Friday, October 16, 2015

Retrieving: Reading in the Wild

For one of my grad courses, I'm currently reading Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller.  I absolutely LOVE this book.  It is filled simply fantastic, revolutionary, hands-on ideas about changing the way we teach reading that really resonate with me.  While reading this week, I was surprised and pleased to run across a section where Miller shares her thoughts on lexile.

Echoing my own feelings, Miller writes:
"I have no issue with assessing students' reading levels and identifying text complexity.  As a teacher, I find such information helpful when determining my students' reading ability and what books might fit them.  What concerns me is that in many situations, Lexile measures become the sole factor in book selection and recommendation" (63).

Miller goes on:
"While identifying readability can be useful when evaluating textbooks, guided reading texts, or other teaching materials, selecting books for classroom instruction and recommending books for independent reading are two different processes.  Avid readers do not always read at the edge of their competence, traveling through increasingly more difficult texts as leveling systems prescribe.  Given free choice, readers select reading material according to their interests, preferences, background knowledge, purposes for reading, and personal motivation" (63).

This description matches my daughter perfectly.  Indeed, it accurately describes nearly all of the children who come into my school library, seeking books that will interest them.  Very rarely do I have a child ask for a "hard" book.

Miller writes:
"I hear horrifying stories about teachers and librarians who rigidly enforce Lexile bands, preventing children from reading books that aren't at their Lexile level; for example, they won't let students read an entire series because every book isn't at their Lexile, or students can't use sections of school and classroom libraries because the books are too easy or too hard according to Lexile measures" (63).

Yes, these stories are true.  I've seen these things happen myself, sometimes at my own school.  When we turn students away from books that they truly want to read, what kind of message are we sending them?  Are we fostering a love for reading or squelching it?

Miller continues her argument:
"According to MetaMetric's website, 'Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book.  The Lexile text measure is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with these other factors then being considered.'  With Lexile measures touted as one key indicator of text complexity as defined by Common Core State Standards, we must critically consider what Lexile bands offer teachers and students and what they don't.  Overreliance on reading level systems hinders children from learning how to self-select books.  Bookstores, [public] libraries, and Grandma's bookshelf aren't leveled.  Beyond students' and books' reading levels, we must consider content and interests when selecting materials and recommending books for independent reading.  Slavish devotion to numbers doesn't benefit readers.  We can't shortcut or disregard knowing books and knowing readers, and then building connections between them" (64).

I believe that Miller is absolutely right.  Even if we were to execute the Lexile system effectively in our elementary schools (which we are currently not doing), it is not a system that can follow students through their lives.  If we teach students to rely on picking books only from a leveled list, they will lack the ability to select books based on interest and content, which is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.  Isn't this the skill we should be teaching?

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley.  Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 2014.

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