Ed Tech Review

Ed Tech Review: Newsela

Do students know what is going on in the world? Students benefit from learning about the world around them in areas such as health, science, social studies and technical news.  In the past, teachers have asked students to find a current event article and write a report about it only to have some students come to class the with a report based on an article from the New Yorker or Smithsonian that was at too high of a reading level for the student to be able to read and to write about.  It is important for students to read and comprehend informational text at a reading level that is appropriate for each child.  After all, the goal is for the child to complete the assignment on their own while building their knowledge and understanding of the world around them as reading comprehension and vocabulary skills continue to develop.

The solution that I have found to be useful is the website and app http://www.Newsela.com. At this site, news stories originating from McClatchy-Tribune newspapers are rewritten by journalist at four different Lexile levels in English and some are written at four levels in Spanish, too. The site is geared for students from second grade through college. Texts are available at different Lexile levels.  Lexile levels are determined by comparing slices of a reading passage to the words in the Lexile word bank.  Sentence length and the difficulty level of the vocabulary is used to determine the Lexile level of a text.  Students can choose to read the article at the appropriate Lexile level for their level of reading comprehension in either English or Spanish as well as read the original articles if they want to.  Never again will student struggle to find a current events news article that they can actually read and understand.

Teachers can create either a free or a pro account.  Accounts can be accessed via the Internet or  the new iOS app.   There are many advantages to having a pro account such as tracking individual student progress with Common Core Standards, ability for students to annotate, individual performance and data reports. However, a good place to start is with a free account. With a free account, teachers can assign articles to the entire class, track class-wide results, and students can take quizzes and track their own progress. Teachers can either print the articles or have the students access the articles via computers or iPads.

Why should students reaNewsela_2d current event articles?  First, with the emphasis of the Common Core Standards in reading and understanding informational text, high-interest current event articles help teachers meet these learning objectives.  Teachers can choose articles based on topic, grade level, reading standards, or language. With new informational texts being added daily, there are many topics and articles to choose from which will help students develop knowledge of the world around them – a key component of the Common Core.  Secondly,  students can make their own choices as to what they are interested in learning more about and what articles they want to read. In fact, students can be encouraged to dig deeper into certain topics by reading text sets which are articles that are grouped together based on the same topic, grade level, or reading standard. Students can learn more about a topic that is interesting to them. They can read different viewpoints and expand their knowledge on a wide variety of topics such as animal extinction, bullying, China, news from a particular state and more.    If a student is interested in the topic and the Lexile level matches the student’s sweet spot (reading level of article is not too hard nor too easy for the student), the student can continue to build reading skills.  In fact, a 75% comprehension rate is expected when the Lexile level of a reader is matched with text of the same Lexile level.  This promotes learning as the text is challenging so that the student continues to improve their reading skills,

In my classroom, I use Newsela.com to introduce my college level English as a Second Language (ESL) students to articles about a variety of up-to-date topics.  The articles help my students to build their vocabulary and reading comprehension skills in English while they keep up on what is going on elsewhere in the world.  One way I have found to use Newsela effectively in my classroom is to assign an article for students to read at least two times.  The first time, they read the article at a low level so that they comprehend the main ideas and the details of the article.  Then, I have them read the same article again at a higher level so that they can build their skills in written English.  I have them analyze vocabulary and sentence structure by comparing the lower level to the higher level.  Then, we discuss the article.  We make connections to what they already know while also checking for understanding of the article they just read which gives students practice using their speaking and listening skills.  By using the same topic again, they now must use the vocabulary and the concepts that they learned from reading the article in a slightly different way.    

Teachers can use the app or the Internet version to select articles for students to read.  Once an article is chosen and assigned to the class, students can read the article at their Lexile level.  To check for comprehension, students can then complete a quiz at the same Lexile level that they read the article.  Also, for some articles, there is a writing prompt that students can answer.  With the pro version, information is shared individually about each child.  With the free version, only information about the entire class is available.

Teachers can create ways in the classroom for students to share and discuss the information that they have read. The information can be used in a variety of ways including whole class discussions, read alouds, shared readings, or small-group discussions just to name a few.  Teachers can have students read the same articles at different levels or different articles at different levels on the same topic.  Imagine the amount of sharing and the rich class discussions that can develop from this type of timely information text.  Students can read about something that has just happened at a reading level at which they can comprehend the text and the event.

In the 21st century, students need to be able to read and use information effectively from the Internet. Newsela will help students meet one of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards easily. The standard, in particular, is in regards to research and information fluency. By using Newsela, students can “…apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. a. Plan strategies to guide inquiry b. Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media c. Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks d. Process data and report results” (ISTE Standards for Students, 2007).  Newsela has already done the hard part by curating the current event articles in one easy to find place.  All one has to do is to create a free account to access them.  

Singing the praises of Newsela is very easy to do. However, the price of Newsela for the pro account is rather high and one that many schools will not be able to afford. That is, if you are willing to provide your contact information in order for Newsela to connect with you to provide a quote for the pro service. A quick search of the Internet showed that the reported price of Newsela for the pro version is reported to be $18 per student account. For many, this is too high. Too many teachers pay for tools for their classroom from their own pocket. The average amount that teachers pay out of pocket is $513 per year (Leinback-Reyhle, 2014). For a class of 25, there would not be much money leftover for anything else.

A second critique I have of Newsela is that students cannot change the Lexile level of the article until they have chosen and accessed it. Students reading at lower Lexile levels may struggle determining the topics based on the titles only because they may not be able to comprehend what the article is about. Yes, there are photos included with the titles, but a title such as “Ohio mentors take student behavioral issues to the basketball court” may not be understood by a child whose reading level is at the level where the title “Basketball helps these boys in school” is much easier for them to understand.  If possible, changing the overall Lexile level of the headings of the articles would be a helpful and time-saving addition for students of lower Lexile levels.  Taking time to click on an article with an interesting picture to find that the article is not something that the child wants to read can lead to frustration with the website.  Students who become frustrated can give up; students who give up are not developing their reading skills.

Newsela does  have a lot of articles, and they add to these articles on a daily basis.  In fact, teachers can sign up to receive daily emails listing some of the featured topics that have just been added to the site.  However, teachers do have to be aware that even though the site contains many, many articles, not all viewpoints concerning a topic are addressed.  Teachers should be aware of possible bias and ensure that students seek information from other sources, too.  It is important for teachers to seek ways for students to develop a broad view of the world and to encourage students to do the same.

All in all, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of using Newsela. Having one place where teachers are able to find informational texts that are accurate and up-to-date which also accommodate a variety of reading levels is something that teachers who work with native and non-native speakers of English will find useful. Do I use the site?  Yes, and I hope you check it out to see if it will work for you and your students, too.
References

 Leinbach-Reyhle, N. (2014, August 19). Teachers Spend Their Own Money on Back to School Supplies. Retrieved January 28, 2016, from 

International Society for Technology in Education. (2007). ISTE standards students. Retrieved January 28, 2016.

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