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Readability for Teachers

The challenge

As a teacher or other education professional, how do you choose the right reading materials for your learners?

On the one hand, you want those you educate to feel challenged, not bored.

On the other hand, if learners are presented with texts well beyond their current reading level they are likely to struggle and make mistakes. Too many mistakes and too much struggle and they are likely to end up demotivated and disengaged.

What is the relevance of readability scores to teachers?

Readability scores can contribute to informed choices about appropriate texts. Readability-score provides grade level readability scores for a range of formula allowing you to see whether a prospective text is appropriate for your student group. You can then compare readability scores for different texts and make comparisons on their respective levels of difficulty. In this way, readability scores can be used to help you match your class reading materials to the reading level of your learners.

What’s the evidence?

The field of readability measurement came about from education nearly a century ago (for a little bit of history on how readability scoring came about see this article). In 1975, UK education policy highlighted the importance for teachers to assess the level of difficulty of books by applying measures of readability. Since then, readability scoring has been widely use to help inform selection of school reading materials. For example, a survey by the National Council of Teachers in English delivered to English teachers in a Western state in the US found that 84% of respondents identified readability level as a factor that influenced decisions about what texts were selected for English teaching.

An arena where readability scoring may be particularly useful when choosing texts for learners with disabilities. Here, extra careful judgement is required to ensure the chosen texts do not compound the challenges that the learner already faces. In particular, if the learner has been in a position before where they have been shown up in front of others for struggling with a text that was beyond their reading level. Experts on special education, Boyle and Scanlon recommend that teachers choose texts that are at the reading level for their learners and use readability formulas as a guide to selecting these.

What value can readability scores bring to the picture?

Readability scores are not meant to be prescriptive. The careful judgement of a skilled and experienced teacher is always vital for choosing appropriate texts. What readability scoring brings is another source of evidence to help inform reading material selection. Readability scores can facilitate teachers to choose texts that complement the learners reading comprehension, in turn, facilitating effective learning.