Vocabulary Matters

Vocabulary matters. From early readers learning sight and high-frequency words to medical students deciphering Latin-based names for the parts of the human body, vocabulary is critical for academic and life success. While students acquire many words indirectly through typical reading experiences and engagement in conversation, research suggests that high-quality direct instruction of vocabulary remains an effective way for students to learn new words. Unfortunately, time limitations and the quantity of potential words preclude educators and parents from providing direct instruction designed to teach all possible vocabulary words.

To address this challenge, MetaMetrics has developed a new technology, Lexile® PowerV, to facilitate the selection of words from a piece of text. Words are selected based on three criteria: challenge level, relevance to the passage, and consequence for later reading experiences. The challenge criteria can be based on either the text complexity (e.g., words that will be hard given this text) or reader ability (e.g., words that will be hard for a particular reader). Words relevant to the passage reflect the key themes of the text based on a corpus analysis of 1.4 billion running words. Lastly, words with high utility (i.e. words that are part of large word families) or have been recognized as important for future academic success are selected where appropriate. For more information about the research underlying PowerV, please see our research briefs Empirical Lexile Measures for Words, Lexile Word Frequency Profiles, and Calculation of Lexile Word Measures Using a Corpus-Based Model and Student Performance Data.

This research initiative has implications for parents, educators, and partners. For parents and educators, MetaMetrics’ Lexile “Find a Book” website provides a portal to PowerV functionality. For select books, PowerV provides targeted vocabulary lists based on either the text complexity of the selection or specific reader ability. The word lists generated by PowerV can be used to inform pre-reading activities and instruction, providing readers with an opportunity to learn critical words before encountering them in text. The utility of these word lists is best illustrated with examples.

Don Quixote by Cervantes has a text complexity of 1410L, and PowerV selected ten words from the book that are important for readers to know, regardless of their individual reading abilities: goatherds, shepherdesses, valorous, earldom, belabored, doleful, covetous, digressions, succor, and chaste. To get a more individualized vocabulary list, a teacher or parent could enter a reader measure for a student. In this example, a reader measure of 1000L was entered and PowerV generated a custom word list that is appropriate for this particular reader: curate, disenchantment, commending, absurdities, lamentations, besought, jousts, renegade, and proverb.

A more contemporary example is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. The first novel in the Harry Potter series has a text complexity of 880L and PowerV identified the words that are important for readers regardless of reading ability: referring, broomstick, defrosting, clouted, unseated, bathrobes, quartets, trances, and alibis. For a fourth grader reading at 600L planning to engage with this stretch text, PowerV identified a custom vocabulary list: chasers, scuffles, piers, bowlers, madam, cloak, boaters, dodges, hushing, and whiskery.

MetaMetrics provides a web service for partners looking to integrate PowerV functionality into their own instructional systems. The service accepts a variety of parameters (text, ISBN, Lexile range, number of requested words) and returns appropriate vocabulary lists. Example usages could include: highlighting of challenge words (if in a digital environment), providing word lists in the front of each book, or pre-reading vocabulary-building activities. For more information about licensing Lexile PowerV, please click here.

Given the importance of vocabulary development for academic success, the word selection provided by PowerV is a critical first step in improving student vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. With these words in-hand, parents, educators, and partners all have the opportunity to adopt the instructional approach that best suites the needs of their students. In the end, vocabulary matters.

Lexile by Chapter Guides: Expanded Offerings for a New School Year!

A flurry flutters throughout our nation’s schools as instructors clean classrooms and libraries. Bookshelves are being rearranged. Teachers frantically organize their textbooks and create new bulletin boards. This month, educators gear up with excitement, and refresh their materials (and themselves!) for a new school year. Here at MetaMetrics (developer of Lexile measures), we’re refreshing some of our resources for you too!

Launched last fall, Lexile by Chapter Guides have drawn considerable attention to the utility of Lexile measures in instructional planning. In particular (and as articulated in Tim Shanahan’s blog post this past June), this work helps grades 2-12 teachers think beyond merely using text complexity measures as a way to assign certain texts to students based upon their reading ability. Instead, these Guides help teachers think more about the kinds of instructional scaffolding needed to bridge the gap between the difficulty a particular text presents and the individual student’s unique reading abilities. With a deeper understanding of both the complexity within a book and the reading ability of individual students, educators can more thoroughly explore and prepare for those reader and task considerations in the classroom.

MetaMetrics is pleased to announce that we have added 38 new Lexile by Chapter Guides (LbC) for 33 different titles to our collection. These new Guides are available, along with our previous offerings, on the LbC webpage here. The new titles included represent many books that have been requested by teachers and librarians through our feedback survey; our research into frequently taught full-length works at various grade levels; and also a few that serve to illustrate the importance of this work for instructional planning.

Perhaps most exciting in our new offerings is the inclusion of 16 non-fiction, informational texts. These non-fiction titles (many of which also have discussion guides for teachers collected here) will help provide teachers of science, mathematics, history, social studies, and other content areas access to the same information teachers of literature have enjoyed over the past year.

The planning and preparation that goes on in schools this time of year becomes the foundation for student success over the next many months. We hope Lexile by Chapter Guides are a part of that planning and preparation too. Whether teachers are using these Guides to help them better understand the needs of their instruction, or whether they are sharing them with students to help them anticipate and plan for their own independent reading, Lexile by Chapter Guides are a treasure trove of information that help to spur everyone toward success!

Support your brain by supporting small press literature

As Summer, sadly, draws to an end, the thought of finishing those last books on your Summer reading list may be hard to manage—the malaise of heat only matched by the languor of picking up another tomme published by one of those big publishing houses. It has become commonplace for the “big books” of summer to emerge from the gargantuan publishers with books as meandering as when Dickens was paid by installment (though let’s not be so trite as to call these books Dickensian). These are, indeed, great books, but they are based on a model where the author gets paid a substantial advance for a book that seems to necessitate a weight equal to the gold paid. And, some might say, these books all seem a bit familiar, a bit safe, and a bit expected. Yet, as reported by The Atlantic in the age of the 7-figure book deals, small presses are providing great literature often noted for their beauty, brevity, and creativity.

In non-fiction, Graywolf, based in Minneapolis, has published such books of essays as Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. In poetry, Graywolf has published 3 Sections, Vijay Seshadri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, and Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine’s important and timely book on race in America (See how instructors have used Citizen in the classroom).

Other notable small presses—though there are many to explore—include Algonquin Books, based in Chapel Hill, NC, which published Julia Alvarez and first published Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Dorothy, based in St. Louis, which publishes authors who are women, and recently published such devastatingly beautiful books as Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo and Nell Zink’s Wallcreeper; Tin House Books, based in Portland, OR, which has sponsored great writers for decades in its magazine Tin House. So explore, and escape into those last days of Summer with a creative and thought provoking new book by one of these presses that helps keep contemporary literature alive.

Educators Needed for Early Reading Focus Group

Are you a kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade teacher, librarian, or reading specialist? Are you interested in hearing about the latest Lexile research in early-reading and sharing your feedback?

Over several years, numerous research studies were conducted to examine the characteristics and features of books intended for early-reading students. This research investigated predictors of text complexity of these books and led to the enhancement of the Lexile® Analyzer (the tool used to determine the Lexile measure of texts).

We are looking for early education professionals to join us in our Durham, NC office and participate in a 90 minute focus group on our outreach efforts related to more precise measurement of K-3 books. Each participant will receive a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card.

Interested? Please complete this short survey. Thank you for your time!

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.