Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Lexile Level Is NOT Text Complexity CCSS.R.10

This Tweet  from #tcrwp (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) on August 15th caught my eye.  A quick glance at the twitter stream confirmed that it came from Stephanie Harvey’s keynote (sigh of envy across the miles).

@amandalah: Careful of lexile: Harry potter, old man & the sea &Alexander & the horrible no good very bad day. All similar lexile. #TCRWP

Hmmm. . .  Harry Potter, Old Man and the Sea, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day are three distinctly different texts that have similar lexile levels!

Was I interested?  Yes!

Did I independently check?  Yes!

Those three books are typically read by readers at these levels:

  • Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad, No Good Day  –  primary grades
  • Harry Potter  –  upper elementary grades
  • Old Man and the Sea  –  high school

But yet they all three have similar lexile levels!  Would that still be where those texts would be read?  Or has that expectation changed with the adoption of the Common Core?

The initial connection to Stephanie Harvey was further confirmed in Twitterverse later:


So what is a lexile?   And just how is a lexile determined?

The Lexile Framework® for Reading claims to measure a student’s reading ability based on actual assessment, rather than a generalized age or grade level.  It uses a common, developmental scale to match a reader with books, articles and other resources at the right level of difficulty. The Lexile Framework was developed by MetaMetrics®, an educational measurement and research organization that purports to use scientific measures of student achievement to link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.  To date, more than 115,000 books and 80 million articles have Lexile measures, and the number of resources with Lexile measures continues to grow.

HOWEVER, CCSS.R.10 does not use Lexiles alone as a single measure of Text Complexity.  ALL CCSS documents include a three-pronged approach to complexity as evidenced by this graphic and explanation:


The Common Core specifically says that there are “three equally important parts.”  A lexile measure does not equal text complexity. There are many ways to determine which texts are appropriate for specific grade levels or bands.  Quantitative factors (#2 above) seem to be the easiest to measure.  An addendum to Appendix A suggests that two quantitative measures be used for comparison.  That would mean that Lexiles AND a grade level equivalent could both be considered for a more general “quantitative measure.”  Then qualitative facets would be explored like theme, structure and knowledge demands.  Finally the Reader and Task considerations would be reviewed.

Additional information about text complexity is easily located.  Kansas text complexity resources are available here.   Sarah Brown Wessling’s,  “Teacher of the Year,” viewpoint of text complexity is available at Teaching Channel.

 So just how do these three books compare when looking at multiple data points?


Which elements of text complexity are you considering when selecting text?
What examples of “Out of Whack Lexiles” have you found?

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Addition/ Update =  08.17.13:
  • Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 610L.
  • Twilight garners a Lexile score of 720.
  • A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway 730L.
  • Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, has a Lexile score of 860.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid has 1000L.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville has a Lexile of 1200.
  • The Wee Little Woman is a board book by Byron Barton and has a Lexile of 1300.

**According to Titlewave:
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid 950
Fahrenheit 451                   890
Gossip Girl                           820
The Great Gilly Hopkins    800

From @AliBuzzell  new resource on 08.21.13  Thanks, Ali!
@doctordea   Brief white paper:  The Lexile Framework:

Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer


CCSS Writing Success: Begin with “Small Moments”

Where should writing instruction begin this year?

  • “I have the new Units of Study.”
  • “I have the old Lucy Calkins units.”
  • “I just need to get started with writing because it is something that our students have not been taught.”

Do any of those quotes match your current planning status for the new school year?

Consider starting with personal narrative.  The students are ALL experts on themselves.  Writing personal narratives will allow the students to “ease” into the school year without a lot of drama and angst because the goal will not be a “research paper.” (And remember that “research paper” is NOT a type of writing in the new CCSS writing standards!) Instead personal narratives can:  introduce students to writing workshop, set the framework for writers notebooks (grades 3 and above), provide a focus for writing instruction, and begin to teach self-reflection for the authors.

So what does Lucy Calkins teach about “Small Moments” of writing?

Each moment is important.

“1.  Picture the moment in your head.

2.   Tell the details of the moment.

3.   Sketch the moment.

4.   Stretch and write the action in order over several pages.”

(Calkins, Lucy.  “Small Moments – Personal Narrative Writing”)

What will instruction look like?

Read Alouds that might be familiar for your students include:

    •  A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
    •  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
    •  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Read alouds would involve discussion of small moments and details that “show” what happened.  The teacher may also consider constructing a “Small Moments” shared class story or having partners discuss and write a “Small Moments” story together before students write their own independent stories. Students who have written “Small Moments” stories will also share them with the class to further reinforce and validate their progress.  Students may need many cycles of “Small Moments” writing, conferring, and small group instruction before they confidently complete several pieces that showcase their ability to produce quality writing!

How will students know if they have hit the “Small Moments” target?

Depending on the age of the students, a checklist for student reflection might include:

___  I wrote about a small moment.

___  I wrote about what happened first, next and last (or beginning, middle, and end).

___  I zoomed in and added details.

___  I wrote about something true in my life.

Quotable gems to keep in mind throughout instruction from tweets about @colleen_cruz’s presentations during TCRWP August Writing Institute:

“Voldemoort was nothing in comparison to what we teachers are currently facing.”

“If the lesson isn’t going well, just stop . . .  You aren’t going to be Sully on the Hudson.”

“Pick just one thing to focus on and do it really, really well.”

How are you beginning your writing instruction this year?  
How have you used “Small Moments” in your writing instruction?


CCSS and Writing: The Path to Accelerating Achievement

2013-06-24 09.32.102013-06-25 12.46.332013-06-23 15.24.13   2013-06-23 15.06.40

The staff at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project are in the middle of their second week of writing institutes for the summer of 2013.  Just six weeks ago I was at the first institute in New York City immersed in a wonderful world of writing authors and experts:  Lucy Calkins, Sarah Weeks, Tony Wagner,  Billy Collins, Patricia MacLachlan, Colleen Cruz, Mary Ehrenworth, Maggie Roberts, Kate Roberts (and the Twitter friends that I met in person including @jennymae and @azajacks).

Lucy Calkins kicked off the keynote and then led the beginning grade 3-8 sessions every single day.  It was one of the most fabulous professional development experiences of my life (even though I was sure I was in the wrong place the first day because writing a narrative WAS HARD!)  The chance to learn from, be challenged to improve, and to ask questions on a daily basis  was literally a slice of heaven.   We did not hear everyone’s story but in a community of 1300 learners from 52 nations and 42 states, there were many stories to be told!

I have many favorite quotes from Lucy Calkins that I will be regularly reviewing to see if I am on course, but her opening  keynote was literally a call to action!

1) “Don’t waffle!”

In order to achieve something, one must “go for it!” Stay the course.  There are many pressures on teachers and public schools, but now more than ever the adults at school need to be doing the right things for the right reasons.  Kids need writing every day, not a little workshop time here and there during the week.  Writing has to be on the schedule daily for students to grow their writing skills!

2) “Work with deliberateness towards crystal clear goals.”

Begin with student writing and then identify goals as next steps.  Research on achievement shows that students who are most successful are those who get feedback and work on getting better.  Deliberate practice with concrete goals will set the learning curve.  Look at Hattie’s research on goals for more information about the effect size of having clear, purposeful goals.

3) “Bring writing to scale.”  

Change is hard so you will need a support group.  Find those communities that will support you because the people who make life-altering changes usually have a support group.  If necessary, be a bottom feeder and move forward because students can and will assume identities as writers with our help.  Use the Common Core to create a sense of urgency to provide writing workshop time so students can develop the writing process with integrity. Remember that three of the reading standards support “writing” in addition to the 10 writing standards that all students are working towards.  Literacy time probably needs to be half reading and half writing and extend across other subject areas in the day as well.  If students are writing every day, their work will be visibly better in three weeks so we have a moral imperative to provide both the environment and the instruction to make that happen in our classrooms.

And my closing  Lucy Calkins gems for today:

“Remember that we are not teaching kids to DO something.  We are teaching them to BE something!”

“What is the Bill of Rights you give to all writers at your school?  What is the promise you give the kids about writing?”

What are your favorite Lucy Calkins quotes?

Understanding the CCSS Reading Standards: A Second Look


In June of 2012, many Iowa educators were challenged by Dr. Shanahan to “really know” the CCSS reading standards.  At that session we were told that we should “memorize the gist” so that we could use the standards interactively and have the “words” at our beck and call.   I reread the Reading Standards last week while working with writing classes in order to build many reading and writing connections.  This opportunity to “reread” the standards deepened my own understanding.

How well do you know the reading standards?  

Do you need to reread them?

On 8.03.13, I found “Learning with Reyes” through a Twitter link.   I like the questions that Ric has added to the reading strands that already build connections between the groups of standards.  The link to Ric’s post above provides the source of his learning.

I have combined our “phrases” from Shanahan with the the questions from Ric.  They add another dimension to my thinking and talking about the standards.  See if this version helps strengthen your understanding of  the reading standards!

                      College and Career Reading Anchor Standards

reading standards

Are these words and phrases consistently in your conversations?  (They are NOT the “know all, be all” but they are a good beginning point for  the CCSS Reading Standards – Instruction and Assessment.)

What are you going to do to increase your knowledge of the Reading Anchor Standards?
 What are your going to do to increase your understanding of the Reading Anchor Standards?

Your comments below are greatly appreciated!

Planning to Meet CCSS Grade Level Literacy Standards


Do any of those questions sound familiar?

I spent this week with some fabulous teachers working on the Iowa Core Writing Standards.  Did we work on all of them?  No!  Did we talk about all of them?  Not by number!  But we did spend a lot of time talking about what good writing should look like, how writing will be assessed in the future, and the whole reciprocal nature of reading and writing.

So what’s my best advice for planning those “first writing lessons for the new year?”

Here is my thinking based on what I learned at Teachers College Reading and Writing Institutes this summer:

  1. At least 50 % of reading workshop time (or more) has to be spent on students reading books of their choice every day (CCR Anchor Reading 1 and 10).
  2. At least 50 % of writing workshop time (or more) has to be spent on students writing every day. (That writing has to be aligned to one of the first three CCR Anchor Writing Standards, Argument, Explanatory, or Narrative and 10).

(To summarize 1 and 2 above, every day the student will be working on a minimum of 2 reading and 2 writing anchor standards.)

If I have planned my instructional sequences well, I will have also managed to “bundle in” some Speaking and Listening and Language Anchor Standards or some Foundational grades K-5 standards to support the gradual release of responsibility.

How will I decide which ones go together?  One of my new tools is this graphic, A Periodic Table of the Common Core Standards,  from Burkins and Yaris.  During planning, this table will remind me of the wide range of standards available and I will choose the standards that best meet the needs of my students as I also consider what I have learned about “letting the students guide my instruction” from Vicki Vinton and our #wrrdchat as we studied the book, What Readers Really Do.

How will I know if I have been successful?

  • I will check the amount of time students spend reading and writing every day and shorten the “teacher talk” time to ensure that students are getting as much time possible for reading and writing.
  • I will listen to students in reading and writing conferences to hear what they are saying about reading and writing.
  • I will talk to students about my own reading and writing histories.
  • I will model reading and writing with and for my students.
  • And I will ask my Twitter mates for help, encouragement and assistance when things run amuck as they are prone to do!

(Dr. Shanahan has already said that “there are no power standards in ELA” here so that is a non-issue.)  And yes, you do have to teach all the standards!

How will you know that you are meeting the CCSS Grade Level Literacy Standards?  What is your plan for this school year?

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