Using Newsela to Differentiate for Instruction
Thursday, September 6, 2018 by Joetta M. Schneider, NBCT

(& How to Determine a Student’s Reading Level When You Need To) 

By Joetta M. Schneider, NBCT

This post blends two big ideas: the benefits of using Newsela as one method to differentiate instruction, and how to determine your students’ Lexile® Reading Levels if you can’t readily find that information.  

What is Newsela?

Newsela is a self-described “Instructional Content Platform that supercharges reading engagement and learning in every subject.”

The teachers I am working with would like to know their students’ reading levels before they take on the task of integrating reading into their high school curricula. I’d used Newsela when it first came out and found it almost magical. No, strike that. I found it both exciting and magical to be able to use the same artticle for each child in my classroom seveeral reading levels without having to modify it myself.  Since then, they’ve added features I took some time to learn about.

Newsela provides thousands of articles on topics like science and math, art, health, and world cultures for students which can be adjusted to any of 5 Lexile® Levels.  This is a great tool for teachers who want to differentiate for instruction. 

Like most NBCTs, my mind went back to the National Board certification process. As it has been reprised since 2017, differentiation is especially relevant for teachers pursuing National Board certification as they dig in to the process of Component 2.  Heck, differentiation is important for all teachers; hence the PD on using Newsela in the classroom.

Getting Past a Roadblock to Teaching Reading Across the Curriculum

One of the difficulties faced by teachers at the high school level is knowing each students’ Lexile® score. Often, the student has not been tested in reading for a number of years.  Other reasons a teacher may not have quick access to a student’s reading level is that she has a hundred or more students and it’s cumbersome to look up all their records in order to conduct a literacy lesson in, say, a science or math class.

Here’s a screenshot from a slide that describes some of the challenges teachers might face when teaching reading across the curriculum. 







Source: 2017: Reading Across The Curriculum with Newsela PRO


Although it might be good to know a student’s reading level before starting any kind of reading in the content area, high school teachers often find it difficult to get that information. You can use Newsela without knowing the students’ reading levels because it automatically adjusts the reading level as the child uses the program. but I will get to that in a few minutes.

The good news is that there are ways to approximate student reading levels if you want to in order to help students achieve the learning goals— we can personalize the learning experience for students.

For Teachers Who Want to Know Their Students’ Reading Levels 

  • What are Lexile® Levels?

One way schools determine a student’s reading ability is to give a test called the Scholastic Reading Inventory, or SRI.

This test for determining a student’s Lexile® score is not free or easily acquired, which might prove problematic for homeschooling parents or teachers who don’t have access to the metric. However, there are some free resources that can be used to quickly approximate their reading levels.

You may have information about a child’s Lexile® level if it is a part of his school records. Those scores would range from BR (beginning reader) to 1385 (college level.) Although it’s easy to think of the first number of your child’s Lexile® score as the grade level at which she is reading, Lexile cautions that there is much more to the picture than that.

You can find out more about Lexile Levels and how to use them in this article on the Scholastic website.

  • The San Diego Quick Reading Level Assessment 

There are other (free) assessments available to teachers but one of the most reliable and the easiest is the San Diego Quick Reading Level Assessment Test, which has been proven to be a good indicator of reading level for parents and teachers without access to the SRI.

You can also find a PDF version of the San Diego Quick Reading Assessment online.

  • Vocabulary Tests or Reading Comprehension

Other ways to help your child choose books at his own reading level is to conduct a vocabulary assessment or determine reading comprehension ability—both methods are described in this blog.

  • How to Find the Lexile® Measure of a Book

You can look up the reading level of a book title at the Lexile website, or you can even look for a list of books at your child’s Lexile® level. If you have determined a child’s reading level based on the SDQRLA, you will have to adjust it to a corresponding or similar Lexile® score.

And, to find step by step instructions for determining the readability of web-based text or Word documents, click here.

Using Newsela in the High School Classroom

After signing up for a free Newsela account, you can create classes and add students in a couple of different ways, all found in a QuickGuide on your “classes” page. (Check the drop-down box from the gear icon in the top right corner of the page next to your name.)

Then search for articles you want to have students read. The search fields include topics, grade levels, and reading skills. Go to the article and click, “assign.”  A cool feature of Newsela is that the articles come from a variety of publications, like National Geographic, NASA, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Associated Press.

When students create accounts and sign in, they will see their assignments, including any instructions you have given at the level of the class as you assign it; they will all begin on grade level. 

However, three types of formative assessments are embedded in the reading process: annotating as they read the text, two-to-three sentence writing prompts, and a 4-question quiz at the end of each article, Newsela gathers the data, analyzes it, and changes the reading levels for future articles each student will read. As you work with students using Newsela, eventually each student will be reading the same articles you have assigned at his or her own reading level.

One drawback: although the program remains adaptive to each student in the free version, your access to the actual data is only available with Newsela Pro, a paid subscription. Without the Pro version, you won’t be able to track a student’s progress past your 30-day free trial.

Newsela for Lessons That Provide Access and Equity for Students

This online learning platform still provides the easiest approach to reading across the curriculum that I’ve seen so far.

Equity, Access, and Equality are different— even if they sound the same. Newsela is one of many ways teachers can work to provide a safe and challenging learning environment for students.  If you haven’t heard of my bias that doing research into the buzzwords will give you a higher probability of passing, then you are hearing it now.

The reason teachers consider National Board certification to be on par with a Master’s or Doctoral degree is because you will learn and grow as you undertake this process. The learning you will do in the context of your own classroom as you work to impact the learning of your students will be real-world and relevant to you. 

Other Newsela Features

One feature I like about Newsela is the option of building text sets of related articles that help your students make real world connections to the content. For example, when I teach plate tectonics, I can go to the pre-made Collections and choose Science; then, Plate Tectonics. I choose articles from that collection to assign to my students and sequence the material in an order that makes sense in our room.

The binder feature in student accounts keeps a record of all the articles they’ve read, assignments and quizzes completed and tracks their reading levels over time. This enables the adaptive feature which automatically adjusts the articles you assign to each student’s individual reading level.

Besides all the other beneficial features of the program-- another feature embedded in Newsela is the use of Power Words.

Power words are vocabulary words built into articles with clickable links to pronunciation and student friendly definitions. At the end of the article, there are practice vocabulary activities. When students look at their binder of work, one option is to view their personal word wall. It’s recommended that students choose Power Word articles each week and build up to 150 Power Words on their wall each year. Power Words are another feature you have to pay for even if you have Newsela Pro.

Did I mention the articles are offered in both English and Spanish translations?

Integrating Newsela Into the Curriculum

Teachers can use Newsela to introduce new topics, to provide context and enrichment to traditional content, or even as a stand-alone resource on specified “reading days.” If you’ve read this far you may wonder if I’m getting paid by Newsela, but I’m not. I’m just very enthusiastic about its potential. Are there other resources for teachers you love these day? I’d love to hear about them.

  • Have you used Newsela or other learning platforms like it to differentiate instruction?
  • What are your favorite ways to use Newsela?
  • What other ways have you used reading across the curriculum? How has it benefitted your students?
  • Do you agree that Component 2 requires teachers to differentiate for individual student learning?
  • Leave your ideas for NBCT candidates in the comments!










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Jenny From Clarksburg, W. Va. At 9/9/2018 10:32:15 AM

As a Spanish teacher, I've never heard of this! What a great idea for multiple curricular areas. Thank you for sharing.

Reply by: My National Board for Teachers

You're Welcome! Let us know how well it works in Spanish, please! :-)

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