on reading at home and at school

Educators are aware that to overcome these obstacles, they must implement various strategies to capture students’ attention and motivate them to read.

To build reading ability and reduce frustration for students, they should be encouraged to read books that are just right for them. Teachers and librarians assist students in determining text that is just right for them using strategies such as looking at the cover and title, reading the summary, looking at the illustrations, and using the Five Finger Rule. By doing this, students identify books they may be successful with and enjoy reading. This can be accomplished by using eBooks that allow students to browse the content to determine that the book is just right for them. However, with technology, the reading platform can further assist students by recommending books that are easy enough to read independently yet challenge them enough for maximum growth. This is often referred to as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). LevelUp Reader relies on the Lexile Framework for Reading to guide student recommendations within their ZPD as books 100L below and 50L above their current Lexile measure (MetaMetrics, n.d.). Using short progress monitoring assessments, LevelUp Reader adapts the recommendations as students grow as readers.

To meet the challenge that not all children have access to appropriate reading materials, a digital library is essential to bridge that gap. LevelUp Reader provides students with more than 2,500 eBooks that students may access at school or home. For students that may lack devices or connectivity, all books may be printed as take-home books to build their home libraries. These additional resources allow families to read together.

Even implementing the suggestions above, some students need a little extra encouragement to read. Often, teachers institute reading challenges or contests for their students and reward them with prizes. These rewards are usually funded by a teacher using their personal funds, or they find alternatives that don’t cost anything, such as having lunch with the teacher. An alternative to this is to use LevelUp Reader to track student reading behavior and allow the platform to reward student reading by earning

reading stars to use in LevelUp Land. LevelUp Land, an immersive 3D gaming environment, encourages student engagement without distracting from reading goals. Finally, to combat when students have no interest in reading, do not see the importance of reading, or do not place value on reading requires a group effort to create a love of reading that includes building a reading culture that demonstrates these values.

Creating a Culture of Reading

It is known that teachers play an enormous role in creating a culture of reading in their classrooms through the books they have available to students, seating arrangements such as designated reading corners, and the time allocated to exploring texts of all types (Krashen, 2013). However, creating a community of readers takes many individuals besides the classroom teacher, including school librarians, administrators, caregivers, and students.

The National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, published by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), states that “reading is the core of personal and academic competency” (AASL 2018, p. 11). This has been a core belief of the library community for decades, as school librarians are known for providing access, instruction, and programming that promote early literacy. The school librarian contributes to a school’s literacy team and leads efforts to encourage reading by:

  • curating library collections to meet both the academic and personal reading needs of their students,
  • hosting authors and storytellers,
  • creating reading incentive programs and schoolwide reading challenges, and
  • celebrating reading through literacy-themed events and family literacy nights (La Marca, 2004).

The collections they curate include both print and digital resources, including eBooks. Including eBooks as a part of the school library collection provides students with 24/7 access to quality reading materials that, depending on the licensing, allow unlimited simultaneous use for students, educators, and families. Furthermore, some eBooks provide users with different reading tools, such as actor-narrated audio support, that enhance the reading experience. In addition, eBooks that include this audio support allow students to have a model for practicing their reading fluency.

Creating a culture of reading goes beyond the school day. This is why the role of the caregiver is essential in supporting their child’s reading journey. Merga and Mat Roni (2018) suggest that families who have access to books in the home, read aloud with each other, talk about books they read for pleasure, and include adults that model reading for enjoyment create children who not only read more and better but embrace reading. For this reason, educators need to encourage and support caregivers through family literacy events and communications.

Educators report that providing access and allowing students to use eBooks enhanced student learning and “reinforced their passion for reading” (Schaefer, 2019, p. 347), and that books with audio support reduce barriers to reading at home, where low parental literacy may be present (Merga & Mat Roni, 2018). The LevelUp Reader library includes more than 2,500 eBooks that provide 24/7, unlimited simultaneous user access with actor-narrated audio support. This digital library extends reading beyond the school day as families will find rich multicultural content that ensures every young learner sees themselves, their friends, and their neighborhood in the pages of the books.

Reading Is Still Fundamental
Is reading still fundamental? The answer is a resounding yes. Reading is one of the best predictors of success in school and life. So much so that if students are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade, they are more likely to struggle academically and are at risk of dropping out of high school (Fiester, 2010). For this reason, educators look to find solutions to meet the reading needs of their PreK through third grade students. Such a solution must include the ability to excite students with engaging, authentic texts; engage students with systematic phonics practice; reduce barriers to accessing high-quality reading materials; increase caregiver engagement; and support a growing culture of reading. LevelUp Reader provides students and educators ith the resources they need to support students in their literacy development.

Author Biography
Dr. Richard Hasenyager is the vice president of curriculum solutions for the Rosen Publishing Group. Prior to this, he served as the director of library services for the New York City Department of Education and North East Independent School District (NEISD) in Texas. Under his direction, NEISD received the 2011 American Association of School Librarians National School Library Program of the Year Award. Dr. Hasenyager was one of 50 librarians named to Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers (2011). He completed his Ph.D. in information science at the University of North Texas and has experience working in public, school, and academic libraries as well as experience as an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Texas and Sam Houston State University.

About the Rosen Publishing Group
Rosen Classroom is a division of Rosen Publishing, Inc., an independent publishing company established over 70 years ago. Rosen Publishing has produced and delivered high-quality texts to serve the needs of students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond with high-interest, curriculum-correlated print and digital materials. The New York–based publishing house takes pride in providing access to literacy resources that make a difference in the lives of students across the globe.

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