Tag Archives: reading

Some Thoughts On Informational Text

Did that title get your attention? Just kidding! As school districts throughout the PARCC consortium, like us, pore over their test results, it will likely become clear that students didn’t perform as well as they could have on an assessment category called reading informational text. It will be important for school districts and parents to look to improve this area of assessment moving forward. The shift towards informational text becoming an important part of standardized assessment–in this case PARCC–became apparent when the Common Core standards were released a fewScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 8.15.12 PM years ago. Controversial at the time (okay, still controversial to some), the Common Core called for a greater emphasis on the reading of informational text across the curriculum in schools. Ultimately, the Common Core recommends a split in what high school students read: 70% informational text and 30% literary works. For many teachers, this split was a drastic change from what was traditionally done in classrooms. This blog isn’t the place to debate the merits of this decision. All I will say is that I am in favor of students reading as much as possible regardless of its kind. I love both fiction and non-fiction and hope students feel the same. I also realize students will frequently encounter informational text when they enter college and join the work force; therefore, it is certainly important that we teach students how to read this genre. One way to improve students’ comprehension when reading informational text is through the website Newsela.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 8.58.03 PM
An article from Newsela

I have become a huge fan of Newsela (pronounced NEWS-ELLA) because of its design, the selection of informational articles available for readers, and the assessments that come with each article. I had heard of Newsela over the past few years but was initially skeptical. I am decidedly old school when it comes to reading. For many years when I taught I got hard copies of the newspaper delivered every day for my students to read. Even so, I realized a few months ago that my second-grade son needed some help with his reading. My son loves to read, but I noticed he was reading way too fast and not really comprehending what he had read. I realized something was up when he claimed to have finished a book in about fifteen minutes. Before you think I am some sort of an “intense reading dad,” I’m not. My son can read whatever he wants from Captain Underpants to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As long as he is reading, I am happy. But, my son still needs to understand HOW to read. So, I started using Newsela with him, and I think it is wonderful.

Newsela is a free site (subscription model available) that edits news articles from organizations like the Washington Post, Associated Press, and Scientific American into different levels of complexity using the Lexile framework. This enables readers of different levels to all be reasonably challenged. Classes with different levels of Unknownreaders can be differentiated as students are able to read the same article but at different Lexile levels. Each article comes with a few assessment questions that reinforce important content or vocabulary from a related article. Parents and teachers can track a child’s or student’s progress as they read, giving them insight into strengths and weaknesses. Newsela just released an app for Apple devices and it is most impressive. I think this app can be an important addition to a class set of iPads and any reading program. I honestly never thought I would like a site like Newsela. However, I think its ease of use, the quality of its informational text, and the fact that it gives real-time data on reading progress makes it something English and elementary teachers should consider using in their classes. Parents, like me, should also consider using it with their children. Overall, it is a great product and something I think will help students tremendously as they learn to read informational text.

The Importance of Reading

3-28-13_ReadingAccording a new study just released from the Institute of Education, children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers. In summarizing the report’s findings, the IOE found that children who read for pleasure make more progress in math, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read.
The study is believed to be the first to examine the effect of reading for pleasure on cognitive development over time. Researchers compared the reading habits of about 6,000 students and made some interesting findings:
  • “Reading for pleasure was found to be more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education.”
  • “Children who were read to regularly by their parents at age 5 performed better…than those who were not helped in this way.”
  • “Reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children’s vocabulary development, but the impact on spelling and math was still significant.”
  • “It is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”
One of the leading researchers of the study, Dr. Alice Sullivan, hopes that the research will reinforce the value of reading for students at a time when it appears students are reading less. “New technologies, such as e-readers, can offer easy access to books and newspapers and it is important that government policies support and encourage children’s reading, particularly in their teenage years,” said Sullivan.
Encouraging reading is a goal many of us share and now there is data to show just how important a role it can play in the lives of our students.  There are many sites on the web that can help teachers make reading a vital part of their students’ lives. Here are some that I use:

Which sites do you use? Feel free to add your favorites to the comment section below.

Jonathan Olsen