Controversy Around Text Complexity Goes Mainstream

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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!)



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SXSWedu 2012 vs. SXSWedu 2013

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

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SXSWedu Top Questions and Awards

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!

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THaSIS Inaugural Meeting


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.

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Complexities of Paired Texts

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

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Guest Blog for SmartBlog on Education

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.

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Where to Find Free Texts

Finding texts that are high interest at an appropriate reading level is time consuming and let’s be honest, we don’t have a lot of time! I started pulling together a list of the resources I have been using to find texts. Then I began compiling a list of paired texts, which I’ll share with you shortly. Hope this saves someone out there some time!

Scholastic Magazines Digital Resources

We all love Scholastic Magazines but they can be expensive! The one I love most is $8.49 per student, which would be possible if there weren’t 25-32 kids in each class. Some teachers ask administration for money, others ask families to pitch in, and others dig into their own pockets to order school magazines. What most teachers don’t realize is that many of Scholastic Magazines’ Digital Resources are free…at least for the time being. Each magazine has its own website and most either say, “Subscribers Only” or “No login needed for a limited time.” I’ve been using these for over a year and they are FREE! Just click where it says either “Click here for digital resources,” “Subscribers click here,” or “Click for your digital issue.” The best part is, it’s not just Scholastic News. There are a ton of magazines that are appropriate and engaging for a diverse range of readers. Many resources are SMARTBoard ready and there are often PDFs available for download.

Checkout Scholastic Magazines and find the one that is right for your students. Find my personal favorites below.

I would also like to point out that Action magazine offers a growing library of differentiated articles. Yes you heard me! That means each article comes at three lexile levels, making it possible for you to incorporate differentiation into your classroom with ease. All students can read the same content at their level. The articles are high interest too! Here they are.


ReadWorks is a free site, but you do need to create a login and password. The good thing is that since I signed up, I have not gotten one email from them so it’s not one of those sites where you wish you hadn’t signed up!

There are a ton of resources on ReadWorks but I only use it for the vast collection of non-fiction texts that it offers. If you click Non-Fiction Passages on the blue bar at the top of the page, it will take you to a library of texts. You can search by Grade, Skill/Strategy or Keyword. Every text has the lexile level listed for you.

Once you decide on a text, click it’s title. You can then choose to download a PDF of the passage as well as a PDF of questions designed to match the text. I create my own questions because I don’t feel that the questions always meet my target objective, but the questions are there if you want them. This site makes it easy to differentiate and to set up centers. Just click and print!

Sports Illustrated Kids

I recently stumbled across this article Do Athlete’s Deserve Millions? and I traced it back to its source, Sports Illustrated Kids. That particular article was from the Kid Reporter Blog but if you click on the News and Blogs section, you will find texts that might be helpful. I find it particularly useful when I am trying to peak the interest of a hesitant reader who LOVES sports. I usually just browse the sport categories on the right sidebar and choose a sport my students are interested in and browse.

Schoolwide Fundamentals

This is the most recent of my resources. It is free to create an account and you get access to a variety of resources. What I find particularly useful is the text collection. If you click on Reading Fundamentals, you are taken to a page where you choose a grade level. Once you click into your grade level, click “Shared Texts” to download free texts. The texts are organized by grade level and genre. I am still getting to know the site, but it seems like a solid find. If you try it out, leave a comment and share about the quality of the texts!

I also often find myself pulling texts from:

National Geographic Kids


DoGo News

If you have other resources to share, please feel free to add to the list. I’ll publish a list of paired texts soon. Hope this helps someone out there.

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Citelighter Expands to PDF Capture Ability

Citelighter has been supporting learners in collecting, organizing, storing and sharing their research and learning since it’s inception in September 2011. Today, Citelighter releases PDF Capture Ability, further supporting access to high-quality information!

With Citelighter, you can browse the Internet and click & capture information you deem important. Later, you can go back and organize your information and even add in your own thoughts or questions through the commenting functionality. High School teachers have been finding that Citelighter bears a natural connection to their classrooms. Educators have been teaching students to use Citelighter to support their research projects! The commenting function makes it possible for research to become conversational and for teachers to offer feedback to their students.

In September, 2012, Citelighter released their Pro-Accounts, giving access to the vast collection of resources at Questia, which opened up a whole world of opportunities for teachers and learners. Access to credible sources like these makes research stronger and learning deeper. Today, Citelighter opens new doors as they expand to PDF Capture Ability. PDF Capture Ability allows for a wider range of access to credible information, which we know can be a struggle for young learners. It also encourages variety of sources being used for research.

What an exciting day for Citelighter! Looking forward to seeing where 2013 takes them.

PDF Upload Screenshot 2PDF Upload Screenshot

Read Storing Sharing and Organizing Your Education and Research to learn more about Citelighter.

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The Non-Fiction Craze

With the Common Core State Standards comes an urgency for reading non-fiction in the classroom, which is great…right? Yes, of course we want our students to read non-fiction! Many teachers, however are struggling to find strong non-fiction resources. Many of the classroom libraries I see throughout the week are stocked with fiction, fantasy, classics and old favorites. They have scattered non-fiction texts at best, with selections that pale in comparison to the wide variety of fiction that is available. What is a teacher to do when standards say students must read an increasing amount of non-fiction but resources are lacking? Or worse, when the school budget has no extra money for more non-fiction resources? Fret no more, there are options!

Non-fiction magazines are a great way to incorporate high-engagement non-fiction into your classroom. Click for my picks on classroom magazines. The problem is that many magazines are costly, and it is challenging to know which to choose! One piece of advice: At the moment, Scholastic Magazines offer some free digital resources that are so helpful! It can be tricky to navigate the sites. I’d recommend finding the magazine you like best and going to that magazine’s homepage. From there you should be able to navigate to any free resources. My top picks are: Scope Magazine, Scholastic Storyworks, Art Magazine and best of all Action Magazine (see below!)

Action Magazine: This is an intervention magazine that is high-interest/low level. It is a  wonderful resource for struggling readers in middle/high school. The best part is that they have a section of differentiated articles that come at 3 Lexile levels, allowing a teacher to provide one article at multiple levels, yet engage students in one conversation about the text. This is INCREDIBLE! In my dreams, there is an entire magazine that caters to differentiation…perhaps soon.

ReadWorks is another great free resource (you just have to create a login.) If you click on Non-Fiction Passages you can search texts by grade level, skill or strategy or keyword. The passages come with questions. To be honest, I usually create my own questions that align with the standard, skill or strategy I am teaching, but the questions are available if you wish to use them.

Time for Kids is a magazine that I have seen in quite a few classrooms. It’s a great way to fuse social studies and science with literacy. Though the magazine is pay for, full articles are available on the site.

PenPal News is a platform that allows way to pair your classroom with another classroom to read about real-world issues in the news. All texts are hand-picked non-fiction and the curriculum offers standards-aligned questions that peak critical thinking. To get involved sign up here.

*Full disclosure: I work with Michael Bernstein at PenPal News, so I obviously think it’s great:)

If you try out any of these resources and have questions, make sure to email me or leave a comment and I’d be glad to offer any support I can.



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Clicker 6

Years ago, an incredible teacher showed me how to use Clicker to support my emerging writers in first and second grade. A few months ago, I noticed that Crick Software had come out with their new software, Clicker 6, so I decided to pilot it with a few of the students who I work with 1:1. My students range in age from 7-11 years old.

I have used this program primarily with students who struggle with writing, particularly in the areas of spelling, vocabulary and expansion of ideas. What I have found is that Clicker can take on various forms of support depending on the focus of the educator. When working with students on developing their writing skills, the first thing I do is set a focus point. This helps me isolate the skill we’re working on to set clear and specific goals for the learner. If my focus point is for the student to be able to use new vocabulary then Clicker takes on a different use than if my focus is on expanding writing using sensory details.

Over the past few months I have experimented with Clicker 6 in a few ways and it has proven to support my students in four specific target areas. Below is a brief description of how I used Clicker to support my learners in each area.


Clicker can be used creatively to support students in developing and expanding their vocabulary. For some students, I used Clicker to expand vocabulary across content areas like science and social studies. A secondary goal when working on writing in content areas, is always to boost comprehension of complex concepts in these content areas.

In addition, I used Clicker to expand vocabulary for narrative and essay writing. A handful of students continuously use words like happy, sad, said so a major push for those students was to replace those heavily used words with more advanced or mature vocabulary such as delighted, gloomy and responded.

There are a few ways to use Clicker to develop vocabulary. You can:

  1. Use the Clicker word banks that are already created.
  2. Create your own Clicker word banks – and I often did this with my students as an excersize. They helped me generate words and we entered them together.
  3. Have students generate their own terms as they write and use the word-predictor to support with spelling. This is particularly useful for students who struggle with spelling and would prefer not to take risks in their writing.


The word prediction tool was particularly helpful for one of my students who demonstrated extreme anxiety over spelling. The word-prediction tool supported this student tremendously. One warning I would give is that it can become a clutch if allowed. At first I allowed the student to use it whenever “necessary” but it turned out that our depictions of the word “necessary” were not the same. We came to an agreement that we would only use the tool during the editing phase of writing, which was a much better use of the tool in this specific case.

Revision & Editing

One of the most challenging values to instill in young learners is that of reflection, yet in writing it is the ticket to success. Clicker supports the processes of revision & editing in a variety of ways:

  1. Audio playback allows students to hear their writing read aloud. This supports auditory learners who may not pick up on written errors, but can isolate them when experienced through listening. With Clicker 6, you can adjust settings for playback including voice options and when to playback.
  2. For visual learners, there are highlighting tools that encourage students to read in chunks. This can support students who can not take in large amounts of text, and need a more isolated approach.
  3. The word-predictor can be used to adjust spelling.
  4. The vocabulary-banks can be used to swap bland words for their spicy counterparts.

Planning & Organizing

Many of my students struggle with planning & organization, especially with essays. I work hard to scaffold the process of planning and building paragraphs around specific ideas. I was able to use Clicker to suppor this by typing in my own graphic organizers. They looked different for each student, depending on their level and specific goals.

Hopes & Dreams

Clicker has supported my learners and I plan to continue using it. My goal is to train families on using Clicker at home so that they can support their children with homework, creative writing activities and extended skill practice. One of my favorite things about Clicker is the ease of converting a Clicker document to a Microsoft Word document. That makes the transition smoother as students grow and mature. My hopes & dreams for the future of Clicker 6:

  1. I would love to see a built-in tool for the planning phase. I would love to have the option of a setting up Clicker so that as soon as a student opened up a new document, a planning tool popped up. This would encourage students to always plan before writing! There could be different planning tools based on the type of writing the student was working on.
  2. I would love to see Clicker build a bridge between the school and the home. Some of my students use computers in school and at home but they only have Clicker access in one place. It would be great if there was a way to store student work in a way that allowed students to continue working on their stories in both locations.

Thanks so much to the team at Crick Software for building a tool that supports such a wide range of learners in so many different aspects of writing!

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