A tip of the hat to last week’s Marshall Memo for pointing to Susan Voorhees latest piece in this month’s The Reading Teacher, ‘Why the Dog Eats Nikki’s Homework: Making Informed Assignment Decisions’ (subscription required). Voorhees argues that too often students failing to complete homework assignments are seen as incompetent, or lazy, or as academically deficient. When, in fact, many students may be assigned conceptually dense work, or reading material at far too high a level.
Voorhees goes on to offer a detailed and compelling case for scaffolding, for differentiating based on the reader’s ability. Voorhees even recommends a checklist approach for determining how much assistance young readers may need with an assignment:
- Can all students decode the homework material?
- Do all students have prior knowledge, schema, and vocabulary needed to understand the assigned material?
- Do all students know how to use text structure?
- Do all students understand the purpose of the homework assignment?
- Do all students know how to activate prior knowledge prior to reading?
- Do all students have sufficient attention and ability to concentrate?
- Do all students have high self-efficacy toward homework and literacy?
- Do all students get parental help with homework?
For each of the checklist items, Voorhees offers concrete suggestions on ways to ensure that each student meets the criteria listed above. One such suggestion, for example, focuses on stamina – a reader’s ability to engage with the text for longer periods of time. Because a reader’s stamina will influence their success on longer reading assignments, Voorhees recommends taking stamina into account and breaking up longer reading assignments into more digestible chunks.
Voorhees also recognizes that reader level varies across classrooms and that more complex texts will present a greater challenge for struggling readers. Which is why she recommends that, when practical, teachers focus on providing easier texts for struggling readers.
The idea that an important piece of differentiation is targeting a reader with appropriately matched texts is a well-established idea and in line with many practices that complement the use of the Lexile Framework. The Lexile scale is an important metric for measuring both reader and text on the same scale. One of the advantages of a common scale is that by placing reader and text on the same scale, an educator has a clear idea of just how much challenge a text may present. The Lexile Framework for Reading allows educators to match struggling readers at a targeted level. Because so many supplemental resources have been aligned to the Lexile metric – including tens of millions of articles on just about any topic – educators have a wide variety of resources through which to target struggling readers. This sort of targeting jibes well with Voorhes’ suggestion to ‘provide easier text’ in cases where students will struggle with high level material.
Voorhees’ suggestions are worth considering. We’ve seen many of these practices implemented in classrooms around the country and many are a natural complement to using the Lexile Framework to match readers to the right level of text.