Getting Beyond Frustrated

Recently, distinguished Professor Emeritus Timothy Shanahan responded to an article written in the Washington Post on his blog, Shanahan on Literacy ( The article tackles the problem of “frustration” level reading texts that the Common Core State Standards stipulate are necessary for students to be college and career ready upon high school graduation.  In his blog post, Shanahan addresses a few misconceptions about what the Common Core demands, what “frustration” level reading really means, and what he believes teachers can do to help their students.

The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to prepare students for life after high school graduation. The standards stipulate the level at which students in grades 2-12 should be reading in order to meet the expected reading demands they will encounter in college or the workplace. Instead of highlighting reading skills as previous state standards have done, the Common Core highlights text levels. Unfortunately, the reality is that in classrooms across the country, many students are reading below grade level. For example, many students in 6th grade are actually reading at 5th grade level or lower. This makes texts at the Common Core-recommended level even harder for students to comprehend.

Much of the Washington Post article’s comment feed focuses on “frustration” level reading. Teachers everywhere are trying to find ways to mitigate the fact that many of their students are reading below grade level, and the Common Core demands.  To this, Shanahan responds: “The confusion evident here is a common one: the point is not to frustrate kids. The point is to teach students to make sense of texts of particular levels of difficulty.” He then asserts that teaching texts at multiple reading levels is the best way to reach students.

The Lexile Framework for Reading suggests that, for independent reading, students read books focused at 75% comprehension. This means students should select books in the Lexile range of 100L below to 50L above his or her Lexile measure. Texts in this range provide sufficient challenge to encourage students’ growth without frustrating or alienating them.

-Kate Pringle

Promoting and Selecting Diverse Texts for Classroom Use

At the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) last week in Washington D.C., the Board of Directors and Other Members of the Council passed a resolution supporting the inclusion of more diverse literary and informational texts in classrooms. The resolution will be presented to the full membership of NCTE for ratification by early January.

Promoting the inclusion of diverse voices in K-12 classrooms is an important element of curricular design and instruction. Supporting this idea is a new tool from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts.

An editable PDF that educators can download, complete, save and share, this tool promotes a multi-dimensional model for text selection, one that prioritizes critical literacy and cultural responsiveness as well as text complexity. Appendix D considers four distinct—but interconnected—dimensions of text selection: complexity (including both qualitative measures and quantitative measures such as the Lexile Framework for Reading), diversity and representation, critical literacy, and reader and task.

Appendix D offer a unique model for culturally responsive text selection that, when paired with a tool such as “Find a Book,” educators can use to explore, locate, and select more diverse literary and informational texts for their curricula while keeping an eye on the staircase of text complexity each student needs for college and career readiness.

Are You Writing Your Novel?

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo( NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization founded by Chris Baty in 1999, aims to encourage the creative writing dreams of people all over the world. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s 1,667 words a day! Participants use the official NaNoWriMo website to track their progress. The website also provides participants with writing tips and notes of inspiration throughout the writing period. Everyone who reaches the goal of 50,000 words written by November 30th gets a certificate, and a prize such as free books or deep discounts on writing software.

NaNoWriMo does more than just provide a place for budding novelists to track their progress. The organization also sponsors writing programs in schools all over the world. According to their Website, there were 92,000 participants in their Young Writers Program last year. The organization provides classroom materials to help teachers include novel writing in the classroom.  More information can be found here.

Happy noveling!

-Kate Pringle

Teachers: Help Us Improve the Quantile Framework and Earn $$$ for Your Class

MetaMetrics is currently recruiting 3rd grade classrooms to participate in a study to examine mathematics items. We hope you will consider participating in this study. We will give a $25.00 Barnes and Noble gift card to each teacher whose classroom participates in the study AND a $50.00 American Express gift card to go toward a “pizza(teacher choice)” party for the class to thank students and teachers for participating in the study.

Click here for more information about the study.

Please visit here to complete the short interest information form for your class.   Class participation is on a first-come, first-served basis, so we encourage you to respond soon. Multiple teachers within one school or district will be considered, but each teacher does need to complete the information form.

Teen Leisure Reading on the Decline

According to a research brief from Common Sense Media (2014), leisure reading on a daily basis among children and teens appears to be on the decline. Government studies (NCES, 2013) indicate that the proportion of teens who read for pleasure once a week has dropped from 70% to 53% among 13-year-olds and from 64% to 40% among 17-year-olds. The research brief also states that families that encourage time for pleasure reading and offer a text-rich environment in the homes can promote reading achievement and stimulate a life-long enthusiasm for reading. Anita Merina offers numerous suggestions for parents to encourage recreational reading :

  1. Allow children to make smart choices and have a voice in which books they would like to read. Encourage them to explore various genres to determine the types of text they most enjoy.
  2. Consider novels or books that address “hard topics” and offer eye-opening experiences for their children. Different cultures and lifestyles are often addressed for children to recognize and respect the diversities that exist among families, ethnicities, and ethical values.
  3. Use all types and styles of books. Poetry, graphic novels, or classics offer children varied experiences with literature that are entertaining, challenging, and original.
  4. Use social media to explore the possibilities. Parents should scrutinize the various elements of the digital world, but certainly there are applications for on-line reviews of books, chatting opportunities to discuss the material, or e-books that offer young people a connection among others their age who are reading similar material.
  5. Additionally, the research brief encourages parents to either read to their children or manage time in the week for their children to read. Parents can also read some of the books their children read and share some reflections from their reading experiences.

While there are many activities – school, social media, extracurricular activities – that may prevent students from leisure reading, survey results and other research indicate that children who engage in recreational reading continue to be strong lifetime readers. So whether they read graphic novels, e-books, or a diverse array of genres, children who read for pleasure can enjoy a lifetime of entertainment and thoughtful reflection garnered from their reading experiences.

Promoting Life-Long Learning in Mathematics

Learning mathematics requires deep-rooted intrinsic motivation, motivation to learn, to problem solve, and to discover the best methods for solving those problems.  When we, as educators, attempt to offer doing well on assessments or being prepared for college algebra as intrinsic motivators, we often find that the results are marginal and superficial.

The role of mathematics educators is to promote reflective practices that promote connections within the realm of mathematics, as well as prepare students for the mathematical elements that are the foundation of so many aspects of the daily lives of citizens, consumers, and workers in their communities.

Mathematics teachers need as much training as possible promote discussion and reflection in their math lessons. Some considerations for best practices include the following:

  • Rather than expecting the teacher be the source of knowledge, a mathematics classroom should offer opportunities for the students to explore, collaborate, and make decisions on methods to solve problems. Such guided interaction among the students will add excitement to the development of student problem-solvers.
  • Instructional feedback needs to be more than whether the answer is right or wrong. Students need guidance on which elements of the process were misguided, help with identifying the flaws in judgment, and what adjustments need to be made. In solving most puzzles, we need to step back and determine where we are missing some information or going in a wrong direction. Working in the mathematics classroom can offer the similar intangible gratification when the problem is solved.
  • Problems can be solved using different approaches. Allow time for students to discuss in whole group activities or in small groups to share the different methods and styles of thinking. In the social studies or science classrooms, many discussions lead to the phrase “I never thought of it like that.” Sharing tactics in the mathematics classroom can certainly lead to such discoveries, also.

In order to develop mathematics classrooms that foster reflection, discussion, engagement, and discovery, math educators should be trained at every level. Teachers without strong insights about the reasons for the various algorithms in mathematics will not have the confidence to promote dialogue that might go in unexpected directions. Even the teachers in the lower grades need to understand how topics in mathematics are interwoven so that “math talk” promotes that connectivity. Students who become engaged in learning become life-long learners. This should be the case in all content areas, including mathematics.

The Importance of Leisure Reading – Both at School and at Home

Leisure reading—independent, self-selected reading of a continuous text for a wide range of personal and social purposes—is a critical habit to develop in students as they strive to become college and career ready. And all of us—educators, parents, and communities—have a role in fostering a love of reading and encouraging a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure among our youth.

We also know that leisure reading is on the decline, not only in the United States but around the world and not only at home but at school as well. As the content of a student’s coursework continues to expand each and every year, setting time aside to encourage and promote leisure reading grows more and more difficult. Even the connotations of the term leisure reading may lead many educators to erroneously believe this time is not a wise investment. Research, however, suggests otherwise.

The benefits of leisure reading are well-documented: improved comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, empathy, as well as self-confidence in reading, motivation to read throughout one’s life, and positive attitudes toward reading. Additionally, high school students who regularly engage in the practice score significantly higher in reading than do their peers who do not read for pleasure as often.

To address the decline of leisure reading in our classrooms, the joint position statement of the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of teachers of English (NCTE) and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, promotes several recommendations for providing students with leisure reading opportunities during the school day, among them encouraging student selection of reading materials and opportunities to reflect upon, respond to, and share the materials that have been read.

For the benefit of our students we must begin to think of instructional reading and leisure reading not as an either/or initiative but a both/and endeavor. In fact, if we think about the progression of students’ reading skills, we might imagine something similar to what is seen in the visual below. This graphic shows a progression from modeling for students the reading of challenging texts (Read Aloud), to a collaborative, instructional approach to reading challenging texts (Read Along), to finally the independent reading of challenging texts (Read Alone).



(Click image to enlarge)

Just as parents should read with their children and encourage independent reading for pleasure at home, educators should make time for students’ leisure reading at school as well.

As the position statement suggests, “To ensure that students experience the benefits of leisure reading, teachers and families should support students’ reading choices by making available a wide range of print, digital, and multimodal texts that align with and expand on students’ interests and that students are able to read without great struggle”(p. 2).

As we gear up another school year, it is important to consider the advantages of leisure reading and also of utilities such as Find a Book that allow educators and parents to help pair students with books that both capture their interests and also match their level of reading readiness.

Inside the classroom, the Find a Book utility can help students create personalized book lists for leisure reading that are tailored to their interesting and readiness and can also help teachers explore a variety of texts that can complement, support, and enrich the content of their curricula while keeping an eye on the staircase of text complexity each student needs for instructional reading to reach college and career readiness.

Outside the classroom, students can continue to access their personalized book lists for leisure reading through Find a Book and parents and communities can support their students’ growth by using the Find It! feature to locate the nearest public libraries and booksellers that have the chosen books available.

With tools such as these in hand, we can match the right student with the right book at the right time and have a profound impact on the reading habits and learning of our children for a lifetime to come.

A Response to Simon: College & Career Readiness for All Students

Not long ago, Stephanie Simon reported for on what she called a “standards rebellion” in America.  According to Simon, “The backlash stems, in part, from anger over the Common Core … But it’s more than that. It’s pushback against the idea that all students must be ready for college — even if they have no interest in going.”  From Simon’s discussion, it appears that on the one hand, some policy-makers want to empower all students for college and/or rewarding careers; yet, other policy-makers call this elitist and say that many students need vocational rather than academic preparation.  Ironically, American College Testing found that high school students “need comparable levels of reading and mathematics, regardless of their post–high school plans.” (ACT, 2013, p. 6).

Recent research on the difficulty of reading materials associated with access to individual careers sheds some light on the issue. Williamson and Baker (2013) examined a randomly chosen linear systematic sample of 1/6 of the Bright Outlook Occupations identified by the National Center for O*NET Development using data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Fully 28.8% of the occupations in the study required only a high school diploma for access.  However, all of the rest required additional education beyond high school.  Using the Lexile® Framework for Reading to measure text complexity, the study examined the difficulty of reading materials associated with individual occupations and found that the reading levels associated with different careers varied widely.  However, while typical high school texts have text complexity at around 1130L (i.e., 1130 Lexiles), almost 70% of the Bright Outlook Occupations had median text complexities above 1200L.  Nearly 29% of the occupations had text complexity above 1400L.  Perhaps the truth is that the postsecondary world offers something for an extremely diverse population of high school graduates.  There are indeed a few occupations that may be accessible with only a high school diploma and typical high school reading ability.  However, the large majority of occupations require substantially more reading ability than is represented by the texts that high school graduates were required to read as they were nearing the end of high school.

The Lexile® Framework for Reading evaluates reading ability and text complexity on the same developmental scale. Unlike other measurement systems, the Lexile Framework determines reading ability based on actual assessments, rather than generalized age or grade levels. Recognized as the standard for matching readers with texts, tens of millions of students worldwide receive a Lexile measure that helps them find targeted readings from the more than 100 million articles, books and websites that have been measured. Lexile measures connect learners of all ages with resources at the right level of challenge and monitors their progress toward state and national proficiency standards. More information about the Lexile® Framework can be found at

Adjusting Math Terms for the Common Core World

Valerie Faulkner of North Carolina State University argues for a shift in the mathematical language we use.  The Common Core should give us pause and force us to reconsider the terminology and vocabulary we employ in describing certain skills and concepts.  Here are a few examples:

Old Habit (eliminate)                                     New Habit (adopt)

Defining equality as “ same as”                   Defining equality as “same value as”

Calling digits numbers                                    Clearly distinguishing between digits, numbers and numerals

Addition makes things bigger                      Addition is about combining

Subtraction makes things get smaller      Subtraction is about difference

Let’s borrow from the tens place               Use regrouping, trading, decomposing

Multiplication makes things bigger          Teach 3 structures of multiplication

Divison makes things smaller                     Teach the different structures of divisions,

Doesn’t go into                                                 Prepare students for later learning by using accurate language

Saying “and” means decimal point         Don’t create false rules for language using and

Canceling out                                                   Explicitly use and discuss the idea behind simplifying

Referring to “the answer”                           Use the model or the relationships to justify your answer

Guess-and-check as a strategy                 Teach systematic math representations


Old habits die hard, but this is food for thought as many districts get farther into implementing the Common Core.

Identity Confusion: The Problem with the Equal Sign

Henry Borenson explains how we use the = sign in two very different ways.  The first way is operational, for example 10 + 15 = ______.  The second way we use the sign is relational, indicating equivalence between two sets of expressions, each of which includes one or more operations, for example 8 + 4 =_____ + 5.  But in 1999 a study of hundreds of first through six graders only 5%  solved problems like this correctly.

Borenson believes that because of this study we can conclude that the relational meaning  of the equal sign is not something that students find intuitive or self evident. When asked to fill in the answer to the problems above most students said that 12 belongs in the space because the answer follows the equal sign.  The equal sign seems to trigger the operational definition in most students’ minds. Some students thought the  + 5 was just there to confuse them.

Borenson recommends  introducing students in the second or third grade to the idea of balanced equations using concrete objects rather than numbers and the equal sign. Once students get the idea the equal sign can be introduced with the balancing explanation. Studies have shown that if the relational meaning of the equal sign is introduced in this way students are much more likely to grasp both ways.

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