When children start school the one thing that is the most confusing (other than where do all those lost jumpers and water bottles go?) is reading levels. Not the learning to read because the phonics system makes sense. But primary school reading schemes, book bands and reading levels.
Back in the 70s and 80s when I was learning to read it was easy to understand. Everyone seemed to do Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat etc, and then whizzed on to whatever books were on the book shelves that suited. We didn’t have book bands, book colours or reading schemes. But now, if you worry about how your child is getting on and want to check the books your child is reading compared to children at a similar level, it is likely that schools nearby are using a different method and reading scheme. Of course, we shouldn’t compare our children, but if you want to gauge how they’re improving it does help to understand reading schemes.
Some schools use one book scheme, but most schools seem to use a mix of reading schemes to provide children with a breadth of reading experience. And to avoid parents getting totally bored of reading about the same characters over and over again. You also find schools send home books in different amounts. For example while most children I know were learning phonics and learning to read in their first half term, N’s school didn’t start their phonics until after the October half term.
Their first half term was spent learning to listen in class, listen and focus in on different sounds, and get used to a learning environment. It did worry me a little because I knew N preferred practical learning (or just playing), but it worked and they were certainly in the right frame of mind to then be able to listen and learn their phonics. They had school reading books from just before Christmas (rather than books for parents to read to them or to discuss the pictures). In year 1, N had 1 book home 3 times a week, but over holidays he may bring a couple of books home.
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Our school uses a myriad of reading schemes. The main one is Oxford Reading Tree (which includes Biff Chip and Kipper, plus Songbirds and Snapdragon series in the scheme). In reception they used Phonic Bugs books, and we’ve also had Pearson, Heinemann Storyworlds and Ginn 360 as well.
Each reading book scheme brings its own benefits. Most of the story books in a book band (or level) are based on phonics progression, using lots of repetitive words, phrases and rhyming. As children move through the levels, schools often introduce non-fiction books and poetry. The poetry books we’ve had are old fashioned, but they do introduce children to different types of writing. The fiction books are seriously dull in our experience (for children as well as parents) and a little patronising in some cases.
Not all of the book schemes are enjoyable. Certainly the Biff, Chip and Kipper* ones seem to annoy parents a lot (I mean, who calls a girl Biff?!). But I found them preferable to most of the other books we’ve had home. Having a mix of reading schemes does mean that if your child hates one range, they get more variety by having different books home.
Oh, and you also get to spot typos, incorrect facts, or politically incorrect items to have a laugh at. N got very upset one time about quote marks not having 2 marks like they’d learnt at school, so I had to explain that 1 mark each side of the quote was still a speech mark.
With such a range of schemes out there, it’s hard to see how your child is progressing because they don’t always match their levels. Where one scheme uses colour bands, another uses numbers or letters, and even the numbers don’t always match up. Most have used colours. I tend to compare all books to the Oxford Reading Tree levels as that’s the main scheme we use. It is demoralising for children to move up a level, then find the next book they bring home is back a level or 2. So being able to compare and give them confidence that they’ve not gone down again does help.
In my investigations over the years N has been at primary school, I’ve found some handy key stage reading guides and comparison charts, although not all reading schemes are included in one complete version. The expectation is that children cover 2 levels per key stage, but depending on the child they may skip a level, or continue working through the tens of books at that level. For example, N skipped level 4 at the start of year 1, but then was on level 6 from Christmas until May (covering a huge range of books – it seems our school has a mammoth amount of books, they were never-ending).
I’ve collated the information from reading schemes and reading bands I’ve found into a reading scheme printable for download. Hopefully it’ll be useful as a guide to understand what the levels are and where book schemes fit. If you notice any errors or changes, let me know and I’ll update.
In the printable you can see the approximate reading ages for each colour book band, the stage of the national curriculum, and the various book schemes compared. The main book band colours are predominantly based on the Oxford Reading Tree colours.
Hopefully this helps explain key stage 1 reading levels.
With reading, and everything else with children at school, remember that every child is different. As long as they’re improving, they’re enjoying their learning and the school are getting the best out of your child, then there’s nothing to worry about.
How does your school manage their reading schemes for the different years?
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