Rethinking Levels 1 & 2

Are we keeping students in levels 1 and 2 for too long?

Our Reading Recovery Teacher Leader had us mull over this question during a Reading Recovery professional development session. I am still reflecting on this question.

The majority of my incoming Reading Recovery students start in levels 0-1. I know that I need to be watching my teaching closely in order for my students to move in the upward trajectory that will lead to accelerated progress.

I have been guilty of keeping students in levels 1/2 for too long and I have the data to prove it. I am now quite familiar with the problems that can come about from keeping students in these lower levels for too long.

There are many more problems that arise from keeping students in these levels for a prolonged amount of time. These problems can also give leveled text a bad rap because students kept in these levels can start to ignore print and depend solely on the pictures.

How long is too long to stay in levels 1 & 2?

Just like everything else in Reading Recovery, there is no hard and fast answer to this question. There are some signs that we can look for that might indicate that we have been in these lower levels for too long. If you have students reading level 1/2’s you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Has my student entered the 1st or 2nd week of lessons after roaming?
  • Am I waiting for my student to know a certain number of words before moving on to level 3?
  • Is my student showing signs of inattention to print?
  • Does my student have control over 1:1 matching and directionality with minimal lapses?
  • Does my student demonstrate self-monitoring behaviors?

If you answered, “yes,” to any of these questions you may want to consult with your colleagues. This is one of my favorite parts of Reading Recovery – a team looking at what a child can do and creating possible paths for the child to follow. Then the Reading Recovery teacher can take all of that expert thinking and try what they think best fits their student.

Should we have level 1 & 2 texts in our collection?

During that same professional development session, our teacher leader shared that some Reading Recovery teachers went to the extreme of pulling all of their level 1 and 2 texts out of their collections.


At first I was aghast, but then the more I thought it over, and listened to different points of view, I started to understand why they might make that decision.

Our goals when working in these texts are to see solid 1:1 matching, starting with the top line, reading left to right, and a return sweep back to the left. We also want our student to demonstrate signs of self-monitoring. While we are roaming around the known, we create our own leveled texts that will capture our student’s attention using what information they know about print. With copious amount of modeling, students that are starting in these very early levels can build a strong understanding of foundational habits and be ready to exit roaming in level 3/4’s.

How do I support a difficult transition to level 3?

If you are finding it difficult to transition your student to level 3’s you can refer to the Providing additional support section on p. 116 in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2nd ed.).

*Note that Clay says that this deviation from the typical book introduction would be for few students and only for a short period of time.

Of course, if you are a Reading Recovery teacher, we can’t talk about reading without addressing writing. We have to be intentional with echoing any modeling of directionality, 1:1 matching, and using what is known about letters and words. We need to be explicit when showing the link between something they read and what they are about to write and vice versa. Using writing for the powerful tool that it is, will give students the boost they need to read increasingly more challenging texts.

I think that this would be a great challenge to work on together. We can hold each other accountable and remind each other about the dangers of holding students in levels 1 & 2 for too long. We can help each other to think about where to go next when we’re stuck and not sure how unblock the learning. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have you ever lingered too long at levels 1 and 2?

What do you think about removing your level 1’s and 2’s from your collection?

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