Saturday, October 10, 2015

Retrieving: Teaching Students to Use Lexiles

One of the articles I found through my EBSCO search is entitled "Teaching Students to Use Lexiles."  It was written by Marty Arrington, an elementary school librarian in Georgia.

At first I wasn't sure that this article would be helpful.  It described how her school was low on funds for Accelerated Reader and, as an alternative, she taught students in her school to search the Destiny Quest database for books within their own lexiles.  The last paragraph, however, really got me.

Arrington writes:
"Watching students discover and be excited about books on a diverse range of topics is immensely satisfying.  One second grader told me, 'You dont know how happy you've made me now that I know how to find books in the media center!'  I shared a fifth grader's excitement when he showed me his list, saying, 'I found these books on Destiny last night that I want to read.'  I overheard to boys looking at books on Destiny and saying, 'This is cool!'  All this tells me that these students are now empowered users of information and the world of discovery is just beginning to open up for them" (38).

Now this, I can get excited about.  This whole school year, I've been working with students and teachers to teach to the kids library skills.  I want them to understand how to search for and find books that they will truly enjoy, not just grab random books off the shelves.

The more that I look at the lexile system, the more frustrated that I get.  I don't think that it's actually a bad system.  I just think that we're using it completely wrong.  It wasn't designed to be used as the be-all and end-all of book selection, but rather as a guide.  MetaMetrics points out in all of their literature that their system doesn't take student interest into account; a computerized program can't do that.  This is something the teacher, the librarian, and the parent have to do for and with the student, but we've stepped so far away from the way this system was meant to be used that we just set kids loose in the shelves and assume that any book the the right number on it must be fine.

But if we're going to use the lexile system, we need to do it the right way.  Arrington is the first person I've read about who has actually done it the right way.  She used the Destiny Quest database to inspire students to find books they were actually interested in.  She kept them within their lexile levels, but she also inspired a love of reading.... AND she taught a library skill that will serve them throughout their lives.  This sounds like a huge WIN to me!

I wondered if it would be possible for me to reproduce this activity at my school.  We use the Follett Destiny program, but I had never opened Quest.  (I was hired after my predecessor retired, and no one actually trained me for my job.  Everything that I've learned, about both Destiny and the rest of the job, I've picked up on my own.)  So I signed into Destiny, located Quest, and opened it up.... and was immediately blown away by what a cool program it is!  This is definitely something that I need to use with my teachers and students!

After exploring for a while, I figured out how to search by lexile level as Arrington had described.  I searched within my second grade daughter's lexile, 465L to 615L.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive 876 results.  Even as the librarian in charge of this collection, I had no idea that we had such a wide selection.  Scanning through the choices, I recognized many titles that my daughter has enjoyed and even more titles that her classmates have checked out.  Using Quest to help students make reading selections would be an incredibly valuable tool.

Next I searched within my fourth grade daughter's lexile, 1023L to 1173L.  As I expected, she had far fewer results, only 96.  While still very heavy on nonfiction and Lemony Snicket, there were some other choices as well.  And still, knowing that she could find every single choice on our library's shelves is a huge plus.

If our school continues to use the lexile system, this is definitely a tool that I will be teaching all my classes to use!

Arrington, Marty.  "Teaching Students to Use Lexiles."  School Library Monthly.  Sep/Oct 2012, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p37-38.

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