We’ve come to that time of year again — when the school doors close and the children, thrilled to escape the workload of the school year, eagerly dive into…
Yes, Summer Reading is fun!
While there are those who may show little interest in reading, a majority of gifted students spend a lot of time with a book or tablet. In fact, many young readers don’t shy away from summer reading requirements at all, and instead dive in with anticipation.
At Grayson, we recommend that students, whether they be keen or reluctant readers, choose their own reading material as much as possible. That’s because the primary motivator in keeping students reading is access to stories or information that interests them. From non-fiction to sci-fi, allowing your child to choose a topic that rouses their curiosity will keep them reaching for books. And yes, this includes graphic novels!
So how can parents help their children choose interesting books that are appropriate both in terms of complexity and in terms of subject matter?
You don’t want your reader wasting time on books that are utterly unchallenging and well below their capabilities; then again, you don’t want to insist that they read War and Peace, either (although there are some of our students who might eagerly accept that challenge, just on principle!).
To help you and your family choose the best titles for the summer’s long car rides, lazy afternoons and poolside/lakeside/beach blanket, we’ve compiled our top list of reading resources, and we can help guide you in selecting books suitable to your budding bibliophile. Our hope is that together, you can jettison any stress associated with summer reading, and enjoy books for the opportunity they offer to play and explore the world. Our hope is that you and your child will also discover new areas of interest together.
About “grade levels” or reading levels
When you hear that a book is a “second-grade” book, what exactly does that mean? Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t really mean anything.
Each and every children’s book publisher is allowed to assign any “reading level” or “grade level” they want to the books the publishing house prints. What that means is that Random House and Hyperion could publish the same book (which they can do with books old enough to be out of copyright, like Alice in Wonderland or Tom Sawyer), and one publisher could call it a 3rd grade book while the other could label it a 4th grade book. While there is generally agreement regarding “classics,” publishers vary widely when it comes to their catalogue of current titles.
This arbitrariness, understandably, led to a movement in education and publishing to give teachers (and later, parents) more information about the difficulty and suitability of books.
Initially, readability measures were based on a few simple statistics: word length, sentence length, and book length. (Theoretically, the complexity of the language was already aligned to the maturity of the subject matter through the work of editors in the publication process: an author using very sophisticated language for young subject matter — or vice-versa — would have that inconsistency addressed before the book was accepted for publication.)
While this initial attempt to measure text complexity was a positive step, there were decidedly limitations; like those described in Tools for Matching Readers to Texts: Research-Based Practices (Solving Problems in Teaching of Literacy) by author Heidi Anne E. Mesmer:
“For example, on average, The Snowy Day (Keats, 1962) contains 10.2 words per sentence and 4.1 letters per word. As a second-grade teacher, I would think, ‘Well, that’s nice, but what does that tell me about the difficulty of The Snowy Day? How many words per sentence do materials at the second-grade level typically have?’”
Enter the Lexile range.
This “second-generation” readability measure was invented in 1989 by two Ph.D. statisticians with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The “Lexile measure” of a book ranges from 200-1700 and is often available as part of its publication information on Amazon.com; Scholastic has also made a license agreement with Lexile, and now prints the scores on the back covers of its books.
How teachers use (or don’t use) Lexile levels
While Lexile measures are undoubtedly valuable, they are not perfect, and their utility for teachers can be problematic. However, adept teachers of language arts move deftly between complex and simple texts, purposefully balancing the purpose of a given assignment against the difficulty of the chosen texts.
For example, a teacher may choose to assign a book with a surprisingly high Lexile measure because he/she knows it to be suitable for the social-emotional maturity level of the students, therefore prioritizing the subject matter over the reported complexity. For example, Charlotte’s Web (680L) and Stuart Little (920L) are both perfectly suited for a typical 3rd grader, though the high Lexile number on the latter might imply that students should be older before taking it on. (In fact, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has a Lexile measure of 940L, but no one would suggest that it is a “classic” of 3rd grade fiction!) In these cases, age-appeal trumps Lexile level.
Later that same year, that teacher may intentionally choose to study a text with a very low Lexile level compared with that usually undertaken by students in their class. For example, the language of William Carlos Williams’s classic poem is quite simple, including short, easy words (“so much depends/upon/ a red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/ water/beside the white/ chickens”), so its Lexile measure would be quite low.* In this case, the teacher has chosen this poem precisely because of its clear and unintimidating language: this linguistically “easy” poem allows students to focus instead on analyzing its complex, abstract ideas about language, voice, consonance, and poetic meter.
How parents can use Lexile levels
As a parent, you can choose to pay attention to Lexile levels if and when you need them — just like teachers.
First, you and your child should both be aware of your child’s “Lexile range,” which is measured as part of the MAP tests that Grayson students take three times per year. This spans 100L below to 50L above your child’s score — for example, a student who scored 750L would see a Lexile range of 650L-800L on her MAP report. A student reading within this range should be able to comprehend 75% of the text when reading independently, which means she will understand enough to comprehend the remaining 25% from context, and should therefore be comfortable reading this particular book on her own.
What about the teachers’ choices outlined above, in which the Lexile measure is discounted in favor of subject matter — either because of the maturity of its subject matter or a child’s expressed interest? Should you make the same kinds of decisions when helping your child pick books?
If your child is going into 5th grade and has not read Charlotte’s Web, then by all means encourage him to check it out — it’s a classic of children’s literature! And by that age, he will be plenty mature for its subject matter…though I’m pretty sure you should still have a box of tissues nearby when you near the end. Similarly, if you have a 2nd grader who has fallen in love with fantasy novels, it may be the perfect time to read The Hobbit, despite its intimidatingly high Lexile measure of 1000L.
Here’s a tip: gifted children can listen to stories that are far more advanced than they will comfortably read to themselves. Sometimes that means listening to an audiobook together; sometimes, it means you reading aloud to them. (Yes, when they are older, they will protest and fuss, but they do still love your attention, no matter how much they grumble. And if the book is something you are discovering together rather than something you’ve already read, they are more likely to “indulge” you, too).
Remember: the Lexile measures are a tool to use, not an infallible source for information specific to YOUR child. Even their own materials caution that “Lexile measures do not consider factors such as age-appropriateness, interest, and prior knowledge!”
Summer reading is an adventure
Whether your summer plans include long lazy days by the water or action-packed adventures hither and yon, make sure to include plenty of time (and packing space!) for books for your gifted reader. Let them dip their toes into the water of genres they’ve never tried; let them embark on an epic literary journey of their very own. There’s no telling what discoveries and ideas they might have encountered by the time the school bell rings again in the fall!
* This example is hypothetical only, since poems are never assigned Lexile measures. Because text length and sentence length are critical to the formula for calculating a work’s Lexile measure, many poems would be “ineligible” for a Lexile measure, anyway.