A Just Right Reading List

We’re always happy when we hear about our tools and metrics being put to use by those outside of education. We designed tools, like Find a Book, with more than educators in mind. Our hope is that parents are able to use Find a Book year round to help students select books they actually want to read. That’s why we’re thrilled to see posts like this from Ellen Weeren over at A Reason to Write:

If you have ever been to the library or book store with a child, you know full well how hard it can be to find a “just right” book for that child to read.

Well, Lexile will make choosing a book a (much) easier undertaking.

On the Lexile website, at the top of the homepage (right next to the “home” tab on the upper left corner of the site) is the “find a book” tab. Click it and you will be prompted for your child’s Lexile measurement. (You can also get an estimate of that by pulling up a book that s/he has recently read and seeing what it’s ranking is. Then use that ranking for your child as an estimate.) Then they will also ask what grade the child is in.

Then you to select what types of books the child enjoys reading – mystery, fantasy, humor, etc.

Finally, you will get a long ‘o list of suggestions. Click on one that interests you/your child and you will get a summary of the book and a list of awards it might have won…

This is also a wonderful place for grandparents to figure out what books to buy their grandchildren.

And don’t forget Find a Book’s link to the public libraries as well. By clicking on the WorldCat link, users can determine if a public library carries the title they want – making books accessible to all readers. If you haven’t yet used it, be sure to give Find a Book a try.

Beyond the Standards:The Core that Matters Most

Here’s Anthony Colucci offering educators some useful reminders on their impact in the classroom  Classrooms are about more than just curriculum and accountability testing. He argues that while it is necessary to continually revise our state standards there are many bedrock values, core principles that underlie all classroom activity.

Here’s Colucci’s list of standards that are worth remembering:

  • My class will be engaging.
  • I will stress the importance of hard work.
  • I will teach my students what it means to be responsible citizens.
  • I will encourage my students to find careers they will love.
  • I will treat my students with respect.

While curriculum standards will continue to evolve and grow, keeping these basic principles in mind will go a long way in helping ensure that today’s students become tomorrow’s passionate, educated, and engaged adults.

College & Career Readiness for All

Here’s a useful reminder from Dr. Joseph Wise on why it’s so important that every student graduate prepared college and career:

 Lexile reading levels of newer technical and military manuals aims at what we used to know as blue-collar jobs now consistently surpass the Lexile reading levels of typical undergraduate liberal arts textbooks.  You have a high schooler who wants to focus on vehicle mechanics or computer technology-her reading demands will be more severe than her classmate who wants to pursue political science at a college.

If you encounter a colleague who asserts, “well not all kids are meant for college” you might say, “care to be the one to decide who goes and who does not”?

Dr. Wise goes on to remind us why college and career readiness is more than just a noble goal.  It’s imperative to our country’s survival and continued competitiveness:

When in India last year speaking to a college of aspiring teachers in Hyderabad one young woman asked me why the USA is so focused on kids going to college.  My answer to her was: In India you have a record population of 1.2 billion and many suspect that if those unaccounted for were added you’d have nearly 1.6 billion.  In the USA we only have 300 million-so we must get every kid ready for the choice of college or high wage important job.  Our economy and way of life depends on it.

Useful Assessments

This recent Education Week Teacher article, “Survey: Teachers Place Little Value on Standardized Tests” prompts the consideration of the purposes of standardized testing in the United States. A recent report published jointly by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations states that only 28% of educators believe the state-required standardized tests inform or gauge student achievement.

Additionally, survey respondents worried that many students fail to take standardized test seriously and therefore, do not perform as well as they do on quizzes and test administered during classroom instruction.

It’s important to point out, however, that standardized testing can actually be used to inform instruction if those assessments have been linked to The Lexile® Framework for Reading and The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. When standardized tests are linked to these frameworks student score reports can identify their levels of ability, monitor growth over time, and inform instruction that in a way that allows educators to target student ability levels for both reading and mathematics.

The Lexile framework offers a developmental scale that teachers can use to match text to a student’s reading ability. The Lexile Find a Book site offers an abundance of book titles with Lexile measures so that parents and teachers can match the material appropriate to the student’s interest and reading ability level. The Quantile framework is another developmental scale that teachers can use to match student’s mathematics ability to the difficulty of mathematics topics at the introductory level. These various topics in mathematics can be found at the Quantile website where most major skills and concepts have been aligned to state standards.

If standardized tests are linked to The Lexile Framework for Reading or to The Quantile Framework for Mathematics, the assessment allows educators to differentiate in meaningful ways.  If you haven’t already check out these valuable resources, be sure to take a look.

Quiet Appreciation: Encouraging the Talents of Introverts

In the move away from the teacher-centered classroom towards a student-centered one, a classroom is often set up in “pods” of desks rather than in rows.  Most tasks are done in cooperative learning groups rather than the teacher lecturing to the class.  Many educators and parents consider the student-centered classroom the ideal.  But in the move towards the learner-centered classroom, ironically, a third to half of learning styles may not be addressed if teachers rely heavily on cooperative and collaborative learning.

In Susan Cain’s Ted Talks video, “The Power of Introverts,” she expresses concern regarding the over-emphasis on group learning in the classroom and the challenges it presents for the introvert.  She recognizes that extroversion has become the ideal in the United States and that introversion tends to be looked down upon.  History shows us though that many of our most revered thinkers were introverts who did their best work with quiet strength and often in isolation: Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Steve Wozniak, to name but a few.
 
The student-centered classroomhas its roots in the educational philosophy of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky.  Both of these philosophers asserted that learning is a social process.  Consequently, “student centered” tends to mean “group work.”  

Introverts generally do their best thinking alone.  They tend to prefer listening over talking.  Introverts are energized when they are by themselves or in small, well chosen, groups of people.  It is a basic personality trait with which people are born.  The classroom that requires introverts to think and work constantly in groups does not play to the strengths of students with introverted personalities.   That’s why personalized learning platforms offer so much promise – they allow all students access to individualized instruction at their own level.

Taken at face value “student-centered” should be about playing to our students strengths as well as encouraging them to overcome challenges.  For the introvert, working in groups and actively asserting themselves in an unfamiliar situation tends to be the challenge.  For extroverts, focusing, thinking, and working by themselves is.  Both sets of qualities are equally important in an ever changing world.  As teachers enacting the student-centered classroom, we serve our students by helping them move outside of their comfort zone but equally, if not more important, is identifying and encouraging their strengths.

Not Just the What, but the How…

As schools and districts around the country begin planning their summer reading programs, it’s important to remember that the effectiveness of a well-intentioned program depends largely on the strength of implementation. A solid initiative, built around well-established research principles, can still fall apart if the implementation is flawed. The devil is in the details, and implementation is a key component of ensuring that more students read more over the intervening summer months.

Those details often account for whether a summer reading program fails or succeeds – even one built on a bedrock of solid research. This recent IES Regional Education Laboratory study, for example, was built around the idea of allowing students to self-select texts of interest and around targeting students at their individual Lexile reading level. Given the amount of research on the importance of targeting and self-selection, the authors should be commended for their efforts to build a summer reading program vastly different from the majority of programs that simply allow students to pick from a small menu of non-targeted texts, or worse, assign every student the exact same text.

The guiding question of this specific effort was to discern if a summer reading program can be taken to scale without the burden of parent and teacher involvement. Based on what the authors have shown us with this particular implementation, the answer would appear to be a qualified ‘no’. Or, at least, not when administered in this way.  This specific study found that, while there was a small positive effect, it was not statistically significant.

As the authors acknowledge, this effort suffered from a number of limitations. For starters, students received their books en masse. Rather than being given a few books at a time, students were presented with large stacks all at once, making it possible that students felt overwhelmed and without direction on which step to take next. Secondly, students received their books long after summer had already begun – in July. Receiving a large collection of books relatively late in the summer sacrifices valuable time.  In fact, for many students, the program was a 30-day program – not a summer reading program.  Efforts to determine the effects of targeted and self-selected reading on summer reading loss might fare better if those books are provided near or at the end of the school year. Notably, this particular study lacked a way to determine if the books were actually read. The best medicine may be effective, but without ingestion, it’s unlikely to have any effect. Similarly, a well-targeted collection of books may very well stave off the debilitating effects of summer learning loss, but if the students simply neglect the books, it’s unlikely those texts will have any effect at all. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that the assessment to determine the effectiveness of the program was administered well into the start of the school year. As the authors point out, any positive effects of this particular program may have well been obscured by additional instruction that may have occurred since the school start date.

 Here are the study’s authors commenting on possible reasons why five other similar studies did find statistically significant effects on student’s reading comprehension levels:

One possible inference to draw from this study, and the more recent work of Kim and colleagues (Kim and Guryan 2010; Kim and White 2008), is that some of the components that Kim and his colleagues added—in particular, personalized teacher encouragement of each student to read the books during the summer and brief, small group lessons on strategies for reading—may be essential components to success.

 As schools wrestle with the most effective summer reading programs, the ones most likely to reduce the impact of summer learning loss, it would pay to be mindful of implementation. And to remember that involving the community and parents is an important part of refining even the most thoughtful summer reading programs.

More Innovation in the Classroom

Here’s yet another example of a school using an innovative approach to improve student reading scores:

After noticing an uptick in ELL and other students with below average reading scores at his school, Skip Johnson, principal at El Crystal Elementary in San Bruno, CA, created a forward-thinking reading program pairing iPods and print books that has helped to successfully boost reading comprehension scores among non proficient readers.

The idea for letting struggling readers follow print and iPod audiobooks simultaneously was first sparked when Johnson was browsing the iTunes store trying to spend a $50 iTunes giftcard–a generous gift from a teacher. “I happened to notice audiobooks for sale and I went, ‘Hmm, there are a lot of books here that kids want to read,” he said.

Whether he knows it or not, Johnson’s program capitalizes on multiple avenues of research: the importance of reading outside the classroom, the power of self-selection and allowing students to pick what they read, the significance of utilizing technology as an always-on solution, the impact of audio learning, and, of course, the importance of targeting students at their own reading level:

With help from his colleagues, Johnson curated hundreds of audiobooks on a sliding scale arranged by lexile level. Students check out books from the library and take them home to read, following along with the audio loaded on school-owned iPods. When students finish, they take a Scholastic Reading Counts quiz to test their comprehension. After passing, they can progress to another book on the playlist, often at a higher level of difficulty.

Johnson obviously realizes the importance of targeting readers as a way to improve their reading ability.  And utilizing technology to provide audio-scaffolding ensures that each student receives an individualized approach to their reading growth.  Kudos to teachers like Johnson for blending multiple lines of research into a concrete, practical classroom strategy for improving student reading ability – one that appears to be working very well.

Hand’s-On Math

Every mathematics teacher wants to be able to help their students learn more math and learn math better.  The typical mathematics classroom contains a diverse range of students who differ in their readiness to learn.  Quality mathematics teachers seek new strategies to reach their students and help them grow.

Differences in learning occur for a variety of reasons.  Some students may have academically encouraging homes.  Some students may have academic learning disabilities. Other students may have physical differences.  And just as with physical growth, some students may simply grow in their mathematical abilities at different rates. 

Regardless of the reason, mathematics educators often strive to find tools and resources to help meet individual student needs and differentiate instruction.  Handheld, mobile technologies may offer just the means to do that.  As this recent article from SmartPlanet, details there are new opportunities for the visually impaired learner using “haptic” technology. 

Haptic means relating to the sense of touch.  Through a research project at Vanderbilt University, an android app is being developed to help learners who have difficulties with their vision to learn mathematics – a subject where visual data such as graphs, charts, and symbols are relied upon for communication.

Many learn better through doing rather than speaking or hearing. Mathematics can be difficult to teach to these learners.  In addition to assisting the visually impaired, such technology may open the door for the kinesthetic learner.  With handheld devices becoming downright commonplace, this seems like an opportunity with a lot of promise.

Resources to Implement the Common Core

As this recent Education Week article, Educators in Search of Common-Core Resources, makes clear, educators are clamoring for resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM).  Many states have already adopted these standards and are currently developing assessments tailored to them.  

Shifting from previous standards to implement the CCSSM in its intended manner is no easy task, particularly at the elementary grades.  The Common Core was developed to move our country’s mathematics curriculum away from breadth and rather, vertically articulate the curriculum from kindergarten through high school to develop depth of understanding.    Developing depth of understanding however, requires an emphasis on the connections between concepts.

The Quanitle® Framework for Mathematics has information to help educators better understand these connections and is also aligned with the CCSSM through its freely accessible website.  Using the Quantile website, www.Quantiles.com and its tools, educators can find thousands of free, web-based resources aligned to the CCSSM.  

The Quantile website tools, the Math Skills Database, and the Quantile Teacher Assistant have a two-fold purpose: 1)  These tools leverage the Quantile Framework’s interconnected web of almost six hundred skills and concepts and align them with the CCSSM.  This taxonomy is also aligned to states’ previous standards, thus helping educators in their transition from one set of standards to the next; and 2)  Each of the skills and concepts delineated by the Quantile Framework is linked to freely-available web resources, providing educators with the much needed resources to implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

If you haven’t already tried it, be sure to take a look.

Readcycling

There’s a new trend in the world of libraries: the miniature library, DIY reading rooms, and other micro book depots. Built around the idea of readcycling, these miniature libraries offer new methods for obtaining books. The micro library’s system is simple: take a book, return a book. This recycling of books is the foundation to hundreds of “little, free libraries” that exist all over the world—from the streets of New York to the malls and residential areas of Sweden.

Micro libraries can take many forms; old phone booths, miniature houses, and a number of other novel (pardon the pun) constructions. The Book Booth, pictured by the Department of Urban Betterment,is especially popular. Phone booths, no longer relevant for their intended use, offer an ideal micro library for urban areas, such as New York City, where there is an abundance of empty booths. In Sweden there is a book equivalent to Red Box, the well-liked movie rental system in America, called the Bokomaten.  Bokomatens are book-filled, automated machines with the capacity to handle book loans and returns.

Popping up in communities all over the world, micro libraries and readcycling makes books easily accessible. Check out The Atlantic and get the full scoop on micro libraries.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.