Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Lexiles are Handy

My daughter Willa is a new mother. Along with a beautiful baby girl named Beatrice, she has gained two sizes - or one size if we group sizes into Small - Medium - Large. She went shopping today for new clothes, a gift from her mom and a needed motivator. The clothes are lovely and so is she - a size larger than she was a year ago is a good thing.

Retailers do the work for clothes shoppers. Any serious shopper knows that sizes vary by retail chain, country of manufacture, and fabric. This knowledge can be counted upon if you, like me, do not like to "try on" before purchase. In fact, the more knowledgeable about size and brand you are as a shopper, the better the fit will be.

And that is why Lexiles are handy. They size self-critical middle school readers in a reliable way. All middle school teachers know that students like most of all to know "where they stand."

The NWEA reading tests, which we give twice a year, provide teachers and families with a lexile range as of the testing date. I understand that this can be inaccurate; a student can have a very bad, a very angry, a very indifferent, or even a very good day. But over a 3-year reporting period, the lexile becomes a fairly accurate guage of - well - of what a lexile measures.

What lexiles are, exactly, remains somewhat of a mystery to me, but over the course of this year I have come to trust the measure itself. A good place to find out a little more about lexiles is the Lexile Framework for Reading explanation. Briefly put, a lexile measure is an indication of the reading difficulty of a text or piece of text. A lexile range is the range of lexile measures at which the student can be expected to comprehend 75% - a "good fit." The lexile of most novels our students read can be found by a title search at Book lists are also available for a given lexile range. Some automated library catalogs provide lexile measures, as do some online database article searches. One's lexile range can be a very handy fact to know.

That is enough explanation for most students.

I use lexiles in three ways right now:
  1. Able readers who resist reading outside of class or in class: I pull up the all-grade NWEA reading report, highlight the student's Lexile, and say, "This tells me that you are reading in the top 9% of the 8th graders who took this test - probably you are reading at least in the top 9% of the kids in the country." Then we talk about reading choices, opportunities, likes and dislikes. It is no longer possible for the student say, "I can't read."
  2. Very able readers who are reading consistently below their ability: At the end of a reading conference, I pull up the all-grade NWEA reading report, highlight the student's Lexile, and say, "Your reading is at a lexile measure of _______. [explain what that means]. Let's look up the Lexile of this book [invariably 100-200 points lower]. It might be a good idea to find some good books that will be more challenging. What are you thinking about reading next? [or] Let's look for some books that you might like to read."
  3. Readers who overhear the above conversations and ask, "How about me?": These are my best talks. They often happen after parent conferences. They often happen with boys. We often use to look up the ratings of the last three books read. This leads to great conversations about books - far beyond lexiles. And these conversations are the best of all motivations to read.
Conclusion: Even if you do not have access to NWEA lexile measures, check out the lexile measures of the books your students are reading on their own. I note these in my Comments to our online reporting system (PowerSchool). Your school library may have a lexile indexing of fiction titles in an online catalog. Find out.

Lexiles are a gain-gain proposition in the middle school LA classroom.

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