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Wednesday, May 4, 2016


In my high school English classroom teachers years, true differentiation was always an elusive goal.  I never disagreed with its need, but always found it difficult to do with consistency, depth, and fidelity.  This was especially true with reading materials.  Like most, I faced students who ranged a huge range of low to high reading levels.   However, I highly valued having students be able to have discourse over the same text.  Often, especially with non-fiction text, I would be lucky to find a "on grade," "above grade," and "high grade" version of the same topic without making it obvious the disparity between the "kiddie version" and the others.

But now we have tech tools that can narrow the gap.  What if students could all read the exact same article, yet the Lexile level be automatically shifted up or down?   Newsela was the first and only site I knew that did this well, but another online resource has recently surfaced: TweenTribune, backed by the Smithsonian.

How does it work?   You can browse and search non-fiction articles in various subjects, or click on a band of reading levels determined by grade level (K-4, 5-6, etc.; this is one advantage over Newsela, which doesn't have grade level bands of articles).  Once you click on an article of interest, you can quickly adjust the Lexile reading level of the article by clicking on a higher or lower number.  Each Lexile version of an article has an unique URL, which makes copying and sharing the URL at a certain reading level very easy.

Note under the title that the current Lexile reading level number is in gold. Some options, such as taking a quiz or leaving a comment, are available if you are logged into your account.  Registration is free, and student usernames and passwords must be generated by a teacher who creates a class.
Another positive compared to Newsela:  while Newsela only lets you see five articles before making you register (for free), you can access all the articles of TweenTribune and share their multi-level URLs without teachers or students ever creating an account.

One thing that is interesting as you click across the grade levels is that the name of the site actually changes even as the URL still starts ""   K-4 is TT Junior, and 9-12 is TeenTribune.

There are a collection of separate Spanish articles under its own category, but the Lexile level cannot be adjusted, nor do the English articles have a "Spanish button" to convert them.

If you are interested in taking a comprehension quiz or leaving a comment on the article, you have to be logged in.  Teachers can register for free, create classes and student usernames/passwords, and assign certain articles to their classes.  (Note that a student cannot create their own sign in -- they have to get that from a teacher.)  If students take a quiz, teachers can access those results.

The teacher interface to create classrooms and student accounts is straight forward and simple.

How could you use it?   You can create authentic and engaging pair, group, or whole class discussions by having students read the same article differentiated to their needs.   In discussion, it would be nearly impossible for one student to know what Lexile level the other student read, making the equity seamless and invisible.  With an LMS, sharing URLs to specific reading levels of an article would be easy; for example, in Schoology, you could even create differentiated Assignments to different student groups, each with a different TweenTribune Lexile reading level of the same text.

Downsides?  I would like a way that you could have the various Lexile levels of a specific article be translated to Spanish with one button push.  That would make differentiation extend easily to ELL student needs.

I'm thankful that the Smithsonian is helping educators differentiate with ease...and for free!

Do you use Newsela or TweenTribune?  Discuss it in the Comments below.