My fourth grader and sixth grader are reading the same book in school right now. That’s right. The book is The Lightning Thief. And what’s more, my sixth grader already read (and loved!) this very same book when he was in fourth grade at his prior school.
Both schools, one charter and one traditional district school, are similar in that they exist within the same zip code and yet, one sees The Lightning Thief as a fourth grade book and the other sees it as a sixth grade book.
And according to the grade range listed with the book, both are right. The book has a Lexile Score of 740 which indicates a precise grade level equivalent of 4.7 (fourth grade, 7th month) but Scholastic and others list the book as appropriate for grades 4-8. ((A Lexile Score is the measure of how difficult a text is.)
The point of this post isn’t to criticize any one school’s curriculum decisions. It is to help people see through my own children how expectations and/or opinions about appropriate reading choices vary greatly even between schools just a few miles apart and to ask two things:
- Is it even a problem?
- And if so, what can we do about it?
While in the grand scheme of things, it definitely falls into the “no biggie” category, we can’t ignore the fact that expectations matter and that some schools push kids more than others. Is the reading choice based on lower expectations for sixth graders? Or is it possible that those reading it in sixth will actually be pushed harder because the depth of analysis expected will be much greater?
The truth is, there are no guarantees. Some teachers really push their students hard in their thinking and writing and some don’t, regardless of the grade they teach. And no book choice is going to change that.
So what makes one school decide to push its fourth graders to read the Lightning Thief, another to pick it as a sixth grade book, and yet another to pick it for even older students?
And who has it right? Or does it depend?
Some Helpful Answers
In thinking about this conundrum with my own boys and the Lightning Thief, I started looking to those who have both an interest and an expertise for insight.
One blog, Unleashing Readers, caught my eye when I saw this post from January 16th, 2016 called “This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.”
Ricki Ginsberg writes:
I cringe when I hear about parents or teachers who strictly adhere to reading levels alone and won’t let children read books that are “too high/low in their Lexile number.” I watched a mother tell her son that he couldn’t get the train book that he wanted so badly because the number on the back cover was too high for him. He was disappointed, and he was even more disappointed when his mom selected a book that was not interesting to him. It really sucks the fun out of reading when you have to pick a book within your required sentence length instead of within your interests.
Makes sense. Three cheers for this writer.
The problem that this doesn’t address, however, is how to choose the books that the entire grade is going to read. But she does provide more helpful perspective by showing how silly we can be about what our kids read. Below is a list she includes in her blog that illustrates the absurdity of a singular focus on lexile scores in choosing books.
I decided to seek out Ricki Ginsberg, the author of the blog post, and ask her for her thoughts about my own situation and she was quick to respond.
@ReadwithPassion Looking for your insight: Help me reconcile that my 4th and 6th grader are reading same book in class. (Lightning Thief)
— Erika Sanzi (@esanzi) February 28, 2017
Big shout out to Ricki Ginsberg for engaging with me on Twitter about my questions. If you want to check out her blog ‘Unleashing Readers‘(which she shares with another former teacher equally passionate about reading and books), you can find it here.