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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

How important is it to match a reader to a text?

November 28, 2011

The Common Core Standards are national standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. They've been adopted by over 45 states and six provinces, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. According to the Common Core website the standards "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers."

The Common Core Standards place a new emphasis on informational text. There's specific wording about the craft and structure of texts, the integration of knowledge and ideas across multiple texts, and a range of reading and levels of text difficulty. Reading Hall of Famer Tim Shanahan (see Shanahan on Literacy) posted recently about an IRA Webinar in which he outlines what he sees as some of the challenges the CCS present for teachers. Among the challenges (and there are many, but that's too long a post): (1) students will likely be taught from texts that are more challenging than in the past, and (2) the emphasis will be on stretching students to meet the demands of the text rather than matching the text to the reading level of the student.

That's quite a paradigm shift for teachers who work in a district where the edict has been on matching a reader with a specific leveled book. Sure, there are scaffolding strategies teachers can use with students, but if the foundational skills and the "cognitive hooks" needed for understanding aren't there, I worry that a lot of instructional time will be wasted using text that is too challenging. What are your thoughts?


I worry about this too. We need to support the children who can't read on level by teaching at their instructional level and moving them up as quickly as possible. Teachers need to be aware of reading levels and support students who can't read content area text independently. If they are left to struggle through a text that is too hard alone, they won't understand it. "stretching students to meet the demands of the text" is about the silliest thing I've heard. Let's stretch our curriculum and resources to meet children's needs!

As a Title 1 reading teacher and CCS workshop presenter, I have been very concerned about the wording about grade level text and putting books that kids can't read into their hands. Throughout my masters program, emphasis was placed on giving young readers text at their instructional level and moving them forward. Working at their frustrational level (or beyond) doesn't create grade level readers. Outside of the CCS, I have yet to see any research that indicates that there is a shift in that premise.

Our school has started implementing the Common Core Standards for Reading this year. We are also using a new program to help match students to books. I find that the spiraling nature of the standards (10 standards that repeat in each grade) allows us to focus on specific skills while still making sure each child is reading an appropriate books. We ensure that students spend a large portion of every day reading in their reading range, but still focus on the standards. A third grader who is reading below grade level can still learn about informational text versus literature and can also practice using a table of contents while reading a book s/he understands and enjoys.

"The emphasis will be on stretching students to meet the demands of the text rather than matching the text to the reading level of the student."That would be fine if everyone were already reading at grade level and nobody had a learning disability that impacts reading, but by high school, you have kids in the room whose reading levels go from about 3rd grade through college. The average reading level in my particular school is approximately 8th grade, with a cluster of ESL students hovering around 3/4 and a smattering of everything in between. So if you push the text much above 10th/11th grade level, you pretty much can ensure that you've lost most of the room. And when kids can't read the text, you can't expect them to learn much of the content. When they can't learn the material, they start to feel hopeless, and either retreat into withdrawal (check out) or become behavior problems. This illustrates why it's better not to rely completely on textbooks in content areas as the sole means of delivery and access to the material.

I think we are dumbing down our educational system, and its about time to expect students to rise to the level they need to be at. The big question is: Are we being reasonable about the level of achievement necessary for various age/developmental groups. We are expecting reading way too young. Kids will read when they're ready, and then we aren't banging our heads against the wall with "special programs" for those a bit behind quite so much. We need to stop testing everyone to death, so that teachers can actually educate not teach to a test. We need to take lessons from countries with successful school systems like Finland, and change our philosophy to one that actually honors the child,their development and the inherent differences in children.We can change textbooks, and continue to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic all we want, but a new system is needed, or we will continue to have the same problems.

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"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. " — Neil Gaiman