Late Elementary, Middle and High School Educators Needed For Reading Research Survey

Are you an educator who works with struggling readers in late elementary, middle school or high school? Are some of your students reading at levels three years or more below what is typical for students at their grade level? We are interested in your feedback on reading materials often used with students reading at lower levels. We want to hear from you!

Please indicate your interest in being part of our current study (and possibly future studies) by completing the short survey found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MMResearch2017.

Middle and High School Educators Needed For Reading Research Survey

Are you an educator who works with struggling readers in middle school or high school? Are some of your students reading at levels three years or more below what is typical for students at their grade level? We are interested in hearing from you! Please complete our online survey and participate in our research program.

We are currently conducting research designed to increase our understanding of how educators use reading materials intended to support struggling readers. This survey is just one component of our work. It is intended for educators who work primarily with middle and high school students. We are asking for your responses to these questions for two reasons—to help us understand better what various school systems and programs are doing in this area, and also to identify what appears to be “working well.”

Complete our survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MetaMetricsSurvey.

Research Grants Offered to Educational Institutions or Researchers that Evaluate and/or Interpret EFL Reading Comprehension

In partnership with the British Council Assessment Research Group, we invite applications for research which will contribute to our understanding of the construct of EFL reading comprehension and reading comprehension assessment.

The aim of the grants is to build insights into the interaction between features of text and reading tasks that impact comprehension and can inform teaching, learning, assessment and evaluation. These grants will support researchers around the world so they can conduct and disseminate the highest quality research. Two areas of interest have been identified for these grants, reading comprehension and growth in reading comprehension over time.

For more information on the grant proposals and how to apply, visit lexile.com/research-and-publications/grant-opportunities/.

Can Pigeons Read?

Reading as we know it comes from two important elements. One is the ability to decode, which is a trait known to humans and how we use language. While some studies have been used to see how well animals can learn this skill, like speaking (the most infamous maybe the work of the Communication Institute of St. Thomas founded by the illustrious anthropologist Gregory Bateson and neuroscientist John Lilly that attempted to teach dolphins to speak to humans), this is often considered a singularly human trait.

The other element is known as orthographic knowledge, or the ability to detect words. It turns out, this may be an ancient evolutionary trait, shared with species as distant as pigeons. A joint team of scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, determined that pigeons can be taught to recognize certain words. They also could learn to detect patterns to possibly identify words from non-words. Pigeons could learn to detect as many as 58 words. However, pigeons are far less adept at learning vocabulary as other primates, like baboons. Baboons could understand, on average, 139 words, to the average pigeons 43.

In short, to say that pigeons can read is a rather a truthful hyperbole. This amazing research, however, does demonstrate that pigeons and many other species quite separate from us have some of the essential building blocks that allowed our ancestors to create language. Hopefully, further research will illuminate what else such a connection may mean for the development of language.

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.

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!

Summer Reading Loss

As we hit heat in the triple digits, summer can seem innervating. Unfortunately, just as kids set into the casual routine of vacation, an insidious truth emerges: some students often return to school with a lower reading aptitude than when they finished school. Among the first to note this phenomenon in 1978, Barbara Hayns determined that different rates of summer learning among students may have a persistent effect over how their educational career develops. In other words, when a student loses skills in summer, it takes her/him a considerable time to catch back up while her/his fellow students continue to improve.

Summer reading loss affects those of lower socioeconomic status, and those of color, disproportionately. In what eminent sociologist Karl Alexander called “turning off the tap,” during the school year schools provide resources that are not available to many people in the summer months. Those with more resources (usually those of higher socioeconomic status or whose parents have more education) tend to do better while the tap is off. Meanwhile, those with fewer resources often feel the strain and suffer disproportionate losses.

However, one solution is to keep reading, either through a formal summer reading program or through a self-directed program. In an effort combat summer reading loss, we’ve created the Summer Reading Pledge on “Find A Book”. Here parents and students can select books that match their Lexile Reading Levels. With the simple Summer Reading Log, parents and students can track a student’s reading progress. It is hard to fathom that the halcyon summer holidays help contribute to an increasing achievement gap among students. Yet, just keeping students engaged with the right books can go along way to narrowing the gap and curtailing summer loss.

Unpacking the Complexity Within the Text Complexity Measure

By Malbert Smith III, Ph.D. and Matt Copeland

With the recent release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, there is renewed interest in her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, Brody and Maloney (Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2015) argue that teachers need to rethink how they teach To Kill a Mockingbird in light of the themes in Go Set a Watchman. The timing of this release also corresponds to the five year anniversary of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Regardless of where you land on the merits of the CCSS, it has brought a renewed instructional emphasis on the concepts of text complexity and close reading.

With the next generation of standards’ emphasis on increasing the diet of non-fiction and the number and quality of complex texts that are taught, there was concern among some teachers that many of our canonical texts (particularly fiction) taught in middle and high school did not appear to satisfy the text complexity requirement. For example, when one examines the quantitative leg of the text complexity triangle, To Kill a Mockingbird has a measure of 790L which corresponds to the recommended grade level of 4 to 5 in Appendix A of CCSS. However, when one examines the qualitative and reader/task legs of the triangle, the authors of the CCSS in Appendix B adjust the recommended level to grades 9-10 where this novel is typically taught.

Shanahan and Duffett (2013) reported that, like Mockingbird, seven of the ten most popular books taught in middle school and five of the top ten books taught in high school are not challenging enough on the quantitative index. Against this backdrop ELA teachers in middle and high school have been asking whether these classic books can satisfy the requirements of close reading of complex text. And the answer is that these books are outstanding not only on the quality and reader/task dimensions but also along the dimension of quantitative measures of text complexity. In fact, when we dig a little deeper into these individual works, we often find that there is sufficient complexity—even based upon the quantitative index alone—to warrant their inclusion in our curricula.

But beyond the consideration of what works we teach, another important consideration are the instructional practices that we use to deliver that learning to students. Certainly, close reading and the reader and task considerations within the CCSS text complexity model are essential; they provide the framework for thinking through the kinds of instructional scaffolding we might provide to help students be successful. As classrooms around the country prepare to begin another school year anew, helping practitioners to examine the complexity of a text and even the finer grain details of the quantitative index, might be a rich resource for more data-driven instructional planning.

To this end, MetaMetrics is unveiling the beginnings of a new line of research: chapter-by-chapter graphs (such as the one shown below for Mockingbird [Figure 1]) of the Lexile measures of chapters within an individual work. Our belief is that equipped with this type of information instructional leaders can make decisions on how best to focus their instruction time and thereby have an even more profound positive impact on student learning.

Figure 1. Lexile measures by chapter for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Fig1

As one can see in Figure 1, while the overall text complexity measure of Mockingbird is 790L within the entire book, there is substantial variation among the individual chapters of the novel. In fact, of the novel’s 31 chapters, 18 chapters fall above the entire work’s Lexile measure of 790L, while only 13 chapters fall below the 790L mark. And while only one chapter (Chapter 20—part of the courtroom scene) falls within the Grades 9-10 text complexity band, five more chapters come within 100L of that range. From this graph, we believe it is easy to see that there are a number of opportunities to present sufficiently complex text to students and to provide the close reading opportunities and instructional scaffolding our students may need.

Interestingly, when we have asked ELA teachers of Mockingbird to predict which specific chapters of the novel might be more complex than others, they typically predict the same ones that the quantitative measures identify. This would seem to support the notion that many practicing classroom teachers are quite adept at selecting texts that provide sufficient complexity for their students’ learning and understand—even intuitively—where the complexity resides. However, making these realities more concrete in our minds offers us a number of opportunities to reflect upon our instruction.

As an extension of this work, we have gone a step farther and also begun to examine each paragraph within a particular chapter. Just as we see variation among the Lexile measures of individual chapters, we see even more variation among the paragraphs within a chapter. For example, when we examined the complexity within Chapter 13 of Mockingbird [Figure 2], it became clear to us that although the overall measure of this chapter is 1020L—just below the text complexity grade band range for Grades 9-10—there does exist a sequence of about 20 paragraphs that overwhelmingly do fall in the text complexity grade band and, in fact, even exceed that grade band in one instance. The opportunities to engage students in close reading of text at the appropriate level within these 20 paragraphs seem rich on the surface. An examination of the content of those paragraphs—the scene where the young narrator of the novel, Scout, comments on the arrival of her Aunt Alexandra, the relationship Alexandra maintains with her brother, Atticus, and her staunch belief in the importance of family and social traditions—confirms the importance of the passage to the novel as a whole. And, perhaps, becomes even more important now given the narrative presented in Go Set a Watchman.

 Figure 2. Lexile measures by paragraph for Chapter 13 of To Kill a Mockingbird. fig2

As a former high school ELA teacher, I (Matt) now see how examining and unpacking the empirical text complexity measure of books could have helped me greatly in planning for instruction. For example, I see more clearly now where the opportunities for close reading exist within the novel. I would rethink the reading schedule I typically hand to students at the beginning of the unit to highlight these “peaks” of complexity within the work and spend more time focusing my efforts on providing my students—particularly my struggling readers—the instructional scaffolding they need in order to be successful with these chapters. The possibilities seem endless.

If we desire to meet the ideals embodied in the next generation of standards, educators need time, tools, and resources. Even within the text complexity model itself, such opportunities do exist. Our challenge is to harness these opportunities, embrace them, and empower changes to our curricula and—even more importantly—to our instructional practice.

As we think about the needs of our students and re-think some of our curricula and instruction, Scout’s wisdom and insight from the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, when she finally stands upon Boo Radley’s front porch, seem all that much more relevant: “I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle.”

For more information and to view the collection of available Lexile by Chapter Guides, please visit lexile.com/lexile-by-chapter/.

References

Brody, L.  & Maloney, J. (2014, July 14). Teachers’ new homework: a ‘Watchman’ Plan. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-new-homework-a-watchman-plan-1436917909

Lee, H. (2015). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins.

Lee, H. (2015). Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins.

Shanahan, T. & Duffett, A. (2013). Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments. Washington DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from http://edexcellence.net/publications/common-core-in-the-schools

First Grade Classrooms Needed for Reading Research

MetaMetrics is seeking participants for an upcoming research project investigating early reading ability.

We at MetaMetrics believe that assessment and instruction should be connected. Providing quality information about a student’s reading ability is a key component of one of MetaMetrics’ mottos: “Bringing Meaning to Measurement.” We continue to explore innovative relationships with the development of literacy through its groundbreaking research agenda.

As such, MetaMetrics is recruiting for our ongoing Early Reader research initiative. We are specifically looking for first grade teachers willing to administer a short set of reading items to their students.  Many of these items include illustrations. The goals of the research include reliably assessing the complex connection between visual illustrations and reading abilities.

For more information, please visit . Each teacher whose classroom participates in the study will receive a $75.00 Barnes and Noble gift card.

We look forward to working with you on this important study.

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.

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.