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What Kids are Reading: A Report about what students are reading in American Schools

How Reading Makes you Smarter

Why encourage children to read? For an avid reader, this question may seem odd indeed. It’s like asking a gourmet why children should be taught to appreciate food. Without reading, children miss one of life’s great pleasures. They miss an opportunity to take mental journeys and gain a wider perspective on the world. They forgo the chance to understand other people’s perspectives. Sure, one could live life without these experiences, but why would anyone want to? I agree with all of these reasons, but as a cognitive psychologist I can add another: Reading makes you smarter.
People have defined “intelligence” in many different ways. I’m using the term in its everyday sense, which many psychologists see as appropriate. Smart people have facility with complex ideas, they are able to use different types of reasoning, and they learn from their experience. What is it about reading that could improve these skills? In a nutshell, these mental skills require knowledge, and the best source of knowledge is reading. Let’s take each of those points in turn.
Many people think of intelligence as comprised of mental skills that are independent of knowledge. That is, smart people think logically and analytically about problems, and they do that for pretty much any problem that comes along. If you’re a “good thinker” you
can apply those thinking skills quite broadly. This view is inaccurate. Thinking well is intertwined with knowledge.

For example, consider the argument from formal logic called modus tollens: “If P is true, then Q must be true. Q is false. Therefore P must be false.” Described abstractly, most adults have trouble understanding this logical form. But put it to work with familiar content, and even small children understand. “If you eat your vegetables, then you get dessert. John didn’t get dessert. Therefore, John must not have eaten his vegetables.”
Thinking skills taught in school also require knowledge.1 For example, students in science classes are taught the importance of unexpected results. If the results of an experiment surprise you, that means that your understanding of the thing under study was wrong or incomplete; thus, you might learn something really important from thisexperiment. It’s easy enough to tell students “thinking like a scientist means paying attention to unexpected
results.” But note that you need knowledge in order to use this thinking skill. To pay attention to an unexpected result, you must first have an expectation!
Perhaps most surprising, reading comprehension itself depends on knowledge.2 We tend to think of reading as a skill that can be applied to any text. Indeed, describing a
child as a good reader implies that she will be a good reader no matter what the content. That is true only for decoding—the process of turning written letters into sounds. Comprehending what you read depends heavily on what you already know about the topic.
Here’s why that’s true. We all omit information when we speak. For example, imagine I said to a friend “I ate pasta when I wore my new sweater. Now I’m going to have to throw it out.” I don’t elaborate that I spilled pasta sauce on my sweater, or that stains are hard to remove from some fabrics, or that these fabrics are often used to make sweaters, or that I am the sort of person who would throw out a sweater if it were stained. I assume that my friend knows all this, and can fill in the gaps. If I didn’t omit information that the listener already knows, speech would be very long and very boring.

What happens if one misjudges what the listener knows? You have doubtless had the experience of an expert talking to you as if you were an expert. They omit information that a professional would know, but that you lack. The result is that you are confused.
Exactly the same dynamic is in play for writing and reading. Writers must leave some information out of their prose, on the assumption that the reader will fill in the blanks. If a listener thinks that a speaker is omitting too much, she can say “please tell me more.” But a reader can’t say that to a writer. The reader will simply be confused, and is likely to stop reading. Thus, knowledge is crucial for reading comprehension. And indeed, students who have been identified as “poor readers” on reading tests suddenly look like good readers when they read prose on topics they know a lot about.
Okay, so knowledge is important. But don’t we live in a video age? Why must that information come from reading?
Written materials—books, newspapers, magazines—provide richer sources of information than what one generally finds on television, in movies, or on the sort of Internet sites most frequented by students such as gaming and social networking sites. There are two ways that we know this. First, it’s straightforward (if time-consuming) to assess the breadth of vocabulary from a source. Believe it or not, there is richer vocabulary in the average preschool book than in the average television show aimed at adults.3 Second, other studies show that people who read a lot know a lot.4 This effect holds true even when experimenters statistically remove other factors that might confound the results. (For example, perhaps people who are wealthy read a lot and they also happen to know a lot.) There seems to be a causal relationship between reading and having a broad base of knowledge.
People who know a lot are good thinkers. And you get to be a person who knows a lot by reading. But not all children read a lot. The differences in out-of-school reading among children are extreme. If we line up children according to how much they read outside of school, the child in the 90th percentile reads as much in two days as the child in the 10th percentile reads in an entire year.5 As we consider ways to improve school outcomes, encouraging all children to read more ought to emerge as a top priority. No other measure could pay such large dividends at such modest cost.

Daniel T. Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K–12 education. Willingham writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, is a regular guest blogger at the Washington Post, and is the author of Why Don’t Students Like School?
3 Hayes, D. P., & Ahrens, M. (1988). Vocabulary simplification for children: A special case of ‘motherese’. Journal of Child Language, 15, 395–410.
4 Stanovich, K. E., & Cunningham, A. E. (1993). Where does knowledge come from? Specific associations between print exposure and information
acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 211–229.

Actively Listening to your Child

Recently while reading a recent Virtus article on Active Listening to children I came across these basics of active listening. I think they are worthwhile to review from time to time. So often when the students come home from school parents ask: "How was school?" and students respond "Okay." Using these strategies to actively listen to your child will not only teach your child that you respect his/her thoughts and opinions but will allow your child to open up to you in meaningful ways.

This excerpt was taken from: Children are to be Seen and Heard article on on 9/3/06

The basics of active listening are easy to follow:

  1. Make eye contact when speaking and listening to a child
  2. Repeat back to the child what he or she has said to you, paraphrase it with a statement such as “so what you are saying to me is…” ( the child will correct you if you missed what he or she was trying to say)
  3. Respond with complete sentences
  4. Clarify the meaning of the child’s statement, (i.e., ask follow up questions)
  5. Check in and make sure that the child understands what you are saying to him or her
  6. When applicable, set aside regular times to talk
  7. Pay attention to body language, yours and the child’s. (i.e., folded arms mean, “I really don’t want to hear this,” fidgeting says to the child “Can we get this over with; I’m busy?”)
  8. Pay attention to tone. Sometimes what is said is less important than how it is said.
  9. Verbally remind a child that he or she can tell you anything without feeling judged. Don’t respond with accusatory or blaming words or tones.
  10. Ask open ended questions. If “yes/no” questions are asked the conversation will be shortened and the child may feel that he or she didn’t get to communicate with you.

In addition to practicing active listening skills as a normal, nurturing part of a child’s development, these are also the very skills that may alert you to a situation in which a child could be at risk of harm. If a child feels threatened, or even that a particular person makes him or her feel uncomfortable, the child may have difficulty articulating these feelings. As responsible adults, we must develop the ability to hear not only what is being communicated, but also what is not.

Although employing active listening into your daily dealings with children may take practice, it is exactly what all of God’s children deserve. They need to matter, to be heard, and to be provided with a sense of utmost security. The only question is who will be the one listening?


Attention Disorders and Attention Skills

I have included below a link to the website All Kinds of Minds. It is an excellent resource for both teachers and parents to understand the different learning styles of our children. The link below is for parents to learn more about attention disorders and how to help the students improve their attention skills. I highly recommend visiting this site from time to time.

Lexiles - What are they and what do they mean?

What are Lexiles?

Lexiles help you know if a book is too easy, too difficult, or just right for a reader. Young people can best grow their reading abilities -- and learn to love reading in the process -- by choosing books in their reading "sweet spot" that are about subjects they're interested in. Knowing the difficulty of a book and the ability of a reader helps you match books to readers to maximize their success and enjoyment. Lexiles make this matching possible.

Built on decades of research, The Lexile Framework® for Reading is a scientific approach to measuring readers and books on the same scale. A Lexile measure (a simple number followed by an “L”) reflects either the difficulty of a text or a reader's ability. A 200L book is for a beginning reader, and a 1700L book might be read in graduate school. Lexile measures are the most widely adopted reading measures in use today. Tens of thousands of books from over 450 publishers have Lexile measures. All major standardized reading tests, as well as many end-of-grade tests and popular instructional reading programs, also report student reading scores in Lexiles.

The Lexile Framework is not a product or instructional program any more than a thermometer is a medical treatment. But just as a thermometer can be useful in managing medical care, the Lexile Framework can be useful in managing a young person's reading development.

Lexile Levels


These are grade-level Lexile ranges. Please notice the overlap in ranges between grade levels. These are end of year ranges.

BR = Below first grade                        Grade 9    1020-1150

Grade 1  200-400                                Grade 10  1100-1200

Grade 2  300-500                                Grade 11  1130-1230

Grade 3  420-700                                Grade 12  1200-1310

Grade 4  600-830                                College Freshman/Sophomore   1200-1450

Grade 5  800-920                                College Junior/Senior                    1300-1500

Grade 6  850-1010                              Graduate School                           1480-1700

Grade 7  930-1070

Grade 8 1000-1120


Free "Find a Book" Search using Student Lexile Scores


Math Parent Resources

How can I help my student develop Number Sense in math?

These articles will give you information about Number Sense and suggestions for how to help develop it in your second grade student.


Reading Lists for Kids


Use this site, created by popular author James Patterson, to find great books and resources for your kids. Summer Reading Lists
Research shows that children and adolescents that read over the summer months have a leg-up at the start of the school year. But, a good book can also take your child to far-off places, introduce her to new friends, and make summer vacation a blast. Here’s everything you need to make reading fun again — from grade-based and theme-based reading recommendations to page-turning activity ideas. Kids' Reading List
It's never too early to jump-start a child's imagination! We've compiled some great recommendations from the American Library Association. They make excellent presents and perfect excuses to read with the children in your life

Kids' Read Reading List
We've freshened up our Reading Lists, adding new titles in all the New Favorites and Classics categories. Be sure to check them out when you need a great book to read.

Great Books for Boys Founder Carol Fitzgerald frequently has been told by mothers how difficult it is to get their sons to read. Some are busy participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet, while others simply don't like to read, no matter how much free time they may have.

This inspired her to enlist her son Cory, an avid reader, to compile a list of books that he thinks are great reads for boys. Included are series titles and stand-alone fiction that cover a variety of genres: fantasies, mysteries, thrillers, action/adventure novels and historical fiction. While many of these selections also will appeal to girls, they especially will capture the attention of boys, who often are much more reluctant readers.
When boys don't read enough, they can get left behind in life. You can encourage your son to succeed by providing him with books that he will like. That's what is all about. Boys like the books on our website because they have story lines that appeal to them, and are written in a boy-friendly style. Some of our books are supplied with a separate set of questions, answers and explanations, which is noted in the book description. The questions are designed to boost your son's confidence in his reading ability by showing him that he can do better on reading comprehension tests. The decision to answer the questions should be left to your son. (Of course, encouragement and bribery are allowed.) So, if you're looking for some books that your son will actually read and enjoy, give a try.

Great Schools List of Books for Third Graders
Our panel of children's book experts recommends these great books for your third-grader.

Reading Parent Resources

How to Read to Your Child

Here are some strategies that you can use while reading together to enhance comprehension and fluency (reading speed and smoothness).

  • Before reading
    Find books about subjects your child is interested in or is studying in school. If a child is interested in the subject matter, he or she will attempt to read books of almost any difficulty about that subject. Help your child search for and choose high-interest reading matter or books that supplement what is going on in class. Our Lexile “Find a Book” search can help!
    Mix easy books with hard books. Read books both above and below your child’s Lexile measure. Reading easy books helps a child feel confident and enjoy reading. Then he or she will be more apt to read the harder books.
    Look through the pictures. Familiarize yourself with the pictures to have a sense of the story.
  • While reading
    Have your child read aloud to you. Encourage your child to try to sound out words he or she doesn’t know, but offer help. Pronounce the difficult word, provide a definition, and ask your child to repeat the word aloud.
    Slow and steady wins the race. Try not to break the flow of reading too much. Help your child with tough words but otherwise let your child read at his or her pace.
    Take turns reading pages. You read the left pages and your child reads the right pages. This helps him or her get into longer stories without being intimidated by the sheer number of words.
    Act out the story. Use different voices for the characters in a story. Use gestures, and touch the pictures to dramatize action.
    Ask questions. Pause in the middle of the book to guess at what will happen next in the story.
  • After reading
    Talk about the book. Ask questions about what interested your child, or about his or her favorite part of the story. Help your child summarize the book or talk about its moral. Ask “Why do you think the author wrote this book?”
    Re-read your child’s favorites. Re-reading reinforces the new vocabulary and helps your child “own” those words.
    Combine art projects with reading. Draw pictures of your favorite scenes from a book. Write an original story or play with a book’s characters. Have a themed birthday party based on a favorite book, and design all the decorations together.
    Track your child’s progress. Put your child’s Lexile BookBag on the refrigerator and mark the books as her or she reads them.
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When Reading at Home

When reading at home with your child it is beneficial for them to be reading appropriate books. This happens when they read at their independent level, decoding 97% of the words in the book correctly. For more information on the different reading levels, please see the excerpt below. Also be sure that your child is comprehending the story beyond the literal level, which is the who, the when, and the what. These are basic details that come directly from the story. In second grade, we begin to promote comprehension at the inferential level. This is when students have to read "between the lines" to make connections with what is being read. This is often the "why" behind the details.

Most authorities define three reading levels.

1. Independent Reading Level. Easy reading. In oral reading, a child would have one or less word calling errors in 100 words of text, with 100 percent accuracy on comprehension questions about the story. A student could read it alone with ease.

2. Instructional Reading Level. This is the best level for learning new vocabulary. It requires the assistance of a teacher or tutor. The word error range allowed while reading orally to the teacher is from 2 to 5 word calling errors per 100 words of text (95% accuracy or better), with at least 80 percent comprehension on simple recall questions about the story. This is where the best progress is made in reading. Children who are forced or permitted to attempt reading beyond the 5-word error limit soon begin to feel frustration when in an instructional setting.

3. Frustration Reading Level. This is too hard for the reader. Word errors are over 5 per 100 words of text. Comprehension questions are below 70 percent accuracy. Unfortunately, teachers sometimes allow this to happen, especially when the words missed are basic vocabulary sight words, such as "was" for "saw" and "what/that." The practice of having young children work in frustration level reading materials is not professionally sound.

Improving Your Child's Comprehension While Reading at Home

Teacher Form Letter - Use this printable form to communicate with your teacher about many different things.


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Related Links

    This site explains the different aspects of reading comprehension and how you can teach and reinforce the strategies while reading at home.