The Common Core State Standards challenges us, as English Language Arts teachers, to shift the way instruction looks and sounds in the ELA classroom. One of those shifts is the attention to the staircase of complexity. We know that for students to be ready for the complexity of college and career texts, all students need opportunity to closely read literary and informational complex texts with appropriate and necessary scaffolding.
Compiling this type of literary text bank is not difficult for an ELA teacher. After all, most ELA teachers were trained as literature majors. The challenge for ELA teachers has been identifying examples of non-fiction text that are leveled and high interest. Teachers are beginning to pay more attention to Lexile levels when planning for grade-appropriate texts and so are publishers when publishing text.
One website is dynamically responding to this need through it publication of online articles that have students reading closely, thinking critically, and being worldly. NEWS ELA uploads non-fiction articles from 21 major publishers including Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and The Seattle Times. The updates are daily and are categorized: war and peace, science, kids, law, health, money, and arts.
So how might a teacher use this site? The teacher creates a free account and is able to search for articles based on topic and then bookmark them into binders by student or class. Let’s use the following article as an example. Katherine Long’s article, on February 27, 2014 from The Seattle Time’s, has been adapted at five different Lexile levels: 690, 870, 1000, 1150, MAX (1330+) on this site. Each article is leveled differently. Looking at title alone, the following adaptations are leveled by Lexile:
- Mentors have message for kids: Go to college (1330+ Lexile)
- Think about college, university tells grade school kids (1000 Lexile)
- University students help in fifth-grade classes, talk about college (690 Lexile)
What do you notice about the titles?
Now let’s look at the opening paragraph of these articles:
- SEATTLE — Western Washington University’s Carver Gym was buzzing with fifth-grade energy one day in October, as nearly 900 students filed into the gym in the heart of the Bellingham campus. (1330+ Lexile)
- SEATTLE — Nearly 900 fifth-graders filled Western Washington University’s gym one day in October. (1000 Lexile)
- SEATTLE — Western Washington University’s gym buzzed with fifth-grade energy. (690 Lexile)
Again, what do you notice as the Lexile level increases? Decreases?
Most of the articles on the site are accompanied by a four question quiz. The quizzes are aligned to Common Core informational reading standards and those are noted with each question. We can easily see in these questions that accompany the above article, how NEWS ELA levels questions:
- Which of the following sentences DOES NOT highlight the main aim of the Compass 2 Campus program? (1330+ Lexile)
- Which of the following BEST supports the main aim of starting the Compass 2 Campus program? (1050 Lexile)
- What is the Compass 2 Campus program all about?(720 Lexile)
Teachers are able to share codes with students to direct them to specific articles that have been identified to meet them where they are. Teachers are also able to download data reports to Excel to track and monitor student progress. Parents are able to create accounts and reinforce reading comprehension at home.
This site provides endless possibilities including:
- Differentiating articles to meet readers where they are for independent reading
- Differentiating articles to move students up the staircase of complexity by providing appropriate and necessary scaffolding
- Rereading texts closely and thinking critically
- Exposing readers to world news and expanding global understanding
- Comparing/Contrasting articles across Lexile levels to analyze complexity levels
A high school English teacher I shared the site with added, “I really like the flexibility this site offers. The subject matter is diverse so content-area teachers can easily find informational reading passages. I am especially excited to have a source for finding current events which are written to various Lexile® levels. In a collaborative course, I have readers on many different levels. This site lets me find one article which can be tailored to four or five different levels.”
How might you use this site as a student, parent, or teacher?
Visit ELA & the Common Core to learn more.