A Well Balanced Diet

We’ve long known that a nutritious diet depends on more than just a sufficient number of calories – the type and source of calories matter as well. The same may hold true for reading.

Nell Duke of Michigan State just completed a study (subscription required) in which she reanalyzed the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study. One of her key findings was that every country that outperformed the US had their students reading a greater amount of informational (non-fiction) text. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) has recommended the following guidelines for the distribution of literary and informational texts:

Grade LITERARY INFORMATIONAL
4 50 50
8 45 55
12 30 70

Based on Duke’s study these guidelines seem to be good parameters for teachers. We already know the importance of targeting students (matching readers to text) through the Lexile Framework for Reading ( two great books on this point are Elfrieda Hiebert’s Reading More, Reading Better and Heidi Anne Messmer’s Tools for Matching Readers to Texts ). But Duke’s study and the work of NCES go a step further and demonstrate the importance of a well balanced diet of non-fiction as well as fiction.

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