My big question as I read the article was, “What is the primary purpose for reading the text?” I emphasize “primary” because we should always be teaching reading. At the same time, teaching reading without some type of context can reduce engagement on the part of the reader. My belief is, if it is about conveying content information, then it should be leveled, assuming that essential understandings are not lost in the process of translation. Students should be able to read it independently. If it is about teaching reading, then leveling may not be as effective because we would be working with different texts while teaching one strategy. The text should be at their instructional level, with lots of modeling and scaffolding provided by the teacher.
I remember one year teaching 5th graders U.S. history, specifically the Great Depression. I provided the students with an article that would give them more background information about the topic (we were reading Out of the Dust and they were really interested in this period of time). As they worked through it, I realized that they were not engaged. The students were displaying off task behaviors, and I was becoming frustrated with them. After reflecting on the lesson, I realized that the text was too difficult for independent reading. I should have been reading it aloud to them, and then sharing my thinking at strategic points. My primary purpose was to convey information, not to teach reading strategies, although strategies could have been embedded. Now with the advent of digital media available pretty much anywhere, I might have also shown them primary resources from that period of time using websites like the National Archives, or maybe Skyped in an expert on the topic. This would be an addition to possibly using technology like Newsela to level the same text.
I also like the idea of using eReaders with students when appropriate. Nooks and Kindles “hide” the texts for students who are self-conscious about what they are reading. I had an ELL student using an eReader last year. One day he privately asked me to put titles from the Flat Stanley series on his Nook. There was no way he would have been caught reading that simple chapter book series in front of his peers. In addition, there is recent research that finds students with disabilities do benefit from the format of an eReader, related to the limited amount of text presented, plus the ability to resize the font as needed (Source: http://specialedpost.org/2013/09/22/using-e-readers-helps-students-with-dyslexia/). It is also understated that digital tools are “cool”. Kids would much rather use a tablet or smartphone to help with reading due to various disabilities versus a magnifier or related type of support that draws attention to their disability.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Please share in the comments.