My fourth-grader and sixth-grader are reading the same book in school right now. That’s right. The book is "The Lightning Thief." And what's more, my sixth-grader already read (and loved!) this very same book when he was in fourth grade at his prior school. Both schools, one charter and one traditional district school, are similar in that they exist within the same zip code and yet, one sees "The Lightning Thief" as a fourth-grade book and the other sees it as a sixth-grade book. And according to the grade range listed with the book, both are right. The book has a Lexile Score of 740 which indicates a precise grade level equivalent of 4.7 (fourth grade, seventh month) but Scholastic and others list the book as appropriate for grades 4-8. (A Lexile Score is the measure of how difficult a text is). The point of this post isn’t to criticize any one school's curriculum decisions. It is to help people see, through my own children, how expectations and/or opinions about appropriate reading choices vary greatly—even between schools just a few miles apart—and to ask two things:
Is it even a problem?
And if so, what can we do about it?
While in the grand scheme of things, it definitely falls into the "no-biggie" category, we can't ignore the fact that expectations matter and that some schools push kids more than others. Is the reading choice based on lower expectations for sixth-graders? Or is it possible that those reading it in sixth grade will actually be pushed harder because the depth of analysis expected will be much greater? The truth is, there are no guarantees. Some teachers really push their students hard in their thinking and writing and some don't, regardless of the grade they teach. And no book choice is going to change that. So what makes one school decide to push its fourth-graders to read "The Lightning Thief," and another to select it as a sixth-grade book, and yet another to pick it for even older students? And who has it right? Or does it depend?
Some Helpful Answers
In thinking about this conundrum with my own boys and "The Lightning Thief," I started looking for insight from those who have both an interest and expertise in grade-level reading.
One blog, "Unleashing Readers," caught my eye when I read,This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post. Ricki Ginsberg writes:
I cringe when I hear about parents or teachers who strictly adhere to reading levels alone and won’t let children read books that are “too high/low in their Lexile number.” I watched a mother tell her son that he couldn’t get the train book that he wanted so badly because the numberon the back cover was too high for him. He was disappointed, and he was even more disappointed when his mom selected a book that was not interesting to him. It really sucks the fun out of reading when you have to pick a book within your required sentence length instead of within your interests.
Makes sense. Three cheers for this writer. The problem that this doesn’t address, however, is how to choose the books that the entire grade is going to read. But she does provide more helpful perspective by showing
how silly we can be about what our kids read. Below is a list she includes in her blog that illustrates the absurdity of a singular focus on lexile scores in choosing books. I decided to seek out
Ricki Ginsberg, the author of the blog post, and ask her for her thoughts about my own situation and she was quick to respond.
@ReadwithPassion Looking for your insight: Help me reconcile that my 4th and 6th grader are reading same book in class. (Lightning Thief)
So, I'm grateful to Ms. Ginsberg for providing some nuance to something that was really bugging me as a mom. While I have no control over the quality of the instruction or the depth of the lessons to accompany "The Lightning Thief," I have at least been convinced not to assume out of the gate that the book was a bad or wrong choice for sixth grade. And keeping our knee jerk reactions in check is always a good thing. Big shout out to Ricki Ginsberg for engaging with me on Twitter about my questions. Sixth grade starts the book this week so fingers crossed.
An original version of this post appeared on Good School Hunting.
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...