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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reading By Numbers

posted by on September 30 at 12:24 PM

Via Bookninja:

An editorial says that California’s (awful-sounding) reading comprehension rating system for young reader’s books is a horrible idea. I agree:

Another problem is that the programs assign different numbers to the same book. “The Magician’s Nephew” from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, for example, is a 790 Lexile level, a 5.6 Reading Counts level and a 5.4 Accelerated Reader level. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the next book in the series, is listed as 940 Lexile, 6.1 Reading Counts and 5.7 AR. The guidelines could prohibit a child who enjoyed the first novel from reading its sequel because of the conflicting reading levels.

One of the best parts of reading and English for kids is that, unlike math, it’s hard to standardize. These stupid, stupid number-grading systems would have totally turned me off from reading in school when I was a kid.

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Isn't _The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe_ the first book, though?

Posted by Reader | September 30, 2008 12:27 PM

#1 is right, and this fact makes the rating systems seem even more ridiculously arbitrary: "sorry kid, you can read the later books, but not the first."

Posted by Furcifer | September 30, 2008 12:35 PM

@1, that depends who you ask. I've heard that many people prefer to read them in their internal chronological order, not by publish date, which makes the Magician's Nephew the first one. I just read Prince Caspian, and the cover copy listed them that way.

Posted by julia | September 30, 2008 12:50 PM

What @3 said. the publishing order puts Lion, Witch, Wardrobe first. The internal to the series chronological order would be Magician's Nephew first. Depending on what publisher you buy the series from you'll see it either way. Read the Wikipedia entry for more details.

Eep, I caught pedanticism on Slog. Is there a vacine?

Posted by PopTart | September 30, 2008 12:54 PM

I agree, Paul. Why not just put a bunch of books out on the shelves and let kids dig through them on their own? It worked for me.

Posted by Greg | September 30, 2008 1:03 PM

Sadly, our entire educational system is in the hands of people who devise schemes like these. You can't get a doctorate in reading and understanding literature; you have to do something cutting-edge with Lexile scores. I'll bet the asshole who invented Lexile scores is a celebrity at the Harvard School of Education. This is anti-knowledge; it's dark matter that destroys knowledge when it comes into contact with it.

Posted by Fnarf | September 30, 2008 1:15 PM

@6 Fnarf, I'm not sure if the reading and literacy education that schools use today bothers me as much as the math programs.

Look 2+3 = 5. Does it really help teach the kids if they have to write out "I have two pointy sticks and I steal three pointy sticks from my neighbor so then I have five pointy sticks."

The only thing I like about math now is that the kids are allowed to count on their fingers if they want to. Or draw pictures. Whatever it takes to discover that 2+3 = 5 so you can write a nice sentence about it.

Posted by PopTart | September 30, 2008 1:32 PM

Um, are kids even aware of these ratings? I'm highly skeptical that they are. And, not to defend the glut of reading-level systems, but they are meant for categorization in libraries and bookstores, and to help teachers guide kids' choices. I would suspect that kids are no more aware of them than adult readers are aware of the BISAC of a book - used for the same purpose.

Posted by Christy O | September 30, 2008 2:01 PM

Any bookstore or library that categorizes anything by "BISAC" or anything else not related to the century of profound intellectual work done by library catalogers, or other schemes of knowledge, should not be patronized. Yuck.

PopTart, you analogy would only make sense if the storytelling math never bothered to come up with an answer, and just stopped at "I have some pointy sticks, and so do you; let's go get some ice cream". These systems do not trivialize knowledge; they destroy it.

Posted by Fnarf | September 30, 2008 2:09 PM

The internal chronological order is wrong. Reading it that way deprives you of the fun of the reveal of Narnia's origins and the Professor's identity in the Magician's Nephew. The justification people give for that order -- that C.S. Lewis told some kid in a letter that it was a good idea -- can easily be explained as a guy just being nice and humoring a kid who wrote him a fan letter.

Anyway, rating the books isn't the main problem. From reading the article (which some commenters seem not to have done), the problem is the way the ratings seem to have been misused, forcing kids to choose books explicitly based on their rating instead of on what they would like to read.

Posted by litlnemo | September 30, 2008 2:14 PM

Readability levels are nothing new, and can be helpful in matching students with books that stretch their reading skills. Lexile levels are highly arbitrary, though--and a smart teacher will keep this in mind. The problem comes when teachers lose perspective.

Posted by Cassandra | September 30, 2008 2:24 PM

I always hated that they started selling the books with the Magician's Nephew as #1 in the series. What a buzz kill to read that first. And then "A Horse and his Boy" was the second in the series, killing the connection to the Caspian book, which was good in that it was so different from LW&W. All because CS Lewis told some kid it was a good idea? Pshaw.

Ratings do matter. I remember reading the Pern novels, and some librarian had followed them to the point that the first two Harper Hall novels were in the kids section, whle the third was in the adult. Since I didn't have an adult library card yet (I was in the eighth grade, the only reason I'm admitting I read those wonderfully awful, cheesy books), I wasn't allowed to check the third book out. I tried to explain to the librarian that I was fairly certain there was no sudden leap in adult subject matter in the third novel of a series, but, nope, the system mattered, and the book was Too Adult For Me.
(Came in later with Dad's card, problem solved, crappy book read, but still).

Posted by torrentprime | September 30, 2008 2:27 PM

Hey Fnarf, I have some pointy sticks, wanna go get ice cream? (smile) I think I didn't convey my point well, and can't really in a concise way so I won't try.

Public school education today is crazymaking. Statistics and standards and programs and tests and lowest common denominator for the outcome. The kids get lost in it all. There are some awesome teachers who try to do things differently, but when you have federal mandates and state mandates and district mandates it is an uphill battle.

Posted by PopTart | September 30, 2008 2:44 PM

Kids should be forced to read adult subject matter. Books for kids, after the age of ten or so, are crap. Want to read a Young Adult novel? Read fucking War and Peace; it's an adventure story for boys. It's too hard? READ IT. Then tell me what color the wallpaper was in the bedroom on page 214.

Posted by Fnarf | September 30, 2008 3:00 PM

@7: Yes, it does help, because it's the difference between simply knowing that 2+3=5 and knowing WHY 2+3=5. It's a matter of mathematical reasoning and real-life application that turns math from symbol-symbol-symbol-makes-symbol into a logic and reason-based skill, which is extremely beneficial when the student grows into more complicated math with much more intimidating symbols.

Posted by Aislinn | September 30, 2008 3:07 PM

Aislinn, thanks for explaining it; you are always so helpful to me.

Posted by PopTart | September 30, 2008 3:58 PM

@12: Well, the third one does have the lizard sex; they probably wanted to protect your juvenile mind from that.

Posted by Greg | September 30, 2008 5:17 PM

@12 and 17: Haha, we are nerds. I read the Harper Hall books when I was 12, and my junior high librarian seemed pretty okay with my incessant devouring of Piers Anthony and the wierdly rape-y later McCaffrey books. Maybe it's just the library system-- I know a five-year-old could check out Playboy from KCLS and not get stopped, but I was told that books were too old for me in the Moses Lake library when I was young.

Posted by Jessica | September 30, 2008 7:12 PM

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