This post is the continuation of a series exploring instruction through reading individualization. Check out the other posts as well!
What are the big names and how do they differ?
TweenTribune and Newsela
TweenTribune and Newsela are strongly similar. Both provide free access to leveled content at a handful of levels (TweenTribune provides four levels; Newsela provides five). Both allow a teacher to create a class, add students, assign articles and quizzes, and manage data. Importantly, neither of these resources automatically adjust the Lexile level based on reader characteristics. They do not include diagnostic testing to determine that level, so they cannot assign and adjust levels intelligently. Regardless of that, both resources provide strong value, especially for being free. TweenTribune provides an impressive library of lesson plans to support instruction. Newsela provides thematic text sets that could support a lesson or unit with a variety of readings. Even more importantly, Newsela is committed to providing current and unflinching coverage of serious issues in a sensitive manner. (For instance, the CEO emailed all teacher users to notify them of the intent to cover the Paris Terrorist Attacks of 2015 before they ran them in order to help teachers integrate the material with care.) Both TweenTribune and Newsela are professionally produced with easy navigation and administrative tools. They are exceptional resources for any teacher wishing to support literacy.
[Update: In spring of 2016, Newsela began posting historical content, including famous speeches and historical journalism. These texts are leveled in the same manner as the main current events content. These additions distinguish Newsela from TweenTribune and provide leveling that no other service is providing.]
Achieve3000 is a bit of a hyper-charged approach to the same goal, and it differs in significant ways. First of all, the system administers diagnostic testing to students and tracks their progress in questions connected to articles. With that data, the system decides which Lexile level to serve the student; the student cannot self-select. While this takes the power out of the student’s hands, it also decreases the confusion over which level the student should pursue. Second, Achieve serves articles at a much wider range of Lexile levels, everything from kindergarten to high school graduate. That enables teachers to embrace a wider diversity of student ability levels in one class. Third, Achieve offers a huge library of connected materials, from lesson plans to writing projects, to career connections, to next generation test preparation, and more. The system is rich with its amount of materials and data-gathering opportunities, which may lead to a steeper learning curve initially, but more power in the long run. Of course, all of that means that Achieve3000 offers no free version. Each student account costs a school district.
One more important note on the differences among these resources. While Achieve leads the pack in offering powerful individualization resources and tools, it does not provide the quality of content Newsela achieves. Achieve’s content is at times older and less controversial, revealing the conservatism of the resource. For example, at the time I write this article, Newsela’s featured article covers Donald Trump’s victory in the South Carolina primary, a story only two days old; Achieve is featuring an article from six months ago exploring efforts to construct a space elevator. This difference can sometimes lead a teacher to leave Achieve in favor of Newsela or TweenTribune.
But, of course, with access to all three of these resources, a teacher need not choose one exclusively. Rather, all three can be used to support the literacy instruction discussed above. The integration of literacy strategies into instruction across the curriculum is the vital goal.