Why is Reading So Hard?
Reading in English is very, very hard. It is difficult because, frankly, our language doesn’t make any sense. Case in point: the E in enjoy sounds like an I. The most common way to pronounce an E is not to pronounce it at all. Like in the word pronounce. Or in the word like.
Reading is easy for a child when the letters make the sounds they expect. Reading is hard when the letters draw on less common sounds. You may teach your child the O sounds of /oh/ like GO and /ah/ like OCTOPUS, but the O in ONCE makes a /wuh/ sound. And once is the first word in every fairytale. Ouch.
Analyzing Reading Complexity
What we have done at TinyIvy is to use really amazing technology to decode every word in the English language using Building Blocks. Every letter-sound combination has a block. Based on how often these combinations are used (both in print and in the dictionary), we assigned these blocks to ten different Reading Levels. The first three levels are described in detail here.
Since every word is now assigned a Reading Level, we can precisely determine the difficulty of reading a particular book. We analyze every word on every page, determining what Level blocks are needed to successfully sound out the words. Books are then assigned to a Level. Each level requires 90% of the words in a book to be within that level.
A Visual Analysis
Before this system was developed, children’s book authors had no way of creating books that were truly easy for children to read. Now we can look at Goodnight Moon in a very structured way. In the graph below, each color represents a different Reading Level, with brighter reds being more difficult than lighter blues. This graph shows the reading complexity of Goodnight Moon. (No criticism here of this beautiful, beloved book … just insight into why we read it to our children instead of them being able to read it themselves.)
Goodnight Moon: Extremely Difficult to Read
Goodnight Moon fluctuates wildly on our Reading Level scale, frequently using rare letter-sound combinations that are extremely likely to confuse a young reader. The average word is Reading Level 4, but you would need almost every Building Block in the English language to successfully sound this book out on your own. 90% comprehension is only achieved at Reading Level 9.
Without technology, it is extremely difficult to write books to a particular Reading Level. Fortunately, we have built some pretty awesome tech. Let’s take a look at what this lets us do.
Athena’s Mission (III): Extremely Easy to Read
Athena’s Mission, one of the first stories introduced to our young readers, uses words almost entirely from Reading Levels 2 and 3.
Athena is on the sand. The sea is calm. She sees a crab and a fish. There are black steps that climb a hill. The steps lead high into the mist. She starts to sprint to the top. She can not pass. There is an immense lock. She has to find the stones to pass.
The most amazing part of our Reading Levels, is that by prioritizing the “uncommon” sounds that make up extremely common power words, we are able to create actual stories even at Level 3.
Keep Reading Easy to Keep Children Learning
Reading is hard because we don’t make it easy. Until now, there was no way we could. Without a systematic understanding of language, and the technology to analyze phonetic complexity in real time, there was no way to write a book that a child could be guaranteed to read. There is now. It’s a brave new world out there. A Reading World.