One of the biggest challenges for teachers is finding tools that help differentiate content for students, particularly non-fiction in the science and math fields. This can be even harder to do with online or blended students. Without seeing your kiddos face to face, it can be more challenging to understand which texts they are really understanding and which are just written at a level that is too high for them (which is almost every high school science text).
In addition, Common Core has upped the text complexity necessary for college and career readiness. Enter the Lexile level. I have always been a fan of Lexile assessments that help determine the appropriate grade level on which a student reads. I used it in my class, indexed my classroom library with it, and had 20 minutes of silent, sustained reading everyday where students could read any book that was at or slightly above their reading level. This strategy worked well for my learners, most of whom were 5th or 6th grade level readers in a 9th grade course. All students improved their reading level over the course of the year by at least one grade, sometimes up to three. I was proud of my kiddos for their improvement and pretty proud of myself for helping them see that growth. Now I worry. Was that good enough? Would that be good enough today? There are hundreds of thousands of students reading below grade level. With the new Common Core Lexile levels, how are students who are entering high school reading at a 5th grade level supposed to leave prepared for college and career?
I have no clear, definitive answer, but to me, this is definitely an example of, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Specifically, a village that reads…and reads…and reads some more in the context of the content in which they are learning. And increases text complexity as they do. Not a small job by any means.
Here is my favorite tool to help with that. Newsela. A-maz-ing. Pick a category that best aligns to what subject you are teaching. Find an article that supports your content. Newsela will give you variations of the same article written at different Lexile levels. I love this because it would allow my kiddos to get the content, which they need for multiple reasons, but at a level that is accessible to them. And no other student would have to know which version another student was reading. By creating your class in Newsela, you can assign students to the level that is appropriate for them. This would allow for all students to participate in discourse about a topic, differentiate for your special needs students, low level readers, and English language learners, and support non-fiction reading in all content areas. If we are going to get all kids prepared for college and career, we need, as a village, to read more in all content areas and blending this tool with your class is one way to do that.