The Harry Potter book series just celebrated their 20th anniversary in June. Over the last two decades, J.K. Rowling has captured the imaginations of adolescents AND adults. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, the first book in the series, has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. The latest installment, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, topped all printed books sold in 2016 with 4.1 million copies sold. To understand how impressive that statistic really is, number two on that list was The Girl on the Train with 836,000 copies sold.
So what created this success? Why are J.K. Rowling’s books in the hands of so many readers? Could it be her creative storyline? Maybe. My theory… It’s the complexity of the reading text, or in different terminology, it’s the Lexile reading level of the text.
The Lexile Measure is a valuable tool for teachers, parents and students as it measures how difficult a text is, OR is a student’s reading ability level. In a nutshell, the Lexile Measure is used to determine a range of reading levels for each grade. The Lexile Measure may be a more accurate reading measurement than grade-equivalent scores because it can be used to find reading materials of books and categorize levels of reading among every grade level.
According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 21 percent of adults in the United States read below a 5th grade level. The average reading level of American adults is about a 7th to 8th grade level.
Knowing these statistics, can you look at the table below and see the common trend in the Harry Potter book series? J.K Rowling struck gold using a range of text that catered to adolescents and adults. J.K. Rowling may have just intended to target a youthful audience when writing the Harry Potter series, but she ended up pulling in a much larger audience by using text that wasn’t too complex for the average American adult. That was the perfect formula!
Over the last month, I have been a part of a Standards Based Instruction cadre in my district examining resources and learning strategies to aid students in meeting criteria of the Common Core State Standards. That’s when I rediscovered the Lexile Measure. Keyword…rediscovered. I recall staff meetings over the last 11 years at my school where Lexile levels was a topic, but I never understood how this tool was applicable to my specialized content area, elementary Physical Education. Having a new role this year in my district office, I am revisiting this valuable learning resource and have the responsibility to show the teachers I support strategies they can use in their classroom.
My biggest takeaway from revisiting the Lexile Measure was discovering the Lexile Analyzer. THIS IS A MUST HAVE FOR TEACHERS! The Lexile Analyzer looks for challenges to the reader by breaking down entire pieces of text, studying its characteristics, such as sentence length and word frequency, and determining a Lexile level for the reader. This tool is simple. Input any text into Lexile Analyzer algorithm and instantly see the Lexile reading range.
I played around with the Lexile Analyzer inputting various text into the algorithm to determine its Lexile level. One text I analyzed was a monthly email communication I sent to my staff. The text was lengthy (about 1000-1200 words) and I had determined only 9 of 67 teachers had read through its entirety. Instead of asking my teachers if they had read this communication, I conducted a little experiment. At the end of the text in this email communication, I included the following text, “Congratulations on reading through this communication. Reply back to this email for a chance to win a Starbucks gift card.”
The text in this email communication measured between 1200L – 1300L. I received feedback from a small percentage of my staff and now I wonder if this was due to the complexity of its text. Was it too much?
What about students? Is the text teachers use with students too complex? Maybe.
Answer this question. Does your classroom environment support your students’ range of reading levels? This question needs an accurate answer and the Lexile Analyzer can erase all doubt.
Looking ahead to future professional developments with my Health and Physical Education teachers, I plan to introduce the Lexile Measuring tool and Lexile Analyzer. I believe this resource can serve as a guide for my teachers preparing instructional text for their students. One specific area I plan to address is visible text students see in the classroom every day. Example: An Elementary Physical Education Classroom Topic of Text: Physical Education Standards. Text: Physical Education Standard 2: A physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics related to movement and performance. The complexity of this text measured between 1300L and 1400L. Revised Text: I show that I know how to move and use a plan when I play games. The complexity of this text measured between 100L and 200L. What a difference! Making small changes to the text you provide your students is going to go a long way!
Take a look at the table below, this is HUGE. I can now understand why my district chose to implement this resource in their action plan to help students meet the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
Congratulations if you read through this article in its entirety. Unfortunately, I do not have a Starbucks card to give away. I did however input the text above to the Lexile Analyzer and it measured between 1100L and 1200L. I guess I have all but eliminated the chance I am going to follow in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps of success as an author.
If you currently use the Lexile Analyzer, how do you use this resource to enhance your teaching?
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