Friday, December 14, 2012

Changed Lexile Levels

Common Core has expanded the Lexile levels in the standards, giving teachers who are required by administrators to use Lexiles more flexibility in their choice of books.  The change was slipped into the fairly new publication, "Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy: New Research on Text Complexity" found at 

At the very least, Common Core should be featuring this change on their home page so the word gets out about it.  I only saw the changed levels because I came across a reference to the Supplement and went to take a look.

You'll find the expanded Lexiles on page 4 along with other reading formula levels by grade band.  The footnote explains that, "This change was provided in response to feedback received since publication of the original scale (published in terms of the Lexile® metric) in Appendix A."

No school should be using Lexile levels as the sole factor in choosing books.  It is particularly disturbing to hear about middle school and high school ELA programs that have dropped novels that worked well, discarded solely because they didn't fit the reading formula grade ranges published in Appendix A.  Yes, if you read the fine print, it said to use reading formulas as just one of three factors but anyone familiar with the education world could have predicted that some administrators would seize on the quantitative measure and require it, as indeed some have. 

A Nonfiction News Round-Up

At the risk of getting a little too meta, Sue Bartle pointed out this resource from The New York Times Learning Network, which Myra recently wrote about. The lesson plan suggests having students analyze the online debate about the balance of fiction and nonfiction in the media, which I wrote about last week. You can find it :

Over at The School Library Journal website, Travis Jonker has made a request to authors and editors of nonfiction books for children and young adults in "A Humble Demand: More Nonfiction Book Trailers."   

A couple of weeks ago, SLJ released its Best Books 2012, which has a separate section for nonfiction. The New York Times announced its Notable Children's Books of 2012, which, in my opinion, does not include enough nonfiction. Back in November, the Times released its Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2012 , which included two nonfiction titles. The Horn Book Magazine also released its Horn Book Fanfare 2012, which, happily, has a subsection for nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews also released its Best Children's Books of 2012, with a section on nonfiction
Finally, Marfe Ferguson Delano's post on the INK blog today is a wonderful teaching tool. Teachers and students researching and creating their own nonfiction texts, in print or digital format, can use Delano's interview with National Geographic book designer Jim Hiscott as a "mentor text" for discussions of student work.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Common Core Inaccuracies in the Washington Post

I woke up this morning to

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Orchestra Metaphor

As I was driving back from my yoga class this morning, I heard the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra playing on 99.5, the classical music station in Boston. It reminded me of a discussion I just had last night with a Lesley student, about a nonfiction workshop I conducted in July 2011 in which I used the orchestra as a metaphor for the different contexts in which teachers need to cultivate nonfiction reading habits in the classroom.

For instance, there are times, particularly in science, social studies, and the arts, or within integrated units, when students need to learn particular content from a nonfiction text or text sets. Of course, we always want them to learn content from nonfiction, as well as new ideas about writer's craft, theme, etc. However, there are times when we use nonfiction in the classroom because its primary purpose is to convey information children need to learn to meet state or district content standards. How do we cultivate discussion and provide support when students need to access that content? In that respect, the teacher is like the orchestra conductor. In an orchestra, everyone is reading off of the same musical score, and the conductor guides all of the different sections through the score with visual cues and signals. In the classroom, the teacher must know the score (the content) well. You have to know the variety of texts and text types out there to select the right arrangement of texts for your students to learn the content. Rather than gesticulating with your hands and a baton, instead, you model how to get through the texts. You provide specific scaffolded questions for conversation and exploration and graphic organizers that are specific to the content and the texts, to support student note-making.

There are other times when you are going to have students reading different nonfiction texts for the purpose of inquiry, so that they can research individual topics of interest. Often, this falls to the language arts teacher, but more and more, with the new Content Literacy expectations of the Common Core Standards, this will be happening in science and social studies as well. For this purpose, we need to let go of some of the control, and give students room for independent explorations. In this case, the classroom is a bit like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which has no conductor. The group works as a whole, but without anyone explicitly directing. Therefore, they really need to listen to one another when rehearsing, in order to ensure that they will achieve their goals in performance. When out of step with one another, no one in the orchestra sounds good.  When conducting inquiry, students need help from one another, as they talk about and discuss their research process, the results of their research, the new directions in which they need to take their research. Of course, these conversations can and should happen with a teacher as well, but if we do not create a culture of nonfiction in the classroom amongst the students, it will be difficult to really empower student researchers and writers. Students need more support than one teacher can provide, so we must teach them to support one another and share their strategies, setbacks, and successes. None of this happens in a vacuum, and you don't become the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra overnight. But gradually, after a lot of conducting, you can start to turn that control over to the students.

Finally, there is the solo performance, when students are selecting nonfiction books for pleasure reading. We need to give students the opportunity to "do their own thing" with nonfiction. If they are only reading nonfiction to meet and satisfy content standards or literacy standards, they will never truly find what kinds of nonfiction they are interested in reading for their own pleasure. We want to meet curriculum standards. But we also want to create readers, children who will chose to read from a variety of genres for personal enjoyment. We need to give students the opportunity to find a range of nonfiction they will enjoy reading. Reading widely exposes children to a wide range of subgenres of nonfiction. Through their solo performances, in which there is more likely to be true engagement with the text, students improve as readers of nonfiction.