Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Retrieving: Talking with Colleagues

My inquiry project focuses not just on the lexile system, but on whether or not it is effective at my particular school and with my particular students.  So it made sense to start my search close to home--with trying to understand why the lexile system was initially chosen for use at my school.

In talking to my colleagues, I quickly learned that no one seemed to be quite sure how long we had been using the lexile system or who had initiated its use.  The librarian before me was a huge supporter of the lexile system, but she was an aide and was not the one who initiated its use.  Our principal was hired three years ago, and its use at our school definitely outdates her.

Just from my quick initial questions, I gathered that teacher feelings on the lexile system covered a wide range.  Some seem extremely dedicated to it; these teachers require their student to check out both selections within their lexile range during their weekly library visits.  Others place very little stock in the measurements, and instead allow their students to check out solely based on preference.  Most say that they "have to" use it, and therefore require one checkout per student within the range each week.

Only a few teachers seem to have thought independently about lexile.  One fifth grade teacher  explained that she feels that lexile is "a useful guide, but not the be-all and end-all of student reading.  Students will always do better with high-interest texts than something they select based on number alone."  This coincides perfectly with my own thoughts on the matter.  I'm honestly surprised that more teachers haven't thought more about their use of lexile, especially since no one seems to be sure of the school's background or reasons for using the system.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Planning: Initial Plan

For my course, I was assigned to write an initial plan paper outlining my ideas on what I planned to do for my project.  Here is what I submitted:

For my personal inquiry project, I will be examining the subject of lexiles.  In the elementary school where I just started working as the librarian, students are assigned lexile numbers based on their performance on standardized testing, which is administered three times yearly.  If students are sick on the test day, or if they simply perform poorly on standardized tests in general, the lexile number cannot be adjusted until the next standardized test.  Throughout the entire school year, most teachers require that one of each student's weekly checkouts be within their lexile range.

Furthermore, the classroom teachers require that students take Reading Counts quizzes within their lexile range each quarter in order to gain credit for their reading classes.  The number of quizzes required for varies depending on the grade and level of the reading class; most classes are asked to read and test on two to four books per quarter, all within the student's individual lexile range.  Students with low lexiles may struggle to find books of interest to them.  On the other end of the spectrum, books with high lexiles can often be too mature in content and language for advanced readers in lower grades.

Lexiles touched my work as a public librarian as well, when parents would often come in to the children's room and ask to check out a book at a "Level K" or a "300 lexile."  When well-meaning parents take their children to the public library in search of leveled books for classroom practice or to qualify for Reading Counts (or Accelerated Reader or other similar programs) tests, they don't understand where to look or how to located books at the appropriate reading levels.  Public librarians become frustrated with trying to understand the school leveling system instead of helping parents select quality literature for their children.

Because most of my experience is with high school students, I have no formal background with learning or understanding the lexile system.  The little that I do know has been explained to me by my daughters' (now ages 9 and 7) classroom teachers over the years.  My instinct is to feel that the lexile system is flawed and that there must be a better way of measuring student reading ability, but I may only feel that way because I've had such a hard time finding appropriate reading materials for my oldest daughter (now 4th grade), who reads way above grade level but emotionally is probably a little lower.

During the course of my inquiry, I'd like to find out specifically how lexiles are determined.  I plan to read research on both sides of the lexile debate--both supporters and critics of the system.  I would also like to find out what alternatives there are for measuring student reading ability.  I'd like to look into the pros and cons of these systems as well and determine whether any other system might be a possibility for my school in future years.  I will begin by using the databases available to us through the University Library.  I may also ask the teachers at my school if they know of any sources that I might find helpful.

I plan to use the Alberta Model for inquiry and to keep a journal of my experiences.  I'm looking forward to this project and hoping that I glean some useful information for my school!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Planning: Feedback from Classmates

Based on my initial topic ideas, I received excellent feedback and suggestions from my classmates in our course's online forums.

One classmate, Amanda, is a former teacher and a current children's librarian in a public library.  She said, "As a former teacher, I hate most of those 'Reading Counts' programs that many schools have.  We have Accelerated Reader in this area and as a children's librarian, I constantly have parents and children coming to the public library and asking where the AR books are located.  They look at me like I am crazy when I tell them that almost all books are AR books, and no we don't arrange them by level.  I feel like having to read at a certain level and then take a quiz over it is actually discouraging kids from reading what they want.  How many times have I heard a child ask to read a certain book and the parents say, 'No, you can't read that, it's not at your level.'  As a librarian, sooo frustating!"

Another classmate, Ashley, currently works as a children's librarian in a public library.  She said, "I personally love the idea of looking into the lexile system.  Working at the children's desk, I am always being asked for books that are either a specific AR level, lexile, or guided reading.  I once had a student ask me for books that were around a 600.  So I did a search online for a list of books around that number and compared them with our collection.  The results were a picture book, an early chapter book, and a 400-500 page book from the general juvenile collection.  I don't quite understand how three books I would label as being for a preschool-kindergartener, a 1st-2nd grader, and a 3rd-5th grader could end up being the exact same level."

Another classmate, Jane, who also works in the children's department of a public library, confirmed these sentiments.  She said, "I dread it when kids approach me asking for books with a particular lexile.  Usually they will name several books that they are interested in, inquire if they are in their lexile range, and then I need to tell them, no they are not.  Often children go home with a book in their lexile range, but not a book they are eager to read.  It is frustrating."

Bolstered by the support of my classmates, I decided to focus my inquiry on lexiles.

Planning: Considering the Possibilities

As a class assignment, I wrote a post to our class forum describing the different topics that I was considering.  Here's the main text of my post:

As option #1, I'm considering delving into a study of lexiles--how they are determined and whether they are really the best measure of student reading ability.  I know that some sources say they are not, but I don't know what the alternatives are.  I feel like now that I'm working at an elementary school, I should be a lot more knowledgeable about this, so this project might be a good chance to learn.

For another option, I'm thinking about looking at various reading programs (Book-It, Reading Counts, 600 Minute Reading Club, etc.) and what research says about whether participation actually improves students' reading skills and whether they actually encourage students to become "wild readers" or not.

As a more "book-based" focus, I was thinking about doing something with the Young Hoosier nominees.  Not entirely sure where to take this.... I'm reading the Young Hoosier picture book nominees with my students, and I'm strongly encouraging my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to read the intermediate nominees.  This is the first year that our school will be participating in the voting, so the kids, teachers, and I are all really excited about the process.  I'd like to do something really hands-on with the books, but I'm not sure what that would be....?

After my initial post, I continued to think about my own preferences and also waited for feedback from my classmates.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Inquiry Model

The first step was choosing an inquiry model to guide my project.  After some guidance by my professor, I selected the model designed by Alberta Learning.    Here is a visual representation of the model:
Alberta Learning.  "Focus on inquiry: A teacher's guide to implementing inquiry-based learning."  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Alberta Learning, 2004.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Hello everyone!  My name is Amy.  I am a student, a teacher, and a librarian.  I earned my undergraduate degree in English in 2001 and began teaching high school English shortly thereafter.  Over the years, I taught at a wide variety of schools, both public and private, in areas that differed greatly in terms of socioeconomic status and community expectations.

In 2013, I left the classroom to begin work in a public library while pursuing my masters of library science degree.  In the fall of 2015, I was able to meld my two great loves, the library and the classroom, by accepting a position as a school librarian at an elementary school while simultaneously completing my final year of MLS coursework.

The materials that you will find on this blog grew out of a project for one of courses, S672, a seminar in Children's and Young Adult Literature.  I was assigned to select a topic of personal interest connecting to youth literature and become an "amateur expert" on the topic by conducting a personal inquiry project.  Focus was to be on the process rather than the product, with the dual goals being an understanding of the inquiry cycle and the chosen topic.

For my project, I wanted to do something that would be extremely applicable to my job at the elementary school.  I wanted to do something that would better equip me to help the students and the teachers.