As a teacher in a standard classroom:
a small sight word collection, recognition of sound/letter relationships, and maybe a memorized text was all 'emergent reading or preliteracy' . Most kids it is 3-5. (Preschool- start of of 1st)
'transitional reading' was a large sight word vocabulary and ability to decode unfamiliar words that are CVC/ CVCV/ CVVC (c for consonant and v for vowels), use picture clues, and read beginning readers such as Bob books and/or predictable text. Often reading a few lines at a time. Most kids this is ages 4-6 ( PreK- end of 1st), retell a story heard or read
Then it is often labeled independent readers-- when the child can figure out new words that may or may not follow a pattern from context clues, recognize and use nontypical spelling patterns to decode unfamiliar words, read simple (or complex) chapter books or picture books with lengthier paragraphs or high level vocabulary. Can read most things placed in front of them and able to retell simple plot lines or identify/define new vocabulary. retell reading and give details from text (1st to start of 3rd)
The age to hit independent reader is often 5-8. Most kids have reached it by the end of 2nd grade when it switches to 'reading to learn'-- K-2 is 'learning to read'. Of course, kiddos that are early reader or self-taught often hit these stages earlier. =] Kiddos with reading disabilities (regardless of giftedness or not) or difficulties often hit them later.
All the stages overlap a bit but that is the general progression regardless of age.
Some kids that seem to be independent but cant move past single sentences stage or that prefer larger print often some maturity or time allow the eyes/brain/attention/ print size and interest level to meet up. But it is not uncommon to have kids that really want to read more, read longer, read smaller text, etc but physically are unable due to visual tracking, eye maturity, attention span, or other developmentally appropriate reasons.
One of the first things we do if a child seems to struggle to read (think 1 st grade-ish 6-7 yr old) is check vision. Sometimes it is just a matter of a vision correction and/or eye maturity. You would be surprised at how many kiddos get picked up for glasses and/or tracking issues at Kindergarten screening!
Edited by KCMichigan - 2/21/13 at 6:05am