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I haven’t posted on EdGeeks for awhile, but felt a surge of excitement when I saw Andrew Sullivan’s post about text complexity on The Dish. Everyday I find myself faced with the controversial issues surrounding text complexity and the Common Core. To see my teacher-battle shared on Andrew Sullivan’s site made me so ecstatic that I had to write into him. Here’s what I wrote!

Avid fan here – and very happy to see you share about the controversial issues surrounding text complexity in classrooms today. I’m an instructional coach of grades 1-8 in NYC, and a former teacher. I love teaching more than anything. I try to stay as optimistic as I can these days, though the job has changed and often I feel beat down as many of us do. Today, reading this post – I felt a tinge of hope. We rarely hear about this issue surrounding text complexity in mainstream conversations. If the controversy around text complexity has reached The Dish, then maybe change is closer than we think.

The general public has little to no idea how misinterpretations around the CCSS’s use of Lexile levels are affecting young readers. When you read Appendix A of the ELA Core Standards in depth, you get a sense of how Lexile really is just one piece of the puzzle. Appendix A shares about how Lexile levels offer us a quantitative measure but cannot stand alone. The appendix states, “The tools for measuring text complexity are at once useful and imperfect. Each of the qualitative and quantitative tools described above has its limitations, and none is completely accurate.” Lexile’s website mentions that, “It is important to note that the Lexile measure of a book refers to its text difficulty only. A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book.” The problem is that few of us actually read the appendix, and many of us don’t actually know what Lexiles are. This has led to the severely detrimental misinterpretation that Lexiles can be the sole measure of text complexity and appropriateness for our students.

Teachers out there…I leave you with the following food for thought: “Rigor is not an attribute of a text, but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text. Put another way, rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text, not in the text itself.” –Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst from Notice and Note

Parents and general public…I dare you to get involved.

Want to learn more?

Fifth Grade Is Too Late For Steinbeck? -The Dish

Federal Bureaucrats Declare ‘Hunger Games’ More Complex Than ‘The Grapes of Wrath’The Common Core’s absurd new reading guidelines – New Republic

Teachers Are Supposed to Assign Harder Books, but They Aren’t Doing It Yet - The Atlantic (This one is quite a frustrating read!)



I did a lot of listening and not as much writing this time around at SXSWedu. In revisiting my notes and thoughts, I realize the most valuable way to reflect is to compare to my notes from last years conference. As a firm believer in the growth model vs. the mastery model of assessment, I’ve decided to evaluate the growth of the conference in comparison to itself one year ago.

SXSWedu 2012

SXSWedu 2013

SessionsLast year, Tia Lendos’ session: Using Free Google Tools to Make Learning Magical used video-conferencing to let us hear opinions of teachers and students who are using Google tools for teaching and learning. I craved more sessions that took on a creative approach to teaching and learning, rather than a dry dissemination of information.Girls Rule, Boys DroolLast year I found myself seeking out the company of intelligent and engaging females in the field like Amy Lin of EdCanvas and Valerie Sakemura of NSVF. It is not often that females are the minority in education but as tech and finance have come to play a larger role, these conferences often feel male dominated. At the end of last year’s conference I found myself hoping for an increasing female presence in the industry and at the conference.



Perspectives that Matter

This was the peak of my frustration at SXSWedu 2012 (and at most conferences I attend.) The lack of teacher, student and parent perspectives boggles my mind. Last year every teacher I met was from Austin and they were few and far between. I am sick and tired of the excuse “teachers are in classes this week.” In other industries, people take time off to attend conferences and work events constantly and teachers should be allowed the same opportunities for professional development. Until we find ways to engage the people who matter, we are going to find it quite challenging to make real and impactful change.


Technology in Special Education

At last year’s conference, I attended one session on technology being used to support the needs of students with special needs. The session had compiled video footage of a few students using tools in the classroom but overall, did not divulge any of the intricacies of working with students of various abilities and using technology to support them along the way.

SessionsPerhaps it was the presence of the Maker Movement, but this year there were definitely some sessions that took the route of hands-on learning. Although I wasn’t there, other attendees were buzzing about Hack Class: Shape Your Ecology, Empower Learning, which chunked the learning into sections, keeping engagement at the core of the session.Girls Rule, Boys DroolNot only did I meet more females at this year’s conference, but this year’s conference even brought about the emergence of a group called “EdTech Women,” who had their inaugural meeting at the “Edtech Women Dine” event in Austin. There were awe-inspiring women paving the way at SXSWedu2013. Betsy Corcoran (EdSurge) led the Launch event with grace and humor, Eileen Murphy (ThinkCerca) was a finalist in the Launch event, Heather Gilchrist brought the teams from her new EdTech Accelerator Socratic Labs and Pamela Inbasekaran and Lawrie Peck of Relay Graduate School engaged us in conversations around teacher education.

Perspectives that Matter

I could feel very early seeds of change in this area but there is a lot of work to be done. Nikhil Goyal brought a student’s perspective to the table, though I would venture to say he’s not the typical student. One of the sessions by Lego Education featured a high school student from a local robotics team. Though we’re making these strides, I still crave a hearty teacher panel or a parent-led session. Hopefully next year!




Technology in Special Education

I was over the moon to see a session with Daniel Yoo of Goalbook, an app to support teachers through the IEP process. It was a solid session but one is not enough. There is incredible research around the impact of ipads on students with Autism. There are Assistive Technology tools out there that allow non-verbal students to communicate through eye-gaze, and communication devices that support social growth. I know because I’ve used these tools in the classroom. Some tools help teachers differentiate content to reach their lowest and highest functioning students simultaneously. Yes the field is still emerging, but I want SXSWedu to be a place where that type of innovation is celebrated.

At the end of my reflections last year, I wrote “SxSWedu is still in its infancy and is trying to find itself. The feedback we are able to give via survey and email will be crucial for its growth in the coming years.” This remains true. We have made great strides and as a person who always takes the feedback form seriously, I did see some concrete change occur this year. That being said there is always more… Here are my hopes and dreams for SXSWedu2014.

Increased teacher, student and parent presence

In order for this to become a reality, we need some kind of funding model. Teachers, students and parents should not pay what the general attendee pays. Perhaps every entrepreneur must bring along one teacher, student or parent:) We also need to build a few teacher panels – for sessions, feedback during the Launch competition or for Q&A from entrepreneurs. It would be great to have a Betaroom where teachers can test out some tools and offer real time feedback.

Creativity of presentation style for sessions

I would love to find a way to measure the creativity level of the presentation style. It is exhausting to attend an entire day of sessions where people are speaking at you…kind of like being in school. SXSWedu can be the conference for education innovation but in order to do that, the session leaders must model innovation of teaching practices in their own work.

Technology in Special Education

We have made some strides but have further to go. Hopefully SXSWedu2014 and will have Daniel back and will welcome some practitioners using assistive technology in their classrooms to share best practices.


At the EdGrowth Summit this year, there were a series of mini-debates. This could be a useful model for SXSWedu Keynotes. I measure the impact of a session by how much it makes me think and how close it comes to making me change my mind about something. I would love to see a series of debates about controversial issues in education by some of the heavyweights in our industry.

Day 1 SXSWedu 2012 Days 2 & 3 SXSWedu 2012 Reflections SXSWedu 2012

Solid week here at SXSWedu – it’s a different feel than last year. If you’re just tuning in now, be sure to check out EdSurge’s coverage: MOOCs and Assessments and Makers, Oh My!


As always, I’m most intrigued by questions so I’ve decided to share some of the top questions that have come up thus far in sessions, at networking events, and in lounges.

  • Bubble: Can our marketplace handle 5 new incubators? -Tony Wan
  •  Data: What kind of data excites you? -Tom Vander Ark
  • Audience: What can we do to engage the two absent groups in education (teachers and students?) Audrey Watters
  • Access & Equity: Why aren’t families astounded if there is no broadband in school that day. They should be just as astounded as they would be if there was no water or electricity that day. -Richard Culatta
  • Families: What are we doing to support early literacy and math in low income areas? How are we supporting families to set them up with success in the home? -Sarah Dewitt
  • Stakeholders: Which stakeholders do we serve first? Students, teachers, investors? -Anonymous:)


Coolest New Person I’ve Met

Viktor Venson, Founder of @NRBLB – Find him, he’s awesome!

Most exciting learning tools (that I’ve seen so far!)

Lego Story Starter for Sequencing in Literacy Monkey Jump courtesy of PBS Kids
photo (38) More to come on this later… Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 1.51.48 PM


Best new tattoo

Heather Gilchrist: My EdTech Fairy Godmother


Most Creative Swag

photo (39)

With no help from me at all, Michael Bernstein got super crafty with mini paper airplanes for PenPal News.

Got questions or awards to add? Leave a comment!


A new techie-teacher group blooms in NYC. THaSIS (an acronym for Teachers Hacker Space for Independent Schools) had its inaugural meeting on Friday, February 22nd at the Dalton School. Check out my coverage on EdSurge.

When teaching students to approach paired texts, part of the challenge is actually finding paired texts to work with. I have some books from the 80’s with outdated topics and illustrations but finding current, engaging topics can prove both challenging and time consuming. Not to mention, it is hard to know how to pair texts – should it be a fiction and a non-fiction paired by topic? Should it be a poem and a narrative non-fiction paired by topic? Should it be paired by genre? It is important to expose students to a variety of paired text types so they can begin making connections.

In an effort to save you some time, I’ve compiled a short list of paired texts I’ve been using with students reading at various levels in grades 4-8.


Out of the Tornado (Lexile 995)
Surviving the Storm (Comes in 400, 550, 830) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)


Homeless to Harvard (Comes in 380, 590, 880) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)
Homelessness: A poem


Surviving a Tsunami (Lexiles: 480, 680, 950) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)
Earthquake, Tsunami Strike Japan
Tsunami Poem


Should College Football Players be Paid?
Do Athletes Deserve Millions? 
Hoop Dreams (380, 690, 920) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)

Can you add to the list? Leave a comment with links to any texts you use – or feel free to email me so I can post them. Thanks!


Some sites I use all the time are Scholastic Action Magazine, Storyworks Magazine, Scope Magazine, ReadWorks

Some sites I use sometimes are: GoKicker, TeenInk

Special thanks to SmartBlog on Education for the guest blogging opportunity! Check out EdGeeks featured on SmartBlog on Education today!

Supporting Struggling Readers as the Level of Text Complexity Rises

The Common Core State Standards brings about an increase in the level of text complexity. What impact does this increase have on our struggling readers and how can we best meet their needs?

Click here to read more on Tips and Resources to support struggling readers.