Archives For National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

Binge-watching became possible in 2013 when Netflix and other television streaming services began to release all episodes of a show simultaneously.

Binge reading, however, has been around for over 100 years. Kids have been hooked on the episodes in series books since the late 19th century with the release of the Bobbsey Twins (1904).

Binge watching a television series means sitting through five episodes or more within seven days of starting the series. In binge-watching, viewers grow increasingly familiar with the characters. They claim to enjoy the slow character development, noting the changes that mark a character’s complexity, that builds with each plot twist.

Binge reading a book series may take longer. For example, the first set of Nancy Drew books (56 total) were released between 1930 and 1979.  Binge reading the original Goosebumps series (1992 to 1997) would mean reading 62 books.

Binge reading from series to series can take a student from their first days of primary grade favorites Frog and Toad to The Clique in high school.

As students learn to binge read in the early grades, they can benefit from meeting characters that are static and predictable.

  • Pinkalicious will always want the color pink;
  • Peter Hatcher will always be frustrated by the antics of his younger brother Fudge;
  • Harold, the dog, will remain convinced that the bunny rabbit (Bunnicula) is actually a vampire.
  • Pippi Longstocking will always be adventurous, unpredictable, and able to lift her horse one-handed.

Being familiar with a character also allows younger students the opportunity to make predictions. They can anticipate how the character they have come to know will interact with plot and setting. This reading practice can improve their overall accuracy and fluency.

As they get older, students can binge on other book series that deal with mature subject matter in the themes of isolation, prejudice, love, or death. They may prefer characters who are tested in perilous situations such as Katniss (The Hunger Games Trilogy); Bella (Twilight Trilogy); or Thomas (The Maze Runner).

Students may even choose to binge read a series that (literally) follows a character as he or she grows up. The best example of a series with such character development and plot twists is J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series. Readers who are initially attracted to the fantasy of a parallel wizard world can develop a relationship with Harry, reading about the successively dark problems he faces in the hope that good will triumph over evil.

There are series books for every age group, and there is evidence that students should be encouraged to binge read a series for fun if they choose.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compared the reading scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) using survey information that students volunteered about their reading habits.

The 2015 survey included the following questions about the frequency of reading for fun:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

This data shows that the more frequently that students read, the higher their NAEP scores were. This data confirmed there is a link between vocabulary and reading achievement in all age groups, where the students with the highest average vocabulary scores were also in the top 75th percentile of reading comprehension. By contrast, students with the lowest vocabulary scores were those at or below the 25th percentile in reading comprehension.

These recent findings by NAEP also confirmed earlier research in vocabulary acquisition, that determined students who read widely learned more words and word meanings. (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2001; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Reutzel et al., 2012).

One undisputed seminal study (Anderson & Nagy, 1992) estimated that children learn an average of 4,000 to 12,000 new words per year as a result of book reading, Encouraging encouraging students to read independently, to read for fun, promotes vocabulary growth without direct instruction.

There are critics who fear that series books are not enough to improve reading. They have expressed reservations that the series books lack depth or the literary qualities that are found in other hallowed texts from the canon.

But reading for fun does not need to be literary. An objective measure based on vocabulary and sentence complexity, the Lexile measure, does show some surprising differences and similarities that can be made when comparing “classic” literary works and book series:

  • SERIES: LEGO Ninjago Chapter Book Series 550L-710 Lexile
  • CANON: John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men 660Lexile
  • SERIES: Veronica Roth’s  Divergent700Lexile
  • SERIES: Suzanne Powers’ The Hunger Games 810Lexile
  • SERIES: The Magic Tree House Fact Finder 880Lexile
  • CANON: Tim O’ Brien’s The Things They Carried 880Lexile
  • CANON: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 890Lexile 
  • SERIES: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket1000 – 1370Lexile
  • CANON: F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby 1010Lexile
  • SERIES: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet 1020Lexile

To be clear, the series books listed above are not equal in literary quality to the literature they are compared to from the canon. But, the practice students can have with series books that are objectively similar in vocabulary and sentence complexity can help them to get enough reading practice to drive substantial growth. Series books are what prepare students for the canon.

So go ahead and encourage students who choose to binge read a series.

It’s good for reading practice…and like the streaming services…it’s commercial free!

Screenshot 2016-03-29 10.37.46In a previous post, I discussed how the “Chicken or Egg?” conundrum is a way to view which agency-  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – is responsible for the recommendations for fiction vs. non-fiction in a student’s reading diet.

In 2015, the NAEP the “largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas” provided a voluntary survey on which teachers could select the literary genre they emphasized in class “to a great extent.” NAEP noted that over the past six years, there has been a steady increase in nonfiction in grade 4 and 8, a phenomena that coincides with the adoption of the CCSS and the revisions to the NAEP reading content. As the primary reason or as a result, the CCSS has promoted expectations that a student’s reading diet reflect a ratio  30% fiction and 70% nonfiction across the content areas by the time he or she graduates from high school.

Creative

The Evolution of Creative Nonfiction

Complicating the question of which came first, the CCSS recommendations or the NAEP, another genre has been evolving and gaining popularity with students at all grade levels, the genre of creative nonfiction. Creative non-fiction or the narrative non-fiction genre features the same techniques that fiction writers, playwrights, and poets use in order to present real people and events as stories while still using factually accurate prose. The goal of the creative non-fiction writer is to make nonfiction stories as exhilarating, arresting, vivid, or dramatic as anything in the fictional story.

In meeting that goal, consider how the Newbery Award winning children’s nonfiction author Russell Freedman (author of Children of the Wild WestLincoln: A PhotobiographyWashington at Valley Forge) has dipped into the fiction trademark, the story, by saying:

“A nonfiction writer is a storyteller who has sworn an oath to tell the truth.”

That desire to imitate a storyteller has been generated by a primitive need to communicate and to remember. The story, as author and consultant Lisa Cron explains in her book Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, allows humans to be human. She writes:

“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 9.46.08 PMSimilarly, Thomas Newkirk, a faculty member of the University of New Hampshire, has argued that that we are hard-wired for the story format in his brilliant book Minds Made for StoriesHow We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts. He writes that, “…as humans, as time-bound mortals, we must tell stories” as though the need to tell stories is instinctive as embedded in all humans as is our DNA. Newkirk explains:

“We rely on stories not merely for entertainment, but for explanation, meaning, self-understanding. We instinctively make connections of cause and effect, and always have. To deny the centrality of narrative is to deny our own nature” (146).

Examples of Creative Nonfiction by Grade Level

Consider the following examples of great openings that use the poetry, humor, or suspense, associated with fiction in different kinds of non-fiction.

The first is the short opening of the picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate:

“In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla’s life begins.”

The poetic combination of “leafy calm” and “gentle arms” sets a peaceful tone that is soon disrupted when the infant gorilla is kidnapped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and brought to Tacoma, Washington, to live his real life in a mall.

Or read the opening from the Ludwig Von Beethoven chapter, one of 19 truncated biographies collected for How they Croaked:The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg. Bragg knows her teen audience and keeps the pace moving quickly and informally:

“Beethoven’s dad forced him to practice the piano, like dads have done since the dawn of music. We don’t know what tunes Beethoven practiced, but today, kids are forced to play Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata, melodies that Beethoven wrote. Practice paid off for Beethoven and he became a musical genius. He played his first gig when he was eight years old. He performed for kings, he did concert tours, and he had a lot of fans. And he had long hair just like a rock star. It turns out Beethoven’s hair helped uncover how he died.”

Yes, this does follow a standard biographical timeline, starting in Beethoven’s youth, and, yes, there is the gratuitous connection to rock stars and “gigs”. This entry-and all of the others in the book- capitalize on a multitude gory details in describing how famous real people in history “croaked.”

The last example is from the  opening of the 2013 multi-media Pulitzer Prize winning article in the NY Times  Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch. This digital form of storytelling is an excellent piece for secondary students. It begins in medias res (middle of action):

“The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: ‘Avalanche! Elyse!’

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.”

Accompanying the text are snowfall loops of digital GIFs embedded with video, audio interviews, graphics, and other interactive features. I have written before that the text of “Snowfall” marks a new step in storytelling, a mentor text that models how to create a story where all forms of media support an author’s purpose. Real stories are breaking the 3rd wall in storytelling.

Preference for Narrative Nonfiction

In their books, both Lisa Cron and Thomas Newkirck have identified how our brains have preference for reading and writing the narrative. That preference is advancing genre adaptations that may render recommendations for reading diet ratios unnecessary, whether they come from the NAEP, the CCSS, or some other agency.

Because we are human, and because our brains want stories, the evolving genre of creative non-fiction is rapidly becoming another egg in the reader’s basket.