I still remember when my oldest child (now all of nine) began school. He arrived home after his first day at school bitterly disappointed because he still wasn't able to read! However, four years later, he is an avid reader who now sees reading as a major leisure activity.
For many children reading is not such a fun activity and as a parent (as well as a teacher) it is very hard to see them struggling with something that is so important to their success in many areas of life.
The other side of this is the child who can read, but isn't very interested in it! Either way, as an adult, it is easy to feel impotent if you can't seem to make a difference no matter how hard you try.
For children in junior primary classes, the reading process is fairly structured. Reading Recovery levels are used to grade books according to:
• how much text is on the page
• what topic the book is about.
Teachers also send home lists of short words to learn-the 'sight words'. (My younger son had a real talent for ensuring these ended up by the leaking cordial bottle or the squashed banana-it's a miracle we could read any of them at all!)
During the course of the year, children move through the levels and it gives them, as well as the proud parents, a real sense of achievement. After some time the all-important level of 'independent reader' is reached and we all breathe a small sigh of relief-for some reason, this milestone makes all of us feel as if we've done the right thing: they can READ!
However, what are we really aiming for? We should be aiming for children who can read, who love to read and who want to read. Not only able to read, but who can gain meaning and knowledge from what they are reading.
We should be aiming for children who can read, who love to read and who want to read.
I feel like I have a bit of experience with this. My younger son was one of those kids who did all the right things. He picked up reading early, progressed through the levels quickly, and when his teachers did the 'running record' and tested him along the way, he did well. Before we knew it, we had another independent reader, and he was there ahead of time. He moved on to chapter books and according to everyone he was a reading success story.
Of course there is a twist to this; he could read, but reading really didn't do a lot for him. I first started to notice it when he kept bringing the same book home for reading over and over again. It wasn't a difficult book; in fact, it wasn't challenging him at all. He simply chose it out of the book box he was told to read from. It was the best of a bad lot. Here was a child who could read, had great decoding skills and spelling ability, but wasn't gaining any meaning or real enjoyment from his reading. It's sad really, that this is the experience for a lot of our children.
How can we ensure our children choose books that make them go 'Wow' when they read?
The Lexile Framework for Reading
What are the options or solutions to improve this? How can we ensure our children choose books that make them go 'Wow' when they read? One way might be from a new system that many schools are now using. This system is called 'The Lexile Framework for Reading' and its aim is to help better match their students to books.
What is it?
The Lexile Framework is a scale along which books can be placed in order of text difficulty, and readers can be placed according to their reading comprehension ability. Notice I said 'reading comprehension'-this is a lot different to the straight-out word-recognition skills they initially focus on when learning to read.
As the books and the children are matched using the same scale it is simpler for everyone to work with.
How to get a lexile level
The first step in obtaining a lexile level for a child is for them to take the Student Reading Inventory (SRI). This is an adaptive computer test in the sense that the test adapts to individual children. As children answer questions correctly, the test difficulty increases; if they get answers incorrect, the test difficulty decreases. At the end of this test, a lexile level is determined for the child. This is a measure of their reading comprehension ability-in other words, how well they understand what they have read, not just whether they know what the words say! This is a big step for reading.
A lexile level for a book represents the level of text difficulty.
A lexile level for a child is the measure of their reading comprehension ability (how well they understand what they have read).
How are books lexiled?
Books are lexiled in a very objective way. A sophisticated software program analyses all the text in a book, looking at two main factors—the word difficulty and the sentence length. These two indicators have been proven by extensive research to be the most accurate way to work out the complexity of texts. A lexile level is then assigned to the book.
The thing I love about this reading program is that real books are lexiled. Not readers, or some scheme that has been written specifically to sell lexiling, but real books that we find in bookstores and libraries. For example, all the Harry Potter books are lexiled as are the Artemis Fowl series and the Deltora Quest books.
Matching kids to books
Once a book is lexiled and your child is lexiled, they can be matched up together. 'So what?', you say? Imagine my son. He was considered a good reader so was introduced to chapter books. However, these were selected by the teacher and put in a reader box in the classroom. The choices were made for him. It was a matter of working through that box and moving on to the next. Boring. Then when he went to the library, he would wander around trying to find something that appealed to him, then he would flick through and hope that when he got it home he could actually read it. No wonder he wasn't inspired by reading! Until his school started using lexiles.
After taking the SRI test on the computer (which he loved) my son was given a suggested reading list based on the different interest areas he put into the computer. He then had a list of books about sport, adventure and mystery. They were also selected at a lexile level appropriate for him-not too easy and not too hard, just enough challenge to keep them interesting and they were also age appropriate! Suddenly, going to the library was a lot simpler. He now uses the library cataloguing computer to look up the books on his list, sees if they are available and finds them on the shelf.
When he has finished the book, he goes to the computer in his classroom, or maybe visits the library at lunchtime to do a short comprehension quiz on the book he has completed. If he passes the quiz, which he does most of the time, he gets a screen that flashes up with some very cool pictures, telling him his score and that he is a fantastic reader! He can also check how many words he read, not only in that book, but for all the books he has read so far, and how he is going toward the reading goal he and his teacher have set.
Suddenly my son can't wait to read the next book!
Reading can be fun!
This is more like it. I now have a son who reads in bed at night, who takes books for long trips in the car (as well as his Game Boy) and who asks to go to the library. He talks about the books he reads with enthusiasm.
So when your child comes home from school and says they have a 'lexile', don't panic! This is not a disease, it is a scaffold you and your child can use together to further climb the ladder to reading success. Enjoy!
Classroom Parent Magazine Issue 1 / 2004
© Scholastic Australia 2004