I had a great conversation this week with some pretty awesome educators about whether we, as teachers, should “push” students to stay within a range of complex text or increase the volume of their reading. So, we know that reading within a child’s guided reading level or lexile helps them develop their reading skills at a level that they can comfortably decode (75%) and understand. This level helps to stretch them to apply their reading strategies to build their understanding because it is not too easy–not too hard. With this being said…a volume of reading can help increase vocabulary, increase fluency, love of reading and interest. So, what is the balance? We as a school are faced with setting a Reading Counts Goal that takes into account our need as teachers to ensure students are stretching to build themselves as readers AND to love reading.
I have spent some time since my reading discussion researching to see what is best–what would be most beneficial and hoping for that amazing nugget of knowledge that would make the controversy go away with a clear answer. So, this is what I have learned…
There really must be a balance between having our students read within complex text and increasing the volume with the freedom of choice and well “lots of text.” Of course, the BEST scenario would be for them to read LOTS of complex text but that is another obstacle.
One interesting fact I found was from an article by J.M. Adams (2009) in American Education, “Reading is like every other human activity in that the amount of practice really matters, especially the amount of reading done while reading proficiency is being developed.” This statement confirms to me that while students are really not steady decoders and struggling with fluency–reading text of a lower level is great for them because they are building automaticity in their reading. However, on the tail spin of that, if you have a high fluent reader,they may not benefit as much from lower level text except to develop an interest or some excitement about a topic or genre. We all know that our higher students are more difficult to grow and my personal theory is that they become apathetic readers, learning to skim because they can and still do “OK.” The Text Project has a great graphic on their site showing how 90% of our core words are made up of 4000 simple word families (decodable) and only 10% of words are complex. Very interesting!
There was a plethora of research to support the need of pushing students to read within in their lexiles and the 75% was highlighted most often as the reason for this need. At 75% students are at a comfortable level of decoding which is not too easy or difficult. In 1923 when Lively and Pressery created the first readability formula, we have been leveling text for readers and lexiles are one of the newest ways. The leveling system allows us to use formulas and mathematically calculate the “readability” of the text and better match our students to these texts. The hazy part comes in when we add student background and interests into the equation. These facts are a reminder of the importance of text complexity and all three elements that need to be considered to ensure students are reading complex text: 1. Quantitative measure or the lexile 2. Qualitative measures such as the content of the book, text features, idioms or figurative language, techniques such as dialect or flashback. 3. Reader and Task. A great example I found was in an article by the Text Project, which compared two books of the same lexile level. The two books Tops and Bottoms (Guided Reading Level H) and The Treasure (Guided Reading Level M) both have a lexile level of 650. The difference in the Guided Reading Level comes from the fact that Tops and Bottoms has an unusual trickster who goes against a conventional norm and it does not follow a typical genre pattern. A teacher must know the content of the books that students are reading and know that sometimes content or text features can change the complexity. Jennifer Muscarelli’s recent comment to us at staff meeting came to mind here. A bit of flexibility is needed for students when choosing books and knowing that we must adjust at times in and out of the lexile level to match students with the correct content, vocabulary and text features. The great part about this fact is that we cannot simply rely on a computer alone and we see the necessity of teacher knowledge in student success.
In my research, I began to think about our students,–really at the tail end of the Millennial Generation and I found names for them such as the “Selfie Generation” or the “Digital Natives” but it looks like they may become the i-Generation or Generation Z. They are comfortable with technology and interacting with social media. When they are curious about a subject they will get online and find out more. This generation is able to multitask and their attention span is more limited. They often want instant results and constant feedback because they are used to having instant access to information. They do not judge reliability of information well and value opinions over fact. They seek contentment and happiness rather than money. With these facts, how do you think choice would play into their motivation to learn or read?
Finally, I found an interesting article which highlighted a mix of leveled reading and volume reading outside the classroom. Check out this graph.
I did not find that “one nugget” of knowledge that pushed me to an easy answer but I am ending the Blog with this graphic—balance is necessary–How will we find it? I know my recommendations but what do you think?? Please list your thoughts and ideas!