I was recently in a classroom where grade 4 students were working on IXL.com as a means of practising and reviewing math skills. As I walked around the room, I observed that a number of students consistently only practiced numeracy skills where questions were numeric and didn’t involve word problems, and this got me thinking about why that was. Yes, in general, straight equations are easier to solve, but there must be something more to it. Upon speaking with students and delving further into the types of problems provided by IXL.com, I quickly realized why some students were shying away from attempting to solve them … it was due to the vocabulary used in the problems, and I am not talking math vocabulary, I am referring to vocabulary used in the context of the questions – chemical names such as phosphorous and sulfuric acid, country names such as Australia, etc. For students reading at or above grade level, these questions may not pose a problem; however, for students reading below grade level, it’s a completely different story.
The above highlights issues with IXL.com, but they are not the only company using vocabulary in their resources that students reading below grade level simply can’t decode and comprehend. In all fairness, some companies do offer differentiated/scaffolded resources for English Language Learners (ELL) students, but students reading below grade level are not quite in the same category, so they are often left to flounder in subject areas (other than Language Arts) where levelled reading material may not be provided. When it’s time for grading and report cards, these questions must be asked: Are those students falling below grade level in most or all subject areas because of their inability to read at grade level, and would their mastery of concepts be at grade level had the reading material and questions provided been accessible to them? Very possibly, yes.
At the moment, the only solution available to teachers would be to rewrite texts and questions themselves in order to provide necessary differentiated and/or scaffolded resources for learners in their classrooms – which theoretically speaking is an ideal solution, but practically speaking, teachers simply don’t have the time to rewrite and reword texts and questions in all subject areas. And so perhaps the responsibility should fall on the companies providing the resources to offer leveled texts and questions in subject areas they are providing materials for so that students can be evaluated fairly on what they know and understand vs what they are able to read and comprehend. Perhaps there are companies that have already taken that step, in which case, should this not simply become standard practice across the board?
Are you a teacher struggling to provide differentiated and/or scaffolded resources in your classroom? How have you been solving the issue? Alternatively, if you have found ready-made resources, where did you find them? We welcome your thoughts and insights!