One of my biggest learnings of 2004 was understanding Reading levels. I knew, earlier than 2004, that there are reading levels, age-appropriate bands of text complexity, determined by research for classroom settings.
This meant that in your classroom you would want to use text:
a) That was at the reading level of the children in your class or just slightly above
b) That there was the possibility that some there may be a range of reading levels in your class: some students may be reading ahead their age-appropriate reading level and some behind
c) That you would have to make allowances for this spectrum of reading levels, especially in Individual reading classes or Sustained Silent Reading Lessons, else you may end of frustrating the reader (should there we a dissonace between his reading level and that of the text he is offered)
I used reading cards and books in the class that came with the publisher’s recommended reading level guidelines. Else, by scanning the material I made an educated guess on what the reading level could be.
That’s when I stumbled upon stuff like the Gunning Fog Index and the Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease.These are tools to determine the reading levels of any piece of text.
The Gunning Fog index can be calculated with the following alogritm (courtesy wikipedia). Don’t get bothered by the computation; towards the end of the post I will provide links to sites that can compute this stuff in seconds for you:
- Take a full passage that is around 100 words (do not omit any sentences).
- Find the average sentence length (divide the number of words by the number of sentences).
- Count words with three or more syllables (complex words), not including proper nouns (for example, Djibouti), compound words, or common suffixes such as -es, -ed, or -ing as a syllable, or familiar jargon.
- Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words (ex., +13.37%, not simply + 0.1337)
- Multiply the result by 0.4
The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease can be calculated like this:
The Gunning Fog Index gives you a number that corresponds with the number of years of schooling one would need top understand the text. A number of 6, for example, would mean that a 6th grader could understand the text.
The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease would return a number between 0-100 with numbers closer to 0 being meaning easier text.
The alogrithms look complicated in their computation, but simplistic in the number of variables they take into account. The shortcomings of this approach may be that the formula cannot account for
- account for writing style or genre
- usage of passive/active voice
- redundancy of expression
- use of language that is simple or familiar
- complexity in ordering of logical thought,
all of which are important in making text readable and determining what grade they could be appropriate for.
Here is a look at some popular texts and what their readability is like (GF: Gunning Fog, FRRE: Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease)
New York Times (webpage at http://www.nytimes.com), GF 9.04 FRRE 60.09
Wall Street Journal (webpage at http://www.wsj.com), GF 9.18 FRRE 59.33
Walt Disney Company (webpage in the site disney.go.com), GF 7.13 FREE 54.02
The Bible has a GF of 6, Reader’s Digest of 8, Time Magazine of 10. A GF of 16 or above means readibility suitable at a post-graduate level.
I ran tests on the first page of my blog and came up with this:
Total sentences – 455
Total words – 4936
Average words per Sentence – 10.8
Words with 1 Syllable – 3298
Words with 2 Syllables – 963
Words with 3 Syllables – 410
Words with 4 or more Syllables – 265
Percentage of word with three or more syllables – 13.68%
Average Syllables per Word – 1.52
Gunning Fog Index – 9.81
Flesch Reading Ease – 67.04
Flesch-Kincaid Grade – 6.60
This seems to suggest that my blog is readable by some 9th graders and most 10th graders: given the directionality of the content on this site, I am happy with that. Ideally, I would recommend a readability between 8 – 10 on the Gunning Fog Index.
How does one use this in the classroom? Here are instructions on calculating readability statistics for Webpages, Word Documents and Texts:
Word Document: Fortunately MS Word has an inbuild functionality for this- for many years I was just ignorant of it!
1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. Click Spelling and Grammar on the Standard toolbar.
Now every time you spell check a document, Word will give you data on Reading grade and Level. As a bonus, it will also tell you how many of your sentences are passive!
Web Page: I recommend Juicy Studio– thats where I ran the stats for my blog shown above.
Text: There are several on the web, I love Jack Daniel’s is one.
The good news: It has its limitations, but can be handy for a quick check of readability and hence a great help in the classroom. Also, it unfortunately it won’t make you a great writer, but it can stop you from being an ordinary one!
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