My Bookshelf

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leveled Readers: The App Version

Learn to Read Books by Visions Encoded
Texts Authored by Celesta Thiessen
     I See Animals at the Zoo
     I Paint a Rainbow
     Little and Big
     At the Pond

Developed for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
$1.99 per book

Hurray! Leveled readers for the iPad.  As previously mentioned, I recently completed one of my intervention lessons mainly using  apps found on my iPad.  This will be a review of some of the texts used during that lesson as well as additional Learn to Read books published by Visions Encoded.  I will begin by defining exactly what constitutes a leveled reader.

Leveled readers are a staple of many elementary teachers instructional diet.  We use these for guided reading, intervention, and even mini-lessons.  Leveled readers range in difficulty from Level 1 (A) all the way to Level Z (which according to Fountas and Pinnell, are considered chapter books appropriate for 8th graders).  Now mind you, book levels are not always consistent from one publishing company to the next, however, it is generally agreed upon, that a level 1 equals a level A; a level 2 equals a level B; and levels 3 and 4 equal a level C.  As the levels get higher, the numbers and letters don't correlate so cleanly.   The texts that I review here, range from levels 1-3. Therefore, I have qualified them below according to the descriptors set forth by the creators of guided reading, Fountas and Pinnell (2007), as written in their text, The Continuum of Literacy Learning.

Level 1 (or A) books are composed of predictable  and simple sentence patterns using one line of text on each page.  Vocabulary is familiar and is generally found in the reader's oral language.  Pictures assist in word identification and meaning. Level 1 texts contain one syllable words, easy high frequency words, and spelling patterns that are easy and decodable.

Level 2 (or B) texts are also predictable and contain patterned sentences that repeat.  Vocabulary is familiar to the child and aided by pictures. These texts can begin to get slightly longer and may have up to two lines of text per page.  High frequency words are easier and spelling patterns are simple and decodable.

Level 3 (or C) texts begin to become more challenging for the reader.  Level 3 books can have 2-6 lines of print per page.  Readers cannot solely rely on the predictable pattern of these texts as they can vary.   Likewise, pictures do not carry the majority of the meaning; it is through the text that much of the understanding occurs.  Punctuation can now include apostrophes, quotations marks, periods, commas, and question marks.  A greater variety of high frequency words is employed.

Learn to Read books are leveled 1-3 (A-C).  They contain colorful photographs, a voice over option that allows the text to be read  as words are touched, and the option of sight word practice of high frequency words found in the text. I reviewed all of the texts listed above.

The Good: The photographs and pictures in all of these texts are colorful, engaging, and for the most part assist in word identification.  The content includes familiar and easy concepts that most children recognize.  For example, topics such as animals, counting, and colors are found in many of the texts. The option to practice sight words is attractive.  The print is spaced properly, uses large plain font and placed consistently on the top of the page.

The Bad:  Unfortunately, the leveling in these texts does not correlate to the qualitative leveling descriptors above.  In the books that I reviewed, there is no difference between levels 1 and 2 and 3 (other than the level 3 text provides a longer closing sentence).  For example, the level 3 text, Little and Big, is written like a level 2 text. This is problematic.  Teachers expect a big leap from level 2 to 3.  At level 3, readers have voice print match and are now able to read several lines of text that vary in pattern; they should no longer completely rely on the predictability of the text.  Learn to Read books do not adhere to this principle as evidenced in Little and Big which is pattern dependent. Also, in the Stars (level 1) text, the high frequency word "there" is used at the beginning of each sentence. "There" is a poor word choice for a level 1 reader. Furthermore, syntax changes occur in this text (ouch!).  Again, not appropriate for a level 1 book.  Moreover, there are some questionable vocabulary choices such as "wind turbine" in a level 3 text.  It is doubtful that many five year olds employ words like this in their oral language.

What I also found extremely troubling was the voice over option.  Initially, I was excited to allow my student to reread the text with the voice option. But to my horror, when we read Paint a Rainbow, the voice over read: I see a rainbow with the word "a" having a short /a/ sound.  The word "a" was read aloud like a sound as opposed to a word in every one of the texts that contained it.  Obviously, this is a developer's programming issue, but in the best interest of children learning to read, the voice over option should've been eliminated entirely.

If schools are considering purchasing these texts, the levels must be adjusted and the voice over option must be changed.  However, these texts will most likely do no harm to a child learning to read and parents may find them helpful.  Yet, as an educator working in a school, relying on generally consistent reading levels, I give these texts in their current state:

Thumbs Down

Blogger's Note: Several of these texts were downloaded through promo codes available to reviewers of apps. 

1 comment:

Cel said...

The Learn To Read Apps by Visions Encoded are created in Manitoba, Canada. In Manitoba, the short a sound is used for the word a. Words are spoken differently in different countries/regions. Teachers/parents can record the correct pronunciation for their own region. That's why we made the voice-over option :)