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FYI for Kids: Building Students’ Capacity for Complex Text

Posted by Elfrieda H. Hiebert on 12 April 2013

TextProject has just launched FYI for Kids—a collection of engaging and high-quality magazine articles designed to enhance the Common Core classroom’s reading repertoire. The objective of this project is to demonstrate a type of text that is essential for increasing students’ engagement in and proficiency with complex texts—short, engaging articles that communicate critical information. Many magazines for children and young adolescents have yet to be digitized (and, even when they are, past issues may not be available on the Internet)—so we want to be clear that the volume of articles offered through FYI for Kids is a small drop in the bucket of what is needed in classrooms. And magazine articles, of course, are not the only type of texts that need to be ramped up in Common Core classrooms. These articles illustrate a form of text that is often missing from classrooms and have great potential to build students’ capacity for complex texts.

Why Magazine Articles Are an Important Part of the Classroom Reading Repertoire

There are at least five reasons why magazine articles are so critical in a curriculum:

  • The style and content of magazine articles engages students.
  • Magazine articles cover a range of topics, supporting students in acquiring funds of information that are critical for reading complex texts.
  • Magazine articles can demonstrate to students that they can read complex texts since many magazine articles have challenging vocabulary.
  • Magazine articles form a primary component of the reading diet of adults, so students need to be able to read these texts critically.
  • And finally, magazine articles are represented heavily in many assessments, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I present this feature last because the underlying purpose for magazine articles is not test preparation. The previously discussed reasons are compelling enough to demonstrate the benefits of including magazine articles in the reading repertoire of Common Core classrooms. Yet at the same time, students need the chance to get facile with a style of texts before being confronted with them on assessments.
The Features of FYI for Kids

Length and Style: The articles that make up FYI for Kids are on the short range of length for magazine articles—around 350 words long. The articles that have appeared on the assessments of the NAEP are typically 750 words or more. We keep the articles short so that they could be on a single page and include pictures. A first priority in many classrooms is to get students engaged in reading articles, and pictures can go a long way toward whetting curiosity in reading. We also want the texts to be easy for teachers to project onto a whiteboard or to photocopy.

Vocabulary Levels: The articles featured in FYI for Kids are different in one important way from most magazine articles in that, while complex in content, the texts are presented with differing percentages of rare (and likely unknown) vocabulary.

A prominent part of TextProject’s message is the 90-10 rule of vocabulary distribution: 90% of the words in most texts comes from a group of 4,000 simple word families, while the other 10% (the extended vocabulary) comes from the remaining words in English (as many as 300,000 additional words). Being facile with the 4,000 simple words families is essential for students to be able to read complex texts.

The FYI for Kids texts are at five complexity levels: These levels are based on a range of 1% to 5%, indicating the portion of the words in a text that fall into the “10” category—the extended vocabulary. That is, these percentages represent the number of words that are not in the 4,000 simple word families. For instance, “Bird Nests” is a magazine article in the first volume of FYI for Kids (the volume numbers indicate the text complexity level). There are four potentially challenging words in “Bird Nests”: auks, penguins, tailorbirds, and cuckoos. Students should be able to recognize the word auks after an appearance or two since it’s monosyllabic. Multisyllabic words can often present more challenge than monosyllabic words.

Table 1:  Levels of difficulty in FYI for Kids.

  Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5
  Text contains 1% extended vocabulary Text contains 2% extended vocabulary Text contains 3% extended vocabulary Text contains 4% extended vocabulary Text contains 5% extended vocabulary
Issue 1 Bird Nests Bats Greek Mythology Bison A Birthday Wish: Rachel Beckwith
Issue 2 Going With the Flow Fractured Fairy Tales Putting Two Words Together Louis Braille Counting Animals
Issue 3 Posters Over Time Totem Poles Bats in Sports Standing on Your Own The Tides
Issue 4    Nesting Dolls Moles    

Domains: We’re still generating texts for FYI for Kids, but the content falls into five main content areas. The content areas vary in the number of themes that fall within them, as shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2:  Content Domains and Themes in FYI for Kids.

Content Domain Themes Example of a Magazine Article in FYI for Kids
Art and Music Art; Music  "Nesting Dolls"
Human Interest Fashion & Crafts; Young Heroes; Sports & Games; Young Inventors  "A Birthday Wish: Rachel Beckwith"
Language Studies Text Study; Word Study  "Putting Two Words Together"
Science Earth Science; Life Science, Physical Science  "Counting Animals"
Social Studies Civics; Culture; History; Geography & Economics  "Totem Poles"

Every single topic won’t have texts for every difficulty level. But there is enough to get started—especially for the last quarter of the school year when students often make their greatest learning gains. And don’t forget TextProject’s SummerReads! Summer reading is critical to sustain if students are to keep the gains that they have gotten over the school year.