Lexile, Move Over

“What’s this book?” the ten-year-old in the bookstore asked me. I told him the title and he looked as me as if I were from Mars. “No,” he said politely. “I mean the Lexile level. I don’t know if I can read it until I know the level and I have to read 10 books this summer.”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “but I know another way to see if you can read it, a secret way.”

“Really?” he asked. “What is it? Can you tell me?”

“I guess,” I said. “But I can only tell you if you promise to use it at least once a week. You can use it more, but you have to use it at least once a week. If you don’t, then the secret isn’t worth sharing.”

“I will! I promise!”

“OK. It’s scientific, so listen carefully. First, you have to take one of your hands and hold all five fingers open. Yes–just like that. Now, open the book to the first page and read it to yourself. As you’re reading it, every time you come to a word that you don’t know, put down a finger. OK. Give it a try.”

So, this little fellow, with book in hand, began reading. At the end of the first page, he had curled three fingers. “Now what?” he asked.

“Well, think about the first page. Is there any part you need to reread or do you understand what’s happening?”

“Oh, I got it! What’s next? Turn the page?”

“Yep. Turn the page. Put up all five fingers and read this page.”

“And put down a finger every time there’s a word I don’t know? Is that right?” he asked.

“It is,” I told him, and he began reading. This time, he put down two fingers. At the end of the page he asked, “What if I put down all five fingers? Does that mean I can’t read it? And do I do this all the way through the book?

“Well, first, just do it for a couple of pages.” I told him. “And if you find that on the first two or three pages you’re putting down all five fingers, it means you ought to ask yourself if it’s making enough sense to you that you want to keep reading. And if you do, then it means you might have to do some rereading. Or, you might need to read some parts aloud. When I don’t understand something that always helps me. Or you might need to look up some words. In other words, the five-finger tests helps you decide how much you might need to struggle to get through the book. But there’s nothing wrong with struggling a little.”

He listened carefully. Nodded. And then exclaimed, “Hey, my baseball coach said that sometimes when we’re behind in a game, we have to work harder, but we can’t give up. That’s like this, isn’t it. You shouldn’t give up just because some of it might be harder.”

I nodded.

He took his book and started to walk off but then turned and said, “Hey lady, this is a better way than knowing the Lexile number to know if you can read a book. It’s like you get to decide, not just some number. You ought to tell some teachers.”

“OK,” I said. . .

9 thoughts on “Lexile, Move Over

  1. One great mind reaching another! Thanks for sharing — and telling some teachers! (We just need to tell more!)

  2. I have been doing a variation of this for years on my own – it works! (Our students, thankfully, aren’t tied to lexiles at my school. In fact, I don’t know if they have ever heard the word. It’s not vocabulary I’m planning to teach them either.) I’ll help you pass this one on for him. 🙂

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  4. The “five finger rule” should be just ONE of many tools that children use to select books. Just as some kids are being ill served by the reliance on lexiles, my hyper-verbal children are being led to content that is not appropriate for their age and emotional maturity just because they know all the words.

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