Insight: Making Reading Individualization Happen Part 5-Wrapping It Up!

Let’s end this discussion with some final thoughts and a whole bunch of resources!

This post is the conclusion of a series exploring instruction through reading individualization . Check out the other posts as well!


The growing reliance on 1:1 teaching models has led to an increase in demand for leveled reading content. Neither of these trends is showing any sign of diminishing in the future, so the availability of technology-leveled reading should become not only desirable, but ubiquitous. As this happens, schools and teachers will need to become increasingly aware of the best practices in instruction and professional development. If careful and consistent attention is given to the principles of individualization based on leveled readings, rather than the resources that provide them, then teachers can develop practices that will work with any resource providing leveled readings. Springboarding and stretching should become instructional practices as well known as scaffolding and formative assessment.


Check out these Sylvania Digital Learning posts on the tools and tricks needed for individualized reading instruction!

Cool Trick: The Basic Functions of Achieve3000

Insight: Simple Strategies to Make Achieve3000 Work for Your Discipline

Teacher Showcase: Finding the Science in Achieve3000 with Kaitlin Sibert

Teacher Showcase: Solving Problems through Achieve3000 with Jamie Holley

Teacher Showcase: Authentic Achieve3000 Lessons from Northview and Southview

All Achieve3000-tagged SDL Articles

Resource Introduction: Newsela

Resource Introduction: TweenTribune


Insight: Making Reading individualization Happen Part 4-The Big Three Resources

Achieve3000, Newsela, TweenTribune. Check out the differences!

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?

As of right now, three names should be on your radar for individualization. All provide leveled informational texts from published news articles. They are TweenTribune, Newsela, and Achieve3000.

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.

In the next post, we’ll conclude this discussion and provide helpful references for your own individualization work. Stick with us!

Insight: Making Reading individualization Happen Part 3-Dealing with Data

Learn about the crucial role data plays in the differentiation equation!

This post is a continuation of a series exploring instruction through reading individualization. Check out the other posts as well!

Mastering Student Data for Differentiation

Of course, individualization cannot happen unless data can be easily amassed and collated. The first task is rather easy; the second is not. Increasingly, technology is assisting us in understanding student strengths and weaknesses, but we must continue to recognize the need for effective data in making individualization possible.

It works like this:

  1. The student is assessed using a standards-aligned diagnostic test.
  2. The test produces data that shows the strengths and weaknesses of the student based on each content standard.
  3. The teacher reflects on that data to make instructional decisions for the student.
  4. The teacher administers individualization activities and experiences to the student based on the data.
  5. Student work and/or repeated diagnostic testing provide data updates.
  6. The teacher modifies student learning activities based on updated data.

In theory, this will lead to a student addressing weaknesses in step 4 and that work will produce growth. Some difficulties may arise, though. Step 3 may be difficult because the data may be overwhelming. If a teacher cannot quickly and easily understand student strengths and weaknesses based on the data, he or she may give up on careful individualization. So, systems must be in place to produce data that teachers can easily understand and use. Step 4 may become overwhelming as well if the teacher feels he or she must create a vast amount of materials to meet the needs of individualization. Step 5 may include such frequent diagnostic testing that students become exhausted.

Two solutions to the data burden present themselves: professional development and automation. Teachers may not know how to access data through technology, interpret that data, or connect that data to relevant learning activities. Professional development activities that provide instruction in the management of data and best practices in the use of data are essential to implementing differentiation through leveled readings.

Automation is increasingly possible and incredibly attractive. Digital resources that automatically complete any of the above steps are extraordinarily useful. For instance, if a resource serves content for students based on diagnostic reports, this can help a teacher with step 4. Or, if a resource aligns diagnostic data to standards, that can ease the burden of step 3. In evaluating and shopping for individualization resources, attention to the level of automation is key for successful data management, and ultimately of implementation.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the big three leveled reading resources: Achieve3000, Newsela, and Tween Tribune. Read on!

Insight: Making Reading Individualization Happen Part 2-How to Teach with Leveled Texts

Check out part 2 of the reading differentiation series: best practices! Learn all about the “How”!

This post is a continuation of a series exploring instruction through reading individualization. Check out the other posts as well!

How to Teach with Leveled Texts

If asked how to individualize the reading experience for students, one might say that the teacher would provide individualized reading resources, which we will accurately refer to as leveled, so students can have access to learning in a way that respects their abilities and pushes them to grow. Great, but how? The answer lies in a few basic approaches, both addressing content standards for any subject as well as literacy skills.


One approach is to use leveled material as a springboard for grade-level work. We’ll call it springboarding, and it works like this. Assign an article to students at individualized levels so each student reads the article at a challenge level that feels comfortable. Let’s say the article explored efforts to address the current disrepair of bridges in the United States. Each student reads that article and understands it because of its leveling. They all stand ready to proceed. They could then handle a grade-level appropriate discussion on the topic, a debate on a controversial issue connected to it, or any other grade-appropriate task. For instance, if the topic in a science class is the scientific method, all students could enter an activity on that method from a leveled article, leading to the completion of a worksheet-driven analysis with equal footing. The challenge of a reading outside of the student’s ability will not have hampered him from the successful completion of the activity.

Springboarding could even lead to more reading experiences. If the student begins an activity with a leveled reading, the next step could require the student to continue reading about the same topic with unleveled reading. In other words, research. After reading the leveled selection, push the students to more reading on the same topic, but with grade-appropriate reading material, be that an unleveled news article, grade-level textbook material, or technical writing. The student will be working toward the content you wish them to address, but the springboarding with the leveled article at the outset will lead them sensitively into the material. Importantly, all students share an equal chance to tackle the material because of the grounding at their proficiency level.


Springboarding calls to mind an important concept in reading individualization: stretching. This refers to the movement from proficiency level to grade level tasks. While we want to be sensitive to student ability levels and not sabotage our students’ opportunities to read, we also do not want them consistently reading at a level far below grade expectations. Look at it this way. If a high school freshman is reading at a sixth grade level, that freshman needs help is building literacy. While providing sixth-grade reading material will help the student understand what she reads, it will not help her when a grade-appropriate assessment comes along (such as the grade 9 ELA AIR test). In that case, the student must read material that is much more challenging than sixth grade. But, if she has only been reading texts leveled for her proficiency, she will not be prepared.

That’s where stretching comes into play. This best practice stipulates that a student should receive some reading experiences at their grade level, but then be exposed to grade-appropriate material that complements the leveled text. Let’s take that freshman again. She could be involved in a stretch assignment if she read an article at her proficiency level on the Flint Water Crisis, but then read a grade-appropriate article exploring the same issue. Her comfortable grounding in the first, leveled article will assist her in tackling the more challenging vocabulary and density of the grade-appropriate article. In this way, the student has begun the reading experience in a place that develops comfort with the material before moving onto the more challenging grade-level text. It is certainly a more sensitive approach than throwing the unprepared student into text they cannot immediately handle, even if they are “supposed” to be able to.

Newsela, which is discussed later in this series, has provided a resource that may be useful for stretching. They have leveled 18 (at the time of this writing) famous historical speeches. Using this series of speeches, a student could read at their level and then read the original to stretch their grasp of challenging vocabulary and sentence structure.


Another approach is to use the individualized material for skill-building in literacy. English language arts include a host of reading skill standards, from identifying main idea to recognizing the importance of a text’s structure. But, other disciplines carry this burden as well, even if in a diminished form. If you examine the Ohio social studies content standards, you’ll see language for American history that discusses the evaluation of the credibility of a text source and the recognition of cause and effect relationships. Further, Ohio has instituted literacy and writing content standards for non-ELA courses that require non-ELA teachers to support such skills as analyzing text structure, recognizing author’s purpose, and comparing/contrasting messages from different media. (See pages 70-78 of this document.) All of these standards require teachers to embed literacy skills in their non-ELA classes. Any teacher wanting to support those literacy skills connected to their content area could build those skills through a individualized approach with leveled text resources.

Let’s see how it works. Assign an article to students and target a skill such as text structure (e.g. cause and effect or argument), evidence gathering, or prompt/text-based writing. Use the leveled text as the foundation for an activity building that skill, such as a graphic organizer for text structure or evidence-based paragraph writing. Assigning a leveled text as the foundation for such skill instruction can help students as they focus on building the skill with a text that is comfortable for them. They can worry about the skill, not the text difficulty. Later, if you wish to continue to develop this skill for grade-appropriate texts, you can do so with greater confidence in the students’ abilities to apply them effectively.

Variations on these three basic approaches are possible, but regardless of the approach taken, the teacher should see leveled texts as resources to meet standards in the classroom with two benefits: increased sensitivity to student ability and powerful implementation of literacy instruction.


While text-to-speech is not necessarily what we mean when we discuss leveled reading material, it is so closely related that it should be discussed at the same time. Technology has become increasingly effective at reading texts to students. Chrome extensions like Read & Write for Google Chrome have made it simple for students to listen to what they read, instead of traditionally reading it. Of course, this may not be appropriate for ELA classes, where text reading is a necessary standard to meet, but it could be an appropriate approach to individualizing the reading experience in non-ELA classes, or even ELA lessons not requiring traditional reading skills for mastery. Students are becoming more aware and better trained in using a text-to-speech utility, and providing them with the option to listen as they’d like can give them the support they need when reading. And, of course, next generation assessments provide text-to-speech utilities, so training students in the tools prepares them for state tests, not the reverse.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the question of data with reading individualization. Join us there!

Insight: Making Reading Individualization Happen Part 1-What’s Reading Individualization?

Bring reading differentiation into your classroom through this SDL series! Start with part one, “What’s Reading Differentiation?”

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.

In the next post, we’ll discuss clear teaching strategies for use with level readings. Check it out!