Keeping “Classics” vs. The Common Core

For the past three years I have taught Language Arts 8 in a Resource Room setting. Working with students with decoding and reading comprehension skills below grade-level, I am forced to modify the materials and curriculum used by the other Language Arts teachers. Choosing reading material isn’t always easy – it must be high interest and low readability. I feel like I have a pretty good choice of novels and selections from the text book that cover everything I need to cover.

The four novels I read during the school year are

*With the exception of Stargirl, the general education teachers at my grade level use these exact same novels.

However, with the adoption of the Common Core, I am faced with a decision. All because of increased lexile bands.

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the lexile levels will increase for each grade level band. 6th-8th graders who were previously reading in the 860Lā€“1010L range but will now be expected to read in the 955Lā€“1155L range.


Taken from the Common Core, Appendix A

While the jump is not earth shattering for high ability readers, it is significant for students with reading disabilities.

Look again at the novels I use with my students with disabilities:


According to the lexile levels, only one of these books falls into the new range for 8th graders. In fact, three of these books are apparently in the range for 2nd and 3rd graders! If you haven’t read The Outsiders or The Giver, there are definitely some scenes that are not appropriate for 7-8 year olds. (I do understand the the Common Core is not recommending students at that grade level read these particular books, but you must get what I am saying.)

So does that mean that we ditch the books that have been middle school “classics” for years? The content is appropriate and the literary elements are there. I’ve seen these books make non-readers read because of the story lines. I’ve seen non-readers take these books home or ask if they can keep a copy because they love them. I’ve had students say that their parents are now reading these books because they’ve raved about them so much. In my mind, these books are keepers!

My frustration is in the fact that some people think that these novels, because of their lexile levels, must be thrown out. How can I justify not using three of the four books I have built my curriculum around? Especially when these novels are perfect for the students I work with.

At this point, I plan to use these novels and supplement with increasingly more difficult text as my students are able to handle it. Supposedly, we will be getting some software that will allow us to determine a student’s reading range. This should be helpful in writing the IEP and planning instruction, but will I be allowed to use these novels with 8th graders? That answer will hopefully come when we receive additional training in the Common Core later this summer.

How do you feel about the new lexiles and the Common Core?
Would you discard a classic novel that is grade appropriate because of its lexile?
How will you select your novels as your district adopts the Common Core?

6 responses

  1. The big thing to look at is not just Lexile levels. Use the literature text complexity rubric to give those who question the appropriateness of The Outsiders (or any other novel) for your grade level. Have them complete it with you, after they’ve read the book. Lexile/grade equivalent levels, etc are just one SMALL piece of the picture and are that company’s opinion. Author’s are writing more and more for lower readability levels, but the CONTENT is much higher. Sure a kid in 4th grade might be able to recognize the words in the novel, but do they understand the meaning? Would they be able to understand the connection between sunsets and staying gold? (& oh so many more in this novel!) We too had an issue on a couple of novels since they really were at the bottom of our Lexile levels, but when you take into account the content, that changes everything. Good luck! (btw: We too use The Outsiders and then The Compound by S.A. Bodeen & Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper. All written at lower Lexile levels….)

    1. Thank you a better explanation of all this Lexile business and the Common Core. Right now our department head is stuck on numbers. I think the 8th grade is going to use The Outsiders anyway because they found it on a list (which was probably created from the rubric you mention). I am not familiar with either of the other novels you mentioned. I will check them out. Do you teach 8th grade? Special education?

  2. I would keep the books, but supplement with higher level commentary or higher level short stories with common themes (to have students make comparisons….) that way, the interest is already there, the difficulty is there, and students feel more confidence about the material because it is shorter, they can see the end in sight. Don’t get me wrong… the difficulty level of the text is important… but even more important is the thinking, connecting, analyzing, synthesizing, etc that they do with the text. šŸ™‚

    1. So funny you mention “common themes”….working on a post all about theme right now! I think the other Lang. Arts teachers are going to do “Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust” which will definitely fit in with my theme. It’s hard reading but I can make it work.

      1. Planning thematically is the one thing that drives me crazy as a Spanish teacher. Textbooks and department heads are convinced that “food” or “house” is a theme. I want to scream at them, “NO, ITS A TOPIC!” Students learn more authentically and can say more when we use a theme… and, they can learn more difficult things faster… but that sounds like too much work (like the kind of work you lang. art teachers do…) so, we settle for topics. One of these days… I’ll write my own curriculum and make my own department in some freedom-loving district use it. LOL.

  3. How frustrating! I often struggle to find high-interest books at lower levels for fourth and fifth graders too, (especially those reading at a K-1 level… yikes!). I think I’d still try to work with the same novels, especially if you’ve seen success with student interest and growth in the past. Seeing those levels rise makes me nervous because so many of my readers come in low…

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