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Reading Expectations by Grade or Skill Level

Reading Expectations by Grade or Skill Level

When selecting reading materials for the classroom, educators must set expectations for their students based on where they are, not on a predetermined idea of where they should be. If the text you choose is too difficult, children will become discouraged and lose confidence. If it’s too easy, they won’t be challenged to grow in their abilities and will often become bored. But a skills-aligned approach will help foster a love of reading in your young students.

The best way for teachers to set appropriate reading expectations is by gauging children’s skills in terms of pattern recognition, vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension. This guide is designed to help you select reading materials that challenge students at different skill levels without overwhelming them. 


The Importance of Setting Reading Expectations for Children

Reading is almost always cumulative in the same manner. Children begin by learning the language, then sounds and symbols, gradually drawing connections between the two. Over time, they figure out how to decode increasingly complex words by sounding them out, using classroom discussions and read-alouds to improve vocabulary and language comprehension skills. 

Eventually, the ultimate goal is for students to read with such fluency that decoding is immediate and without pause, so reading comprehension can occur. Simply put, the goal of reading instruction is for students to read with ease and understand what they’re reading.

To meet this goal, the process of learning shouldn’t skip steps. Students need all the pieces in place to have a foundation to build upon. By creating expectations that account for the specific skill sets of students, educators can ensure that students are given the material that will help them practice effectively while allowing for continued growth.

Choosing a decodable book that aligns with their skill level gives children the opportunity to practice independent reading and reading comprehension. This is the best way to encourage vocabulary building and increase fluency.

Reading Expectations for Kindergarteners and First Graders

Before even discussing the expectations for various grade levels, it’s important to note that, even though there are generalized standards for where children SHOULD be by a certain grade level, children don’t follow the same path.  The needs of students must be assessed and met based on their various skill sets and abilities, not a pre-decided grade level list. That being said, based on general child development, there are often skills acquired by a majority of children at a certain grade level due to their developmental age.


Kindergarten Reading Expectations

Appropriate reading expectations for children finishing a kindergarten grade level include being able to:

    ◊ Recognize letters, basic sounds of all consonants, and the five short vowel sounds

    ◊ Blend syllables and singular sounds

    ◊ Segment short words into phonemes

    ◊ Decode and encode simple words

    ◊ Understand a vocabulary of sight words with irregular spellings

    ◊ Read with appropriate fluency to comprehend simple text

First Grade Reading Expectations

During first grade, students learn to:

    ◊ Sound out 2-3 syllable words

    ◊ Decode words with varied suffixes

    ◊ Identify spellings for long vowel sounds and digraphs

    ◊ Have more automaticity with irregularly spelled words

    ◊ Transfer many of the learned phonics structures into their writing 

    ◊ Read appropriate material with increased fluency and expression, allowing for consistent reading comprehension

It has been argued that kindergarten and first grade are two of the most pivotal years for reading instruction, as the grapheme-phoneme knowledge, also known as alphabetic knowledge, is largely learned in the curriculum during these two grade levels.


Reading Expectations for Second and Third Graders

The biggest difference between K-1 and grades 2-3 is the depth of reading comprehension, as more of the mechanics of reading have been practiced and mastered.

Students often begin to gain speed in skill acquisition during these grade levels as they have learned how to acquire new skills and structures, allowing them to see letter patterns and apply that knowledge to their reading. Overall, students should already have a strong foundation in reading to complete the standards laid out for these grade levels. 

It’s important to remember, though, that just because there’s a standard, children might have gaps in their prior literacy instruction or knowledge that require differentiation on the part of their teacher.


Second Grade Reading Expectations

Students are still acquiring alphabetic knowledge. They should:

    ◊ Continue to learn and practice higher-level vowel teams and spellings

    ◊ Learn less common spelling rules that can still apply

    ◊ Decode more multisyllabic words with long vowels

    ◊ Decode words with common suffixes and prefixes

    ◊ Recognize more words with irregular spellings


Third Grade Reading Expectations

In third grade, the foundation of reading needs to be in place. The focus behind reading moves into consistent meaning-making and the importance of morphology

Morphemes are the smallest units of language that have meaning. By understanding morphology, or the study behind words and their parts, students can gain vocabulary independently and comprehend texts with unintroduced, complex words.



How to Adjust Reading Expectations for Children with Learning Differences

Teachers working with children who have learning difficulties will need to adjust their expectations to focus firmly on progress rather than performance.

Identify Challenges

Students struggle for different reasons, but the goal is continued progress. They may have one of multiple obstacles in front of them, such as:

    ◊ Low phonemic awareness

    ◊ Phonological processing difficulties

    ◊ Trouble with directional tracking

    ◊ Concentration issues

    ◊ Inability to identify word patterns

When classroom instruction, or tier 1, falls short, teachers should incorporate direct instruction strategies to target students’ specific problem areas. Differentiation can be overwhelming for teachers, but when a classroom contains students with a range of needs, differentiation is essential.  

Teachers should also assess to identify if further evaluations are needed by other school professionals while attending to the student needs that can be addressed in class. With small group lessons and practice or with targeted skill review and application, teachers can ensure students are learning to their potential or surpassing it.

Set Objectives

It can be very important for students with learning differences to know the objective of a lesson. Is the lesson about a new phonics structure to apply to reading? Is the lesson aimed at reading a text for meaning? Is the lesson about the information in a given text?  

This also helps teachers understand the appropriate support to provide. If a lesson is about a phonics structure, teachers might need to allow for more repetitions and more application opportunities for that student. If the lesson is aimed at reading a text for meaning, teachers might need to provide more time for multiple readings of the same text. 

If the lesson intends to teach content through a text, teachers might consider reading the information allowed after a student’s attempt, to ensure that the student can learn the content like their peers.


How Parents and Teachers Can Support Children in Meeting Reading Expectations

Teachers should partner with parents to ensure that children have continuous reading opportunities to incorporate the skills being practiced in school.  At the end of the day, parents are powerful supporters and emotional backup in the process of creating confident readers. Parents also provide a large base of background knowledge for students. Teachers need to let parents know what would be effective practices in the home for reading and homework. 

If a child struggles with phonemic awareness, teachers can encourage parents to play auditory games, such as “What does it start with?” Parents and kids say objects they see out of the window of the car or bus, and parents ask their child what sound that spoken word starts with. 

Example: “I see a park. What sound does park start with?” (/p/)

If a child struggles with decoding, teachers could give parents the scope and sequence being followed or decodable books to practice the sound-spellings that have been taught. 

If a child struggles during reading comprehension or classroom discussions, ask parents to help by reading to children. Parents can ask questions about the read-aloud and have conversations with their kids to help progress language comprehension. 

By teachers and caregivers working as the village of support for students, children won’t only advance their skills, but also gain a more positive outlook on the process of reading as a whole!

The Importance of Regular Reading Practice 

If you were taught how to knit by being told the steps, but you never actually practiced with yarn and knitting needles, how well do you think you would be able to knit in the long run?

No matter the example I use, the point is the same, to make reading happen with ease for students, they need to practice often. The more practice a student has, the more proficient they will be. Also, they will have a stronger foundation upon which they can progress and gain higher-level skills.

There is evidence to suggest that students should be applying phonics skills learned in a lesson for at least half of the instructional time, but the practice resources need to appropriately match the skills a student has been taught.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean “silent reading” as this can be ineffective practice for any child struggling to read.  “Silent reading,” which used to be common practice in many classrooms, doesn’t have research to be stated as an effective practice, even according to the National Reading Panel. Practice can mean different things based on the needs of the students, such as: 

    ◊ Partner reading

    ◊ Small group reading of a decodable book

    ◊ Reading to a teacher

    ◊ Whisper reading

Tips for Encouraging Regular Reading Practice at Home

Classroom instruction is designed to cater to the needs of multiple students and requires a controlled curriculum. Parents can encourage a love of reading in children by letting them choose their own stories, helping when a text is too difficult, and showing a genuine interest in what they’re reading.

Children are often excited to read aloud at home, and parents should be guided by teachers to choose books and resources that will allow students to succeed. Parents and children should read together, even if the parent is just reading to the child to discuss their favorite characters and scenes and have conversations about opinions. These candid discussions are a great way for parents to support their children’s reading journey.


Every Child Learns and Develops at Their Own Pace

Using reading expectations by grade or skill level as a guide can be helpful, but it’s not the end-all, be-all.

The most important thing is to encourage and support your child and your students in their reading journey, no matter where they’re at. With time, patience, and explicit instruction, they’ll develop a love for reading that will last a lifetime because they know HOW. Happy reading!

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