Saturday, November 18, 2017

Lexiles: A solution to a problem that doesn't exist

The Lexile Framework: Unnecessary and Potentially Harmful
Stephen Krashen
CSLA (California School Library Association) Journal 24(2): 25-26, 2001 http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/lexile_framework.pdf
The Lexile Framework attempts to solve a problem that doesn't exist. It is a readability formula that "stands firmly in the tradition of classic readability formulas" (Stenner, 1996, p. 23) that assigns reading levels to texts based on word frequency and sentence length. The Lexile Framework is intended to help teachers and librarians recommend supplementary reading that is at the right reading level:
"For example, an eighth-grade girl who is interested in sports but is not reading at grade level might be able to handle a biography of a famous athlete. The teacher may not know, however, whether that biography is too difficult or too easy for the student. " All the teacher has to do is use the Lexile Framework on the text and the student and select a book at the right level. Then, "as the reader improves, new titles with higher text measures can be chosen to match the growing person (sic) measure, thus keeping the comprehension rate at the chosen level." (Stenner, 1996, p. 22).
Not Necessary
None of this is necessary, and it is probably harmful. There is a much easier way for readers to select texts: Are they comprehensible and interesting? It doesn't take long for a reader to determine this: All it takes is sampling a little of the text (reading it). Our eighth grader simply needs to have a look at a few biographies.
Teachers and librarians can certainly help in text selection and they do this all the time, with great success. A teacher or librarian who knows children's literature (and most do, it is part of the job), and knows the child (and most know the children they deal with quite well, it is also part of the job) can most likely recommend several biographies without too much trouble. If they can't, a quick glance at several usually leads to a reasonable recommendation.
We need not be concerned with carefully matching the student's level for free reading, and need not be concerned with accurately monitoring the increasing difficulty level as the child reads more and improves. Childrens' own experiences with texts does a much better job than any formula can.
Potentially Harmful: Restriction of Reading
A narrow application of the Lexile Framework will needlessly limit readers' choices, keeping readers in a narrow range of texts (Carter, 2000). While children may select easy books for free reading, they often select books that are considered too hard (Southgate, Arnold and Johnson, 1981; Bader, Veatch, and Eldrige, 1987). These "hard" texts might be very meaningful for readers with special interests and who are willing (and eager) to focus on the parts that are relevant to them.
Also, reading "easy" books is not a waste of time; It may be that the "lighter" reading we are denying readers contains text that could be meaningful and important to the reader. Kathleen Sespaukas has pointed out to me that "easy" books may contain sections well above their indicated level, i.e. a book considered to be at the fourth grade level may contain quite a bit of material at the fifth and sixth grade level. Reading level is an average and this average does not apply to every sentence. In addition, easy reading may help readers to get started in an unfamiliar topic or genre. Carter (2000) points out that librarians frequently suggest that adults read books written for younger readers when dealing with unfamiliar material. This builds background knowledge that makes subsequent reading more comprehensible.
We don't have to worry that readers will languish at lower levels of reading material: students who do plenty of self-selected reading gradually expand their reading interests as they get older (LaBrant, 1937) and there is evidence that light reading, such as comic book reading, serves as a conduit to heavier reading. Ujiee and Krashen (1996) reported that seventh grade boys who reported more comic book reading also reported more pleasure reading in general, greater reading enjoyment and tended to do more book reading (see Krashen, 1993, for case histories).
The Lexile Framework claims other goals, such as helping teachers select the right texts for read alouds, recommending that teachers select books slightly harder than the students' lexile levels. Such precision is completely unnecessary. Students' interest and attention will tell teachers when a book is at the right level, and not every book need be precisely at the edge of the students' competence.
Potentially Harmful: A Waste of Money
The real problem in the "literacy crisis" remains access to reading material (Krashen, 1993; McQuillan, 1998). Many children simply have little or no access to reading material (Feitelson and Goldstein, 1986; Smith, Constantino and Krashen, 1997; Di Loreto and Tse, 1999). When books are supplied to school and classroom libraries in areas where they were not plentiful, the increase in reading test scores is dramatic (Elley, 1998).
We seem willing to devote time and money to nearly any other "solution" than simply supplying good books and a comfortable place to read them. The research cost of the Lexile Framework was approximately two million dollars and the research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Metametrics, no date). This money would have been much better invested in our school and classroom libraries. While prices are not mentioned in the literature I have seen, the full kit comes with the Lexile Framework Map, "with examples of books, magazines, tests, and educational levels," software (the Lexile Analyzer), and "an item bank for measuring reading performance, conversion formulas for commonly used reading texts, and a technology for linking existing reading tests to the Lexile Framework." In addition to the cost of this material, one must also consider the time invested in making sure all texts have a lexile rating and making sure that we know at every moment each student's lexile rating!
As Carter (2000) points out, readability formulae may be of some use when dealing with assigned group reading (textbooks), but they are out of place when dealing with individual pleasure reading. Using the Lexile Framework to select supplemental reading is like using an elaborate device to precisely measure the calories and vitamins in foods, and the specific nutritional state of each child, and recommending that children eat those foods that meet their current biological needs, rather than making sure the children have enough good food to eat, and a reasonable variety to choose from.
Postscript
This year, every student in California in grades 2 through 11 will receive a California Reading List number, based on STAR test results (Lexile Framework, no date). This number is derived from the Lexile Framework, and will "provide a way for students and their parents to obtain a list of California State approved books that are at their reading level." The approved reading list will be available on the internet. The State of California has paid for this effort, at a time when California's libraries are still vastly underfunded. In addition, it is based on the results of one test, a test that many consider to be flawed. California is spending valuable money in an effort that may restrict students' choice of reading.
References
Bader, L., Veatch, J, and Eldridge, J. (1987). Trade books or basal readers? Reading Improvement 24: 62-67.
Carter, B. (2000). Formula for failure. School Library Journal, July 1, 2000.
Di Loreto, C. and Tse, L. (1999). Seeing is believing: Disparity in books in two Los Angeles area public libraries. School Library Quarterly, 17(3): 31-36.
Elley, W. (1998). Raising Literacy Levels in Third World Countries: A Method that Works. Culver City, CA: Language Education Associates.
Feitelson, D. and Goldstein, Z. (1986). Patterns of book ownership and reading to young children in Israeli school-oriented and nonschool-oriented families. Reading Teacher, 39(9): 924-930.
Krashen, S. (1993). The Power of Reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
LaBrant, L. (1937). The contents of a free reading program. Educational Research Bulletin,16: 29-34.
Metametrics. The 3 R's: Using the Lexile Framework. Durham, NC: Metametrics, Inc. (no date)
McQuillan, J. (1998). The Literacy Crisis: False Claims and Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Smith, C., Constantino, R., and Krashen, S. (1997). Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton and Watts. Emergency Librarian, 24(4): 8-9.
Southgate, V., Arnold, H., and Johnson, S. (1981). Extending Beginning Reading. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
Stenner, A.J. (1996). Measuring reading comprehension with the Lexile Framework. Durham, NC: Metametrics, Inc.
Ujiie, J. and Krashen, S. (1996). Comic book reading, reading enjoyment, and pleasure reading among middle class and chapter I middle school students. Reading Improvement, 33,1: 51-54.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Zais not aware of voucher research, but supports school choice

Comment posted on https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/15/education-charter-schools-vouchers-244950

Mick Zais, a former state superintendent of education, admitted in a senate hearing that he was not aware of research showing that voucher students had lower test scores than comparison students.  He is, nevertheless, a strong supporter of school choice, based, he admitted, on anecdotal evidence.
Zais, nominated for deputy secretary of education, is free to disagree with the research but is not free to ignore it.
Stephen Krashen


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE ECSTASY HYPOTHESIS

The Ecstasy Hypothesis
Stephen Krashen
Peerspectives, 14: 7-9, 2015. (Kanda University of International Studies) http://peerspectivesonline.org.

A pretty girl is like a melody That haunts you night and day
Just like the strain of a haunting refrain She'll start upon a marathon
And run around your brain

You can't escape, she's in your memory By morning, night and noon
She will leave you and then come back again A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune
(Irving Berlin)
Abstract
The "Din in the Head" is involuntary mental rehearsal of language that is a result of obtaining comprehensible and interesting input. Murphey (1990) has suggested that similar kinds of "dins" occur in areas other than language: music, visual experiences, and movement (e.g. dance). There might also be an intellectual din. Dins occur after we perceive novel stimuli: after hearing or reading language containing as yet un-acquired vocabulary or syntax, hearing a new melody, after seeing or creating a particularly striking scence, learning a new movement, or developing a new understanding. The "Dins" are often perceived to be pleasant. There is one kind of Din that can be more than pleasant: infatuation, which occurs after encountering someone new. Infatuation produces a chemical reaction in the brain that produces a kind of ecstasy. This leads to a conjecture: The different Dins discussed here have a similar basis. They produce involuntary mental activity that can be pleasant and even ecstatic.
The Din in the Head
A linguist/archeologist, Elizabeth Barber, introduced the idea of the Din in the Head into the professional literature. She noted that after three days of using her (intermediate level) Russian while working at the Hermitage in Leningrad, she noticed “a rising din of Russian in my head: words, sounds, intonations, all swimming about in the voices of the people I talked with ... The constant rehearsal of these phrases of course was making it easier and easier to speak quickly ...” (Barber, 1980, p. 30).
Krashen (1983) speculated that this “din in the head” might be a sign that language acquisition was taking place, that it was a result of the operation of the language acquisition device. If so, this predicts that the Din would more more frequent with those who were still in the process of language acquisition, and would be less frequent with very advanced language users,
that it would be stimulated by comprehension, and that it would help language users overcome shyness in using the language.
These predictions were confirmed in subsequent studies: The Din was indeed more frequent among less advanced users (Parr and Krashen, 1986), was more likely to happen after users were exposed to comprehensible input as compared to form-based activities (Bedford, 1986; deGuerrero, 1987), and experiencing the Din made students less reluctant to speak (deGuerrero, 1987; McQuillan and Rodrigo, 1995). Seville (1992) demonstrated that children acquiring English as a second language also experience the Din in the Head.
The Reading Din
McQuillan and Rodrigo (1995) noted that Bedford (1986) reported that about half of his subjects experienced the Din after reading. McQuillan and Rodrigo’s subjects were students in Spanish classes that included a considerable amount of reading, self-selected and required: 57% reported “hearing the Din after reading Spanish that I can understand.”
The Din after reading has also been reported among first language readers after self- selected reading of texts with new linguistic elements, e.g. authors who write in unusual styles (McQuillan, 1996). McQuillan noted that his subjects did not report the Din “from routine reading done for work or school, or from very familiar prose texts such as newspapers or magazines” (p. 313).
Other Dins
The Melody Din
Murphey (1990) noted the similarity between the Din for language and the “song stuck in my head” phenomenon; his informal data revealed what readers of this paper already know - it is an extremely common experience. According to my experience, this happens with a new melody, and sometimes it happens with an old one that I haven’t heard in a long time. It is usually (but not always) a melody I really like, and I often have a compulsion to play it on the piano. After a while, the Melody Din calms down. (For an example of a Melody Din that wouldn't go away, see an episode of Regular Show, "This is my jam." [http://www.tv.com/shows/regular-show/this-is- my-jam-1377601/])
This is in contrast to what happens when I hear a very familiar melody that I like. There is real pleasure, but it is gentler than the kind of strong reaction I have when it is a new melody.
The Visual Din
Citing Ruth Weir’s 1962 book, Language in the Crib, Murphey (1990) suggests that “some people may experience a visual din. Artists have told me that when working intensely on a painting, they can’t get the image out the their heads, that it stays with them when they leave the studio and comes to them at strange moments” (p. 75). I have experienced this as well, after seeing a particularly striking series of paintings.
The Kinesthetic Din
Murphey (1990) also discusses “involuntary kinesthetic rehearsal,” which can happen when an athlete or dancer is involved in learning new movements, and finds him or herself spontaneously doing part of the new movement unexpectedly.
The Intellectual Din
My hope is that this paper will cause an Intellectual Din, that it will be on readers’ minds for at least a little while.
I suspect that productive intellectual workers have routines for getting the Intellectual Din moving, warm up routines that start them thinking about their current project each day, and that get them enthusiastic for work. Once the Din starts, it may be so pleasant, so engaging, that it is hard to stop. Many of us can agree with Flaubert and Vidal:
Flaubert: "I have the peculiarity of a camel - I find it difficult to stop once I get started and hard to start after I've been resting” (Murray, 1990, p. 31).
Gore Vidal: "I'm always reluctant to start work, and reluctant to stop” (Kellog, 1994, p. 192).

It seems to take daily sessions to keep the Din going, and it can be hard to get it going again: “If Charles Dickens missed a day of writing, "he needed a week of hard slog to get back into the flow" (Hughes, in Plimpton, 1999, p. 247).
Infatuation
Murphey (1990) mentions that there may be a connection between infatuation and the Din. Infatuation is of course involuntary mental activity, and like other Dins is caused by a novel stimulus, in this case, a new person. Like other Dins, infatuation eventually goes away, often to be replaced by a more enduring if less sensational kind of pleasure.
Research on infatuation has revealed that it has a chemical basis: infatuation is associated with the release of phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the release of dopamine and norepineprhine and powerful feelings of "elation, exhilaration, and euphora" (Fisher, 1984, p. 52), extremely pleasant when the infatuation is shared, but problematic when it is not.
Conjecture
Could all “Dins in the Head” have a similar chemical basis? This would explain the pleasure often associated with the Dins, and provide an explanation for sublimation: We substitute the Intellectual, Melody, or Kinesthetic Din for the Infatuation Din when relationships don't go right and we are "trying to get that feeling again" (song by David Pomeranz, recorded by Barry Manilow in 1976).
If the Dins are similar, it suggests that many kinds of “learning” can be extremely pleasant, and may even result in mild feelings of ecstasy. This includes language acquisition via comprehensible input. It is tragic that so few people have experienced the Language Din and tragic that their classroom experiences give them so little pleasure.

References
Barber, E. (1980). Language acquisition and applied linguistics. ADFL Bulletin, 12, 26-32. Bedford, E. J. W. (1985). Spontaneous playback of the second language: A descriptive study. Foreign Language Annals, 18, 279-287.
de Guerrero, M. C. M. (1987). The din phenomenon: Mental rehearsal in the second language. Foreign Language Annals 20, 537-548.

Fisher, H. (1984). The anatomy of love. Ballantine Books.
Kellogg, R. (1994). The psychology of writing. New York: Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. (1983). The din in the head, input, and the language acquisition device. Foreign Language Annals, 16, 41-44.
McQuillan, J. (1996). Reading, language acquisition and the “Din in the Head": Involuntary mental rehearsal in the first language. ITL Review of Applied Linguistics, 113, 305-320. McQuillan, J. & Rodrigo, V. (1995). A reading “din in the head”: Evidence of involuntary mental rehearsal in second language readers. Foreign Language Annals, 28, 330-336.
Murray, D. (1990). Shoptalk: Learning to write with writers. Westport, CT:
Boynton Cook.
Murphey, T. (1990). The song stuck in my head phenomenon: A melodic din in the LAD? System, 18(1), 53-64.
Parr, P. & Krashen, S. (1986). Involuntary rehearsal of second languages in beginning and advanced performers. System, 14, 275-278.
Plimpton, G. (1999). The writer's chapbook. New York: Modern Library.
Sevilla, J. (1996). Involuntary rehearsal of second language at the elementary level: Do elementary school children experience the din in the head? System, 24(1), 101-105.