How I Use It
Last year, when I was going over some SAT questions with my AP students, the overwhelming majority got one rather easy questions wrong. We drilled down on the reason, and together we figured out that the entire question hinged on one vocabulary word--cityscape.
Frankly, I did not think that was a word that most juniors in high school would not find familiar. And I realized, yet again, that my students lack background knowledge of vocabulary and ideas because they do not read as much as I would like.
Enter NEWSELA. Newsela is a nonfiction grade 2-12 reading program, available now in browser or iOS, that takes news stories from nationally acclaimed news sources like the Washington Post or Scientific America, and rewrites the articles into five different lexile versions.
Notably, with Newsela I can help build background knowledge AND help improve student reading skills. I use it weekly with all of my classes. The program is adaptive and sets the student reading level after 8 quizzes. I use it for homework, and for some of my classes, for classwork when they are done the required tasks.
It is helping me to drill down on what reading skills I can concentrate on with each student AND it is helping me to expose them to the kinds of ideas they need for background knwoledge.
Teachers can assign the same content to each student in a class, differentiating for reading level, but allowing all students the ability to discuss the same information. There are quizzes for each article that are aligned with Common Core standards as well as writing prompts. Even though ELA is part of the title, this is a program that can work for every teacher of every subject.
One of the best programs for helping kids practice the kinds of skills that are part of the Common Core, Newsela has two options for most teachers, the free and the pro. The free portion of Newsela is fairly robust; the pro version offers significant and worthwhile options that allow both teachers and students to annotate articles and interact with each other’s comments. It also allows teachers to customize writing prompts. At my school, we are fortunate to have the pro version, but we are still learning the many features.
However, for all schools, I think the number one feature that the pro version offers is data. Teachers can view individual student progress and whole class progress. Most impressive is that fact that administrators can see schoolwide (and districtwide) data. As we are looking for ways to compile and access data to improve instruction, Newsela is a gold mine.