Bonnie Campbell Hill’s Legacy

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When I began working at Inly ten years ago, I was introduced to a reading continuum used by our teachers. The continuum was based not on a reader’s age (as in – “Johnny is reading at a 4th grade level”) but on a student’s ability. I embraced it immediately because it’s good for kids and alleviates parental stress.Every teacher knows that there are as many different kinds of fourth grade readers as there are fourth grade students in a class. Although they are meant only as guidelines, parents are often anxious about those numbers on the back cover of a book. The ones that say something like: ages 8-10.  Kids will tell me that they love a certain book, but are either “too old” or “too young” for it. To me, that’s just too bad. A book is a book. Often my response is something along the lines of: “Well, I’m clearly not the age listed on the back of this book, but I loved it.” 

Our teachers use a reading continuum based on the work of literacy specialist Bonnie Campbell Hill.  Hill uses characteristics of readers to help teachers determine a child’s ability. A few years ago, I began to write our school’s summer reading list using Hill’s categories. Of course, our use of the continuum has been modified to fit the needs of our community, but Hill’s work is where it began. Over the next few days, I’ll post Inly’s summer reading list beginning with the first category on the continuum. I hope parents will use it to get ideas for summer reading that are defined by what their child will enjoy.

On a sad note, I went online this morning to read more about Hill’s work and learned that she died earlier this month at the age of 56. Her legacy continues at Inly where her insightful work has benefited countless students.

Below is a summary of Hill’s continuum. For more information about her work, visit:


–         illustrations provide strong support

–         wide spaces between words

–         few words per page


–         text reflects common experiences or familiar objects

–         patterns change only slightly

–         1-3 lines of print per page

–         illustrations clearly support text


–         straightforward and fairly simple vocabulary

–         story reflects common experiences

–         repetitive sentence patterns


–         developed storyline with little or no use of patterns

–         texts include simple plots and only a few characters

–         illustrations often represent sequence of events

–         vocabulary primarily consists of familiar words


–         more challenging vocabulary

–         more developed characters

–         illustrations provide less support

–         may include multiple paragraphs per page


–         more fully developed plots

–         more challenging content

–         more descriptive and memorable text


–         many books include a central theme

–         challenging vocabulary

–         fully developed plots and characters


–         text has fully developed plot, often touching upon issues such as death,

          prejudice, poverty or war

–         settings are often in other time periods or unfamiliar or imaginary locations

–         texts begin to include multiple perspectives on an issue

–         text includes complete sentence structure and literary devices


–         the characteristics listed above, but using more sophisticated language

–         text addresses complex issues from multiple perspectives


 –     all of the characteristics of a proficient and connecting reader, but issues may

                   be more controversial

–         text may have adults as central characters

–         text requires deeper levels of thinking

–         text may employ flashbacks or changes in sequence


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