Monday, June 13, 2016

Lexiles? Guided Reading Levels? What's the most important?

According to The Lexile® Framework for Reading, the Lexile scale is like a thermometer; rather than measuring a temperature, they measure text complexity. Lexiles are calculated based on the length of the sentence and the word frequency. The longer the sentences are and the less frequently the words are used, the higher the Lexile measure.  Sentences that are shorter and words that are repeated more frequently generate lower Lexiles. 

Thermometers measure temperature, whether it is that of a person, the weather, or any other state of matter.  There are several scales for measuring temperature one being Celsius and another being Fahrenheit.  Temperature is important in all fields of science from biology to physics as well as most aspects of daily life. Although knowing a temperature on a thermometer helps a person know whether to wear a coat or dress in shorts, or whether a person has a fever and may need to seek medical attention, a general understanding of temperature on a thermometer is all that most people possess.

Similarly, Lexiles and the “number” that is given to determine a text’s complexity is a basic reference and most people do not understand the many intricacies of text complexity, nor do Lexiles have the capability to measure them. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell cast the longest shadow in understanding and leveling text. According to Fountas and Pinnell, there are ten major factors that create the complexity of a text:

1.     Genre
2.     Text Structure
3.     Content
4.     Themes and Ideas
5.     Language and Literary Features
6.     Sentence Complexity
7.     Vocabulary
8.     Words
9.     Illustrations
10.  Book and Print Features

Teaching reading is much more complicated than inserting a thermometer and getting a temperature. When a person has a temperature that spans multiple days, seeking a doctor to determine the cause is important. A doctor is trained to determine the underlying cause in order to provide the most effective treatment. Likewise, a teacher must be trained to understand the ten components of a text’s complexity in order to select the most appropriate text for teaching reading processes to children. Simply knowing a Lexile range is not sufficient, just as simply knowing that if a person’s temperature is 104, the person has a fever. A teacher needs to understand the complexity a text offers along with the reading behaviors a child exhibits and know how to support the behaviors in ways that propel the child forward as a reader not only in one particular book but every book.

Why do some states use Lexile levels? Lexiles provide a map that parents and teachers can use to have a general sense of a child’s reading level. It is a tool that points people in the right direction.  The state needs a tool that is “quick” and relatively “easy” to use. As long as one remembers that a Lexile measures two things---word frequency and sentence length, then it should be pretty clear that in order to read and comprehend texts, a lot more than those two things are involved. A child deserves to be taught how to think about what the characters are thinking and feeling, and how the setting or time period is impacting the story.

We need Lexiles. Lexiles are helpful as a fast way to point parents (and even teachers) towards the right reading level.  More importantly, teachers need guided reading levels and a lot more knowledge than that of Lexiles to teach reading. Schools and districts need to make sure that the teachers have a deep understanding of the teaching of reading. Both Lexiles and guided reading levels are important. But most important of all, we need schools full of teachers who encourage children to read, to read widely, from fiction to non-fiction.  

We need teachers who are more focused on developing a love of reading by introducing children to their favorite characters, authors, and genres than they are to levels. Who introduce children to series of books that make them want to read every single book in the collection. Who take the time to read aloud and talk about books with children every single day, from large group lessons, to small groups, to special one on one time with each child. Teachers who instill a love for reading that spans a lifetime is the greatest, most important gift of all. Without teachers who know that teaching reading is the true heartbeat of our educational system, our schools will be full of children with minimal levels of competence. Full of children who can’t think, remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create. I know that I want my grandchildren taught by teachers who are highly skilled in the teaching of reading and who realize that there is so much more than levels involved.


Fountas and Pinnell, The Critical Role of Text Complexity in Teaching Children to Read. Retrieved from
June 9, 2012

Fountas and Pinnell, Guided Reading: The Romance and Reality, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66, Issue 4, December 2012/January 2013. Retrieved from
June 9. 2012.

June 9, 2016

The Lexile Framework for Reading. Retrieved from
June 9, 2016

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What do I do when my reading group gets “stuck” on a level?

Sometimes, you just can’t avoid getting stuck. Teach enough children and odds are you are probably going to teach a group of children who get stuck. What’s a teacher to do? Just as one could get a truck or car out of the mud, reading groups can get unstuck too.

When a group bogs down to a complete stop, when they are no longer successful reading more difficult texts, the first thing the teacher should do is to determine the point of difficulty. Asking questions such as the following will help offer some insight into the issue. Consider things such as:

·      What’s holding the children back?
·      Where do they lose the meaning?
o   Is it because they have to pause for unknown words?
o   Are they confident in sight word knowledge?
o   Are they confident in word work?
o   Can they make generalizations from one word to another?
o   Are they fast and fluent in sounds of letters?
o   Are they able to follow the story line…What the characters are saying and doing?
o   Are they confident in their understanding and reading of the structure of the words, phrases, and sentences? (Are they confident in the structure of how the English language flows in the sentences and fluent in their reading of it?)

Steps to Take:
After carefully considering the answers to the above questions. Begin to “rock it out”. Here are some suggestions:

1.     Rock it Out. Put the group in reverse.  Try to get back to the level where the group is confident, where they are on solid ground.

For example, if the group “bogged down” at a text level “I” and struggled to move forward because of their knowledge of words and how they worked, perhaps the group needs to move down to a text level D or G.

Remember that it’s not just about the level of the “book”. It’s about the behaviors the child needs to have under control in order to be successful reading the book and processing the text.

2.     Add Traction. Put some things in the child’s repertoire that will build solid traction. 

Select a few books at a lower level, making certain to incorporate the specific knowledge (word work, sight word, comprehension strategies, structure,  fluency, etc.) appropriate for that level. Repeat the back- forward-process as long as the group is making progress. Try a few books at a D or G, then try another book at an I. Try a few books at a G/H and then try another book at an I.

3.    Accelerate Gradually.  The reading group should accelerate gradually while the teacher continues to pay special attention to the area of concern. It’s very important to accelerate. Be careful not to instruct the children at the lower levels indefinitely or they will remain stuck.

4.     Pull it Out.  If the teacher intentionally teaches for the area of concern and provides instruction on that area before the guided reading lesson, during the guided reading lesson, and after the guided reading lesson, it’s like the group has a recovery strap attached to them. The instructional level is low enough that the work is “easy” allowing the teacher the opportunity to instruct the children in the group without putting too much tension on any one component.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Good afternoon. I’m Rhonda Hayes, granny’s oldest grandchild. My life has been richly blessed with grandparents. When I was born I had both maternal and paternal grandparents and great grandparents, and even one great-great grandparent---12 in all.  All of whom were very special to me. The bond between Granny and me was extra special. Now that I too am a grandparent, I can understand how much Granny loved all of her grandchildren. She kept me when I was a baby while my mom worked. And for most of my whole childhood, they lived very near to us. We went to church together, ate lots of meals together, went on trips together, and spent lots of time at each other’s houses. I’d like for us to take some time today to remember the things that made her special and celebrate the joy she brought into our lives. They say that life is not about the number of breaths you take, but of the moments that take your breath away. I’m proud to say that my granny had both of that during her 96 years of life.

It amazes me when I think about how she lived almost a century and the events that shaped her life and ours.

Granny was born in 1918. That year is a date etched in the hearts of many people because it’s the year WWI ended. ….She was born in Sept and the war ended in Nov. Germany collapsed and Peace was declared; nine million people had died; as horrific as this number was, it would be dwarfed by the 50 million people who died in the flu pandemic that year.. I’m pretty sure that’s why every year my dad asks me ---did you get your flu shot?...and I think it’s where Granny got her obsession with Vick’s salve. She would smear it on her chest and tie a handkerchief around it….and if you stayed with her, you can bet you were going to have one too. She did all kinds of things with Vick’s salve….she even ate it. Maybe that’s one of the secrets to a long life!

Women’s rights were just beginning to emerge. Before 1918, women couldn’t vote. Their role was that of a wife and a mother. Which is exactly the life Granny lived. The Great Depression span the course of her childhood and early adult years…. she was 11 years old when it began and the economy didn’t turn around until she was 21 years old. She grew up during times of extreme poverty and hardship. These poor economic times taught Granny to be very frugal. She didn’t waste anything. She  re-used fabric from one thing to another and never chewed a whole piece of chewing gum….she’d break off the tinyest piece I don’t know how it didn’t get lost in her mouth.

When Le, Kathy, and Greg were little, they spent time with Granny and Grandaddy too…especially in the summers, they would come and stay for weeks at the time…..Granny would give them a spoon and tell them to go outside and play.  

She loved to sew and I remember her letting me sit on her back like a piggy back ride, while she sewed.

It’s hard to imagine that Granny grew up before cars were in much existence. Trains were the primary form of transportation.  I think this is why Granny was a home-body. She didn’t love to travel much because she didn’t grow up during a time when people could travel easily. When granddaddy bought a Winnebago for them to travel around the United States she was scared to death……one long trip around some tall mountains and winding roads out west was really all that Granny wanted any part they settled on camping and boating at nearby lakes and eventually bought a house on Lake Eufaula.  We all have fond memories of going camping with Granny and Grandaddy.

They taught many of us how to fish and how to ski. Grandaddy drove the boat and Granny was the look out. I loved to go camping with them because I knew that we’d have great food to eat. Still today when I smell hashbrowns, I think of the ones she cooked while we were camping. When we camped, Granny made toast in the skillet, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and bacon. But if we were at her house, she was most famous for her breakfasts… personal  favorite was her sugar syrup and biscuits. She also loved to make red-eyed gravy and grits.  She always remembered to make things especially for the children, rolling out tiny biscuits just for the grandchildren.

During granny’s childhood, the telephone was a novelty; television was a glimmer in someone’s eye; there were no heavier-than-air aircraft; electricity was only beginning to be worked with. 

During her lifetime penicillin, rocketry, pop up toasters, hairdryers, jet engines, ball point pens, disposable diapers, the internet, and all the digital gadgets we have in our pockets today were invented. In spite of all of this, Granny and Grandaddy were pretty good with new inventions. They are the only people I know that could actually program the first VCR’s but both granny and granddaddy learned how to do it. Mine always flashed the time…it would blink blink blink….but there’s never did.

Someone might say that the telephone is the world’s greatest invention because it drastically reduced the amount of time it took to communicate with each other. And the telephone is how Granny stayed connected to friends in family in the last years of her life. I know that my Aunt Jean called her multiple times a day and talked with her to keep her company. Even though Jean lives in Birmingham, the telephone kept them closely connected. Whenever I was traveling and on the roads she kept me awake while I drove by talking to me for hours on the phone; she’d know about how long we’d talk based on what city I was in and where I was headed.  We talked about recipes and cooking, she updated me on the latest news, she helped me stay connected to the family….she called herself my newswoman….she did this ……. until she could no longer hear the words on the news clearly enough to know exactly what they were saying. I remember one time they were talking about freezing some embryo’s for a couple ….and granny couldn’t hear good enough to really know what they were talking about….she thought it was a story about freezing weather…..later in the day I heard the story and had a big laugh when I realized what was really freezing.

Granny was known as a great cook. She let me sit on the counter and watch her from the time I was a very little girl. I wish that I could say that I learned how to cook as good as her, but I haven’t. Some of our family’s favorite things she cooked were butter rolls and banana puddings. We all have fond memories of their Fish fries and barbeques. Granny made the best hush puppies I’ve ever eaten. No matter how carefully I follow her recipe, they never turn out as good as granny’s.

Granny and granddaddy loved drinking coffee. Even at the nursing home she drank coffee. This is another one of her secrets to living a long life. She loved white donuts with her coffee too….everyday.

One of my favorite memories with Granny is from when I was very little. She’d hold me in her lap in a rocking chair and sing. Granny loved to sing….she had a high pitched ole’ timey way sound to her voice. One of her favorite songs was rock of ages. Another favorite was swing low, sweet chariot….except instead of saying chariot she would sing swing low, sweet cheerios…..

This reminds me of another fun memory of Granny. She had the most interesting way of pronouncing words. She called Tylenol, Tylenods….and instead of saying rinse the rag out in the sink, she would say wrench it….and if you want to take a picture grab your camry! And she’d ask you do you want a “slosh” of cake? ….and I’ll see you ter-rectly. I recently read an article that described this way of talking as a distinct dialect from South Alabama that some believe came from Old Shakespearean language that was influenced by a variety of factors.

When I think about Granny’s virtues---her habits of mind, heart, and behavior…..Granny certainly possessed the master virtue wisdom. She was able to see what was truly important in life and set priorities. She was also a very smart person.  Although she only had a third grade education, she could read and write and understand most anything. She had great common sense. When I would tell her things going on with me and in the schools she always knew what I should do and what was right and wrong. When I was a very little girl Granny taught little children in Sunday School. I sometimes went to class with her. My mom and dad worked with the youth and my mom taught a GA class. I’m pretty sure that’s where the seed was planted for my future years as a teacher.

A second virtue Granny possessed was fortitude. Fortitude is the inner toughness that enables us to overcome or withstand hardship, defeats, inconvenience, and pain. Her courage, resilience, patience, perseverance, endurance, and self-confidence helped her live alone and unassisted for 96 years. Granny had the greatest will to live of anyone I’ve ever known; Even when she couldn’t move without a walker she would hold the rake in one had and her walker or a cane in the other….she’d rake the yard and sweep her own driveway this way.

Another virtue she possessed was self-discipline. She was able to balance a healthy lifestyle. She always believed in staying physically fit…..exercise was always a part of her daily routine. I think this is another secret to living a long life. I remember going with her to exercise classes and then doing exercises with her at home; I loved dancing with her and remember when she and granddaddy bought their first stereo record player. She loved to be outside and walk. It was a big part of each day, until just a couple of years ago, she continued to walk….even though her route changed from going around the block to walking down the road to the stop sign…and then just to the mailbox… Daddy had to ban her from walking to the mailbox because we were all afraid that she was going to fall and hurt herself because of their sloping driveway.

Another virtue that Granny possessed was love. Love is comprised of many important virtues—empathy, compassion, kindness, generosity, service, loyalty, patriotism, and forgiveness, all of these make up love. Love is a demanding virture. Granny took this verse pretty seriously, “love your neighbor as yourself”. I know that she loved Ferrell and Pastor Billy. She didn’t have much to give, but she was known to make a batch of biscuits and beef stew and flag Ferrell down just so that she would have something to give him to thank him for burning her pine cones. She loved her church. She and Grandaddy volunteered at the church doing many things…things like helping set up for Wednesday night supper…pouring the tea and putting it on the tables.  If I could think of just three words to say about Granny it would be love of family. Her family span five generations. She loved her two children Dad and Jean. She loved my mom, Faye. Granny thought she hung the moon. She loved each one of her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren.

Granny loved her special friend from First Baptist Church---JoAnn---who visited her faithfully and ministered to her and the GA’s and other youth who visited her while she was shut-in. She loved her brothers and sisters, sister-in-laws and brother in laws.  Winnie and all the Dunn’s and their families for their phone calls and visits.

The practice of virtues allows us to live a purposeful, better life; a life not ordinary, but extraordinary.

To Dad and Jean, Scott and Jaimie, Lee, Kathy, and Greg and all of our children and grandchildren: In many ways, each of us are the sum total of what Granny and all of our ancestors were. The virtues they had may be our virtues, their strengths our strengths, and in a way, their challenges could be our challenges. I know that I’m a little bit clumsy….and I’m pretty sure that I can credit that quality to Granny. Thanks for letting me share how much Granny meant to me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As a recently retired educator who loves teaching and learning with children and adults, I'm enjoying having the time to actually do the things that I love the most. My word for this year is "revision". When you retire, you have the opportunity to take your life, pick out the parts you like the best, and work on them. As I step back into the classroom, "revising who I am" here's a look into my slice of life.

Teaching Second Graders to Write a Constructed Response: Where’s Your Proof?

I recently was a “guest” teacher in a second grade classroom during writing workshop. The class had begun an informational genre study several days earlier. Since I was only going to be there one day, I wanted to do something that could be accomplished in “one sitting”. It was so much fun I want to share the lesson with you.

Following Lucy Calkin’s architecture of a mini lesson, the main focus of the mini lesson was: Writers support their thinking with evidence from the book.

The first step in the mini lesson was to CONNECT.  When I think of how to make a connection for students, many things come to mind. The goal of this portion of the mini-lesson is for students to learn why today’s instruction is important to them as writers and how the lesson relates to their prior work. You might ask, what does this look like? On this particular day, with this particular group of 2nd graders, it looked like this:

Me: Have you ever had to prove anything to your parents? (Children began smiling and raising their hands. I made eye contact with them, nodded my head at them, smiled back and kept talking.)

Me: Have your parents ever asked you to brush your teeth?

Children: YES

Me: Has anyone’s parents ever asked you the question---“Did you brush your teeth?”

Children: Some begin pausing to think….some raise their hands….(I called on a few students to respond.)

Me: How could you PROVE to your parents that you brushed your teeth?

Children: Responses included things such as:
·      I could show them my wet toothbrush
·      I could show them toothpaste in the sink
·      I could blow my breath on my mom and she would smell the mint
·      I might have toothpaste on my mouth or on my shirt

Me: As you grow up---you will have to PROVE a LOT of things. For example, when you turn 16 you will have to PROVE that you are able to drive. You have to take a test and answer the questions correctly and then you have to show a policeman that you know how to drive by driving a car and doing the things he tells you to do.

Me: In sports---you have to prove to your coaches that you know how to hit the ball…how to catch the ball….and that you know how to run.

(Children nodded their heads signifying understanding.)

Me: In school, you will have to PROVE a lot of things….you will have to SHOW the teacher that you know things.

Me: I brought two books to read to share with you today. Raise your hands to choose which book we read first.

Books: About Fish, by Cathryn Sill
            From Tadpole to Frog, by Wendy Pfeffer

(My thinking was to select non-fiction books that would interest the children.)

The children selected From Tadpole to Frog. I read the book, pausing to discuss key features of the book, allowing children to comment, and answer any questions that I asked.

The next phase of the mini lesson is to explicitly TEACH the children. Here’s what it looked like:

Me: Today I’m going to teach you how to write a response to a non-fiction book.

Here’s a chart to help us with our work today. When someone asks you a question, I hope that you have learned good manners and know how to say “yes ma’am”. Look at the chart and you will see Yes Ma’am. Today we are going to write about the book I just read to you and we are going to use the letters in ma’am to help us. Pointing to each part of the chart, I read the chart and explained that when responding to a non-fiction text, it is important to PROVE to your readers what you think about the book, just like you have to PROVE to your parents you brushed you teeth.

Chart idea found while searching on Pinterest. It can be purchased from Smekens Education Solutions, Inc. although I drew it on chart paper so that I could modify it for the particular grade level in which I was working.

Yes , MA’AM
(Me---within the first sentence, restate the prompt)
(Author—support your inference with ONE specific detail from the text)
(Author—support your inference with a SECOND specific detail from the text)
(Me—end with why the evidence fits…explain how the support proves the point)
Examples of sentence starters to use:

Examples of sentence starters to use:
-In the text…
-The text states….
-According to the passage
-One example from the passage….
-The author states….
Examples of sentence starters to use:
-In the text…..
-The text also states….
-According to the passage..
-A second example from the text…
-The author also states….
End with why the evidence fits.
-This shows….
-This demonstrates…
-I believe….
-These details prove….

To teach the students how to do this kind of thinking and writing, we worked on a project together. I asked the children to help me write about what they learned from the book. We used the chart to help us. I pointed to the first column, and explained that we needed to tell our audience what we were writing about by writing the question that I asked them----what did they learn from the book?  I wrote the following words on the paper and read them aloud to the children---I wrote---What did I learn from the book From Tadpole to Frog?

Children raised their hands and I called on several to respond.  I let them turn and talk to their peers about what they learned, and then I selected one of the responses to use in the example. Here’s what I wrote:  I learned frogs hibernate at the bottom of the pond just like bears hibernate.

Explaining to the students that the next things we would write would be things that we learned from the book….things that we could prove, just like how we would prove to our parents we brushed our teeth. Holding up the book, and flipping through the pages, the children selected something they learned. I showed the children how to begin the sentence by referencing the chart and then added something they said they learned.  I wrote: According to the author there are about 2,000 frogs!

I continued by explaining to the students that sometimes when you are proving to your parents that you brushed your teeth, you need more than just one piece of evidence. For example, if my daughter blew her breath in my face, I might think that she could have minty breath because she just ate a piece of peppermint candy. She could be tricking me and maybe she didn’t really brush her teeth. I might need her to give me more “proof”, more evidence.

So if they are going to prove that they learned things from this book, I needed more evidence.  The children continued to name things that they learned; I listened, and then selected one item that seemed to be one that resonated with most of the children. I showed the children how to reference the chart and use some of the words on the chart to help begin the sentence. I wrote: A second example from the book that many people may not know is that it takes some frogs two whole years to grow!

I lead a discussion about how we might end the piece. Based on the comments from the children, I wrote: This demonstrates frogs are very interesting creatures and there is so much to learn about the animals right in our own backyard.

Here’s what the booklet looked like (Four 8 ½” x 11” pages stapled together)
What did I learn from the book From Tadpole to Frog? I learned frogs hibernate at the bottom of the pond just like bears hibernate.

According to the author there are about 2,000 frogs!

A second example from the book that many people may not know is that it takes some frogs two whole years to grow!


This demonstrates frogs are very interesting creatures and there is so much to learn about the animals right in our own backyard.


The next component of the mini-lesson is ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT. During this portion of the lesson, students are given a chance to quickly practice what has been taught or to share what they are noticing about the demonstration in order to understand the kind of thinking about writing that they can try in their own work. Although the children were very actively engaged during the “teaching” portion of the mini-lesson, the students needed the opportunity to practice what had just been taught. I read another book aloud, About Fish.

Students were given blank pages stapled together and went to their desks to work. I pulled a small group of children who needed extra assistance to be successful to a small table and worked along beside them.

The workshop ended with a SHARE time. The students came together on the floor and I read several of their writings aloud, complimenting the success, and students applauded the efforts. 

To conclude the writing workshop, the last component is the LINK. After bringing the children back to the community meeting area, I reiterated what the students had been taught and reminded them that the things we learned could be used to strengthen their writing in many areas. I closed by asking the students how they thought the workshop went. 

Reflections from the Teacher

I always find it a bit challenging to come up with fresh, interesting ways to teach informative writings.  This particular lesson was a "Response to Literature." It can be tricky teaching little ones to read or watch something non-fiction and give you back that same information in their own words.  When Rhonda came, I was excited about seeing her take on it.  I knew her years of experience would benefit my students and myself.  So I hunkered down to "be an observer." I loved it.  She had a unique method that guided them as to what information she wanted on each page.  They had a particular question to answer or a sentence to finish.  It made sense.  They weren't just looking around the room wondering what they should write about.  Most wrote pretty quickly and gave really good information about the book that was read to them.  I was proud of how they just jumped right in and did it.  They learned something about fish or about frogs that day, and I learned something about teaching informative writing.  They will give you so much more if you just get them started! Thanks Rhonda! You are welcome in Room 306 anytime!