Differentiating reading levels

Julie Falk on flickr (Create Commons)

This week I'll share a few tools you can use to address one of the most pressing challenges we all face in our classroom: differentiating reading levels to meet every student's needs.

These tools should only be used strategically and intentionally; there are times when it is not appropriate to lower the reading level of a text or use a text-to-speech tool in class. For example, during a whole-class lesson on a grade-level text, all students should be exposed to the grade-level text and grapple with its features.

But when students are working in small groups based on reading levels, or when they are working independently, these tools can help them comprehend the content.

Text-to-speech tools may not be the best ways to model fluency, as the computer voice often lacks the prosody that a human reader has. But these tools can be used as accommodations for students with special needs and help all students access higher level readings.

Let Google read to you!

Chrome Speak is already built-in to the Chrome browser, and can be used on Chromebook, Macbooks, and any other device running Chrome. Just highlight the passage you want read to you, then right click (on a Chromebook, hold down the Alt key, then click; on a Mac, hold down Control, then click), and select "Read the selected text." Right-click again and select "Stop Reading" when you want it to stop. That's all there is to it!

Below is a quick video to show you how it works. You can also load the extension or try the SpeakIt! extension for more voice options. If you want one of these extensions added to all Chromebooks at your school, talk to the person managing your school's Chromebooks and he or she can add it.

If you're running Chrome on a Mac, you can also click the 'Edit' tab, then select "Speech>Start Speaking" and it will start reading where your cursor is, or the passage you select.

iPads can also read to you; under Settings>General>Accessibility, you can turn on the "Voice Over" option (here are step-by-step instructions). Then it will read whatever is on the screen, or whatever you select. There are also apps to enhance the text-to-speech functionality of your iPad, like these.

Let Google help you find texts you can read!

After searching for a topic in Google Search, you can select "Search Tools," then "All Results," then "Reading Levels" to get a quick breakdown of your results, organized into Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced categories. This could be especially useful for students conducting research who are having a hard time comprehending some of the pages they're reading.

Google can explain this better than I can, so here's a video overview of this process:

Let Newsela help every student engage with current events.

Newsela.com "is an innovative way to build reading comprehension with nonfiction that's always relevant: daily news." Newsela presents five carefully selected high-interest articles each day to engage students in analysis of current events. Each article can be read at five different readings levels by adjusting the scroll bar by Lexile level. Many articles have quizzes to check for comprehension, and with a free teacher account you can assign specific articles to your classes and track students' progress.

Here's a video about how to use Newsela for close reading; you may notice some minor changes in the Newsela interface since this video was created, but the functionality is largely the same.

Do you use any of these tools to differentiate readings in your classroom? What other tools help you accomplish this essential goal? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

And remember to sign up for one of our upcoming Professional Development Thursday afternoon sessions; the deadline is this Friday, Oct 17! I'm offering a beginner's course in classroom web design and an advanced course in technology integration. I would love to have you in either one.


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