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Lexile is A tool

For the past 11 years, I have supported teachers in their use of Lexile as one resource when they consider both student’s reading levels and text complexity. The Lexile Framework for Reading comes from Metametrix and is used by numerous companies – Scholastic, NWEA, Follett, to name a few – to help students and teachers identify texts that would be appropriate for independent, guided and challenge reading. Metametrix is quick to point out that this Lexile score alone is not the sole determiner for text choice. What Lexile provides is an idea of the content students should be able to read and comprehend about 75% of the time based on vocabulary and sentence complexity.

For instance, consider helping a high school science teacher figure out that if the sole source of information for his students in one unit is the textbook, it may or may not be a useful resource for students in his classroom. Taking a minute to use the Lexile Analyzer to get some baseline information (beyond what the publisher said the “grade level” of the book was) about the text lead to the discovery that more than half of the students in the classroom would benefit from having additional sources of content at a variety of reading levels. There is nothing earth-shattering in the revelation, but definitely beneficial when the teacher (with the help of the media specialist) was able to gather a couple of other resources, making the content more accessible. Not to say that teachers aren’t doing this already, Lexile may just be an additional resource for these efforts.

Lexile seems to be a hot topic this month as a new school year gets set to begin. The point Paul Hankins makes in his blog about “the lex-aisle” is a vivid illustration of how any well-meaning tool can be used in ways in which it was not intended. (And I love this phrase as a reminder.) He references Kylene Beers’ blog where she reminds us of the five-finger method for children to use as they help themselves determine if they can read a book. Donalyn Miller shares her concern about the situations in which Lexile becomes the sole factor in book selection. I support all three points of view. For me, it is about triangulating the data…and teaching our students to do that as well.

What if a Lexile is a (starting) point? What if students are taught the five-finger method? Then what if we add in the factors Metametrix says Lexile doesn’t take into consideration: genre, theme, content, interest or quality? How would it look and what would it take to start with a student’s interest, use a Lexile and teach the student the five-finger method? Teachers and media specialists have ideas about the appropriateness of texts’ theme and content. They also have ideas about the quality of texts. How might we help students recognize and learn how to use a variety of tools (including Lexile) to assist them in their reading choices – activating them to own this piece of their learning?

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