Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Matching Readers to Texts"

I just read this in a technology e-newsletter I get:
"The Arizona Department of Education has inked a deal with MetaMetrics to link the state's "Instrument to Measure Standards" (AIMS) to the Lexile Framework for Reading. The agreement will impact about 500,000 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 beginning in the 2007/2008 school year"

For the lucky, uninitiated among you, lexiles are supposed to measure a text's difficulty and are used in leveled reading programs to, as their slogan proclaims "Match Readers to Text." Grade levels are assigned to lexile score ranges. Visitors to their website can search the database for the lexile score for a particular book.

Just for fun, assign these titles a grade level:
1. Stargirl
Midsummer Night's Dream
3. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
4. The Outsiders
5. The Giver
6. Memoirs of a Geisha
7. The Bad Beginning
8. Hatchet
9. Hamlet

Answers further down. . . . . .

The titles are already listed in ascending order. Stargirl and MND are tied at 590 (3rd grade); Sisterhood - 600 (also 3rd grade); Outsiders - 750 (4th grade); Giver - 760 (5th grade); Memoirs - 1000 (6th/7th grade); BB - 1010 (7th/8th grade); Hatchet - 1020 (7th/8th grade); Hamlet - 1390 (college junior/senior)

The scary thing is that I did not pick and choose, listing only the most ludicrously inappropriately "leveled" titles. There are the only titles I searched. This is matching readers to text? Readers waiting 4-5 years before enjoying or appreciating The Bad Beginning, Hatchet or Hamlet? Third graders reading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? The Giver may be appropriate at the word, sentence, and plot level for 5th graders, but even students in later grades struggle with, sometimes even rebel at, the ambiguity of the ending.

A contrast: I just finished reading Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone. If Arizona really wanted to make an impact on a half-million kids, the Department of Education should buy every English/language arts/reading teacher a copy and should also make sure each teacher has an adequate classroom library. Nancie wields some authoritative studies to back up her basic assertion that giving time and choice is the surefire way to skilled readers who continue to read. (remember Mark Twain's quote?)

If you're looking to match kids with texts, s
croll down the Kids Recommend page on her school's website and you will find an impressive array of authentically challenging and enriching reading, all nominated by the students and updated each year.

If the Arizona Department of Education officials were especially perceptive, I'd also suggest they buy those teachers a subscription to Voices from the Middle for Kim Ford's Student to Student book reviews and Teri Lesesne's column Books for Young Adolescents.

But I know it's a pipedream. If education officials were that wise, they'd never "ink" deals like this in the first place.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Starting in the Middle

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

This six-word story was written by Ernest Hemingway who claimed, it is reported, that it was his best work. This genre has sprouted in countless websites and blogs. In November 2006 Wired magazine featured 6WS like these, written by famous (and not so famous) authors:

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
- William Shatner

There's even a book of six-word memoirs coming out from HarperCollins in 2008. The website lists this one from Daniel Handler:
"What? Lemony Snicket? Lemony Snicket? What?"

Hold this thought. The point of this introduction will become clear in a minute.

Welcome to the NCTE Middle Level Section blog. We hope it will be a virtual teacher's lounge where the conversation about all things Middle, like the cappuccino machine, is always on. Middle Level Section Steering Committee members Nanette Bishop, Jim Johnston, and Susan Houser will be joining the conversation on topics of current interest as well as to stimulate discussions in YA lit, literacy coaching, and Adolescent Literacy policy. We will also be joined periodically by featured guests who will add their areas of expertise.

You can receive notices of updates to this blog through your email by subscribing using the box in the upper right corner of this page. Even more importantly, join in the conversation by clicking the "comment" link at the bottom of any blog entry where you'd like to add your thoughts. Help us make this space as lively as the students we teach.

Now, the point of the introduction, a six-word story from an anonymous blogger:
"I blog daily. Only God reads."

Please don't let this be the fate of the Middle Section blog.