A Step Too Steep?
High schools, to be sure, should be introducing higher levels of text complexity to prepare students for college and careers. To this end, the Common Core standards have introduced a text complexity staircase that recommends accelerated Lexile levels beginning with grades 2 and 3. But are those initial stairs too steep?
Educational researchers Elfrieda H. Hiebert and Heidi Anne E. Mesmer examined the evidence for and against beginning the acceleration in grades 2 and 3. Here's what they found:
- Text complexity has decreased over the past 50 years—but at the middle and high school levels, not in the primary grades.
- There's nothing in the research that supports the connection between 2nd and 3rd grade text levels and students' future performance in reading texts at the college and career levels.
- Although the Lexile framework in this staircase is described as an "equal interval scale," it's really not very equal. The yearly reading growth expected in grades K–5 averages 163 Lexiles, whereas the average growth in grades 6–12 is 53 Lexiles. "The end of grade 3 may represent less than a third of students' school careers," the authors note, "but the 790L target for the end of 3rd grade represents 58 percent of their reading competency" (p. 47).
Accelerating text complexity in grades 2 and 3 could be risky. "Increasing the pressure on the primary grades," the authors note, "could widen a gap that is already too large for the students who, at present, are left out of many careers and higher education." Possible consequences are decreased levels of automaticity and fluency in recognizing words; decreased student motivation and engagement in reading; and a reduced sense of efficacy on the part of teachers, who are now being asked to raise their students' reading levels dramatically, without the substantial supports this effort would require.
The authors reaffirm the need for a focus on text complexity in the secondary grades and suggest that text complexity levels at grades 2 and 3 should be informed by research. "At this point," the authors note, "[those levels] are purely aspirational" (p. 49).
"Upping the Ante of Text Complexity in the Common Core State Standards: Examining Its Potential Impact on Young Readers" is available at http://edr.sagepub.com/content/42/1/44.full.pdf.
Numbers of Note
81 The percentage of U.S. 16- to 29-year-olds who read to research topics they're interested in.
73 The percentage of U.S. 16- to 29-year-olds who read to keep up with current events.
Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project. (2012). Younger Americans' Reading and Library Habits. New York: Author. The survey asked 2,986 respondents about the types of material they read—including books, magazines, journals, newspapers, and online content—for various purposes.
An Eye for Art: Focusing on Great Artists and Their Work by the National Gallery of Art (Chicago Review Press, 2013)
You're probably familiar with Claude Monet's paintings of the water lily pond at Giverny. But did you know that Monet maintained a team of gardeners to keep the pond clean—even insisting that they dust its surface so it would clearly reflect the sky?
Would your students be inspired to know that British landscape master Joseph Turner got his start when his father, a London barber, displayed his childhood drawings in the barbershop window?
An Eye for Art offers these and many other informational tidbits to foster students' visual literacy and art expertise. Designed to introduce children (ages 7 and older) to more than 50 prominent artists, the book is equally fascinating for adults. It includes reproductions of selected works by the artists, analyses of the techniques they used to create these pieces, insights into how their lives informed their art, and suggested activities ("Try This") as well as discussion questions ("Explore More").
Are cell phones safe? Are social networking sites good for society? Should Americans have the right to carry a concealed handgun?
Debating the pros and cons of issues is a great way to get students to peruse informational texts, evaluate evidence, and make their own reasoned arguments that draw on those texts. ProCon.org—an online collection of researched, fully cited pro and con statements on 47 controversial topics—gives teachers a downloadable pool of short texts to help students engage with, evaluate, and emulate good informational writing.
Supplemental materials include essays that summarize the major points of each controversy and describe views on that issue throughout history; infographics and videos; fact boxes; and lesson-planning guidance at "Teachers' Corner". Teachers can print these resources to encourage close reading of informational writing, critical thinking, and in-class debate.
"Our job is to teach readers to expect to do this thinking work. The book's job is to make it rewarding."