Introduction: What’s Reading individualization?
individualization. individualized. Individualize. Say the word enough times, and it seems to lose its meaning. Have we gotten to that point? Are we saying it so often and so automatically that we forget what it means? Maybe. If so, let’s reclaim that word and the 21st century teaching it provides by looking at individualized reading resources online.
In its 2010 Education Technology Plan, the U.S. Department of Education defined individualization as “instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs.” (12) I’ve italicized the important parts of that definition, leading to the basic fact that in an individualized environment, all students are supposed to reach the same goals, but get to those goals through learning materials and pacing that work for them as individuals. (This is but one part of an approach to improve learning that will also require an understanding of differentiation and personalization, but I’ll skip those for now to focus on this important term.) In an individualized environment, teachers know their students and meet them at their strengths and weaknesses, instead of promoting a “one size fits all” approach.
That could mean a whole host of things, but what does it mean for reading? In light of the advances in digital reading, it means a pretty straightforward approach. Texts that are written at one proficiency level are rewritten at a variety of other levels. So, the content of one article appears in a variety of different levels for readers of different abilities. Imagine a fourth grader reading a report on the Flint Water Crisis originally published in the New York Times, but at a fourth grade level. Or, better yet, imagine a struggling seventh grader reading that article at a fourth grade level. Then, imagine a different seventh grader sitting at the next desk reading the same article with the same content at grade level. This is the currently popular approach to individualizing reading material through resources called “leveled texts.”
So the next question is, If the content stays the same, what changes? The companies that do this leveling (and I’ll discuss them later) usually use Lexile ratings. Those ratings measure the challenge level of the text based on its structural difficulty (sentence length and complexity, paragraph length) and its vocabulary difficulty. That’s how the ideas of an article can remain largely intact, yet be explained in simpler language. It is important to realize that rewriting an article at a different level does not mean that ideas are necessarily simpler. So, just because an article about a school shooting is leveled for a third grade reading level does not mean it is appropriate content for a third grade student.