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Is There a Science to Finding the Right Book?

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By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff

A Simpler Way

For parents looking for a simpler way to help their child choose a book, award-winning teacher Jennifer Thompson recommends the "five-finger test." "Have your child open the book to any page," says Thompson, a GreatSchools consultant. "If they find five words that they do not know; the book is too difficult."

A Precision Tool

"If I'm a school nurse and a student comes in complaining of a headache," says Smith, "I can do a very primitive assessment. I can take the back of my hand and put it on his forehead and see if he feels hotter than I feel and I can infer if he has a fever. If I wanted to be more precise, though, I'd take a thermometer and get his temperature."

Although the Lexile Framework claims to be a precise measure of a reader's ability and a text's readability, it is not a panacea. A child's interest and enthusiasm for a subject must also be taken into account.

Smith concurs: "If a child wants to read about basketball and we give him books about soccer, he's not going to read it even though the text is accessible to him and it's at the right level. So you still have to pay attention to interest level. And you still have to pay attention to developmental appropriateness."

The Lexile Framework is simply one more tool in the parent's toolbox.

Comments from readers

"I am a children's librarian, and I find the Lexile system incredibly frustrating. It seems to be based solely on vocabulary and the mechanics of reading. It has no regard for subject matter or comprehension of the meaning of a book. For example, the book 'Lord of the Flies', by William Golding, has a lexile rating of 770. The book 'Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets', by Dav Pilkey, has a rating of 780. Something is wrong here. I'm not saying that Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets is a bad book, but it's not on the same level as Lord of the Flies. Incidentally, there is a book called 'Understanding Lord of the Flies: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents' listed on the Lexile website. It has a rating of 1280. "
"'The Lexile Framework has its detractors, such as Stephen Krashen, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Southern California. Krashen asserts that the money states are spending on The Lexile Framework would be better spent on acquiring books for schools and districts with limited financial resources. Teachers and librarians, he says, are already trained to match readers with books and don't need the added nuisance of readability formulas.' --some teachers have not been trained or trained well on matching readers with books - they just go along with the program for the grade level. Also with budget cuts, librarians are pulling more lunch monitor duty or yard duty then actual hours in the library and some 'librarians' are not actually trained in the library sciences but hired just to check out and reshelve books. "
"Why worry about all this reader stuff ... with 'No Child Left Behind' ... their teachers will just give them an easier and easier version of the required test until they can pass it. Thus producing a graduating class in just a few more years ... THAT CAN'T READ OR COMPREHEND IT IF THEY CAN! My newly PLACED into 5th Grade special needs son can read a 10th grade book ... word for word ... and out loud ... but he has ZERO comprehension of 90% of those very words ... and yet they keep shortening his assignments and PLACING him in the next grade! Well ... this year we are going to suck it up and try it another way ... he's going INTO the 5th grade ... no law requires that I have him in a special needs class ... just that it be available. SOOOO ... I wonder what it's going to do to the TEKS testing scores in his class room when he's melting down on the floor like a 2 year old and won't even bubble in his own name?!?!? I'm betting that the other kids won't be able to do much beyond that either ... so much for their funding based on TEKS test scores ... but it should prove my point. "
"For an example of what is wrong with this computer generated syntactical analysis of literature, look up Doctor Zhivago, a great book (and a popular movie when I was a teen). It is rated for a strong 8th grader reader. I wonder what 8th graders think of the depiction of a girl their age molested by her stepfather, her mother's attempted suicide when she finds out, etc. The love child Lara and Zhivago have is the least of the hard to explain adult situations in this book. Don't recommend a book to a child which you haven't read. Yet schools had out these lists unedited and demand that children read at their level. The high level reader has few choices that are age appropriate - a national problem - but one that the schools ignore when giving out points for having read books. "
"I agree with your assessment that having the Lexile Level is just the beginning. Here's a real example for you. I have a son that just started Second Grade that is good at reading. I was checking some of my books for Lexile levels to use at school and found I had a couple that should be in his range (these would become an addition to his book shelf, if he liked them). He wanted to try the Journey to the Center of the Earth by Becky Cheston based on the Jules Verne novel (which is near the 1000 Lexile level). Becky's book is supposed to be a 340 Lexile level, which would be in range with where he is right now. After two pages he became frustrated and quit because of the readability of the text. If this is how a normal reader reacts to the book, I have to wonder how reading recovery students will react to this book and other ones like it. Knowing that a book is on your reading level and not being able to enjoy reading it is frustrating for readers and parents alike."
"I am a reader. I read stories to 13 different classes at 4 different schools each week and I am familiar with most of your suggestions. I note with interest that you suggest 'Sideways Stories From Wayside school' for the fourth grade but I also note that you suggest, the 3rd book in the series, 'Wayside school gets a Little Stranger' for the 3rd grade. No matter what the grade, I think that it is always a good idea to start at the beginning. By the way, kids LOVE all three books in this series by Sachar."
"How do I find appropriate books for an 8 year old with a reading level of 10+(Accelerated Reader and STAR levels established during the school year) There must be a list for immature readers with very mature reading levels."