Newsela: reading at everyone’s level

Here is what I have for you today:


What is Newsela?

At first, it just looks like a news site, with recent articles on current issues.


What Newsela does is to change this: (hint: read the title)


To this with a push of a button: (hint 2: read the title again)


But it doesn’t just do it for the title, it does it for the whole article. (If you didn’t catch it – the user (teacher,student,etc.) changed the lexile level of the title, which increased the complexity of the words used by clicking the blue area on the right of the screen).


  1.       Newsela is free
  2.       There are quizzes already made for many of the articles
  3.       You can create your own classes and assign different articles
  4.       You can annotate it – kids can respond directly on the passage
  5.       You can use the writing prompts they have, and kids can respond directly on the article’s webpage
  6.       You can create your own writing prompts, and kids can respond directly on the article webpage
  7.       Oh, and it’s free
  8.       You don’t need computers to use it with your classrooms
  9.       Only have Ipads or tablets – well it works
  10.   Have tons of kids who have smartphones – it works over the internet!
  11.   Did I mention that Newsela is free?

Don’t trust me?

Check out this youtube video: (it’s only 4.5 min.)

(don’t have 4.5 minutes: (1.07 min – but you don’t get to see it)

Ready to look at Newsela?

Click here:

Don’t believe everything you see on Youtube?

Check this out:


Now are you ready to look at Newsela?

Click here:

Want to learn more about setting it up in your classroom?  Here is a Youtube channel dedicated to Newsela:


A quick reminder of why we’re here

I’m sitting beside a student.  She is completely disorganized.  She is also failing several of her classes, and we are two weeks away from grades closing.  There is hope.  There is a chance.  She can pass, if she decides to organize and complete work.  She begrudgingly took out here binder and almost slams it on the desk.  In a harsh tone, she says, “Here.” As if I’ve asked her to do something that is so egregious that not only she, but also her family, should be offended by my request.

My request was that we look at her binder to see what work she needs to complete.

The hostility towards me continues, and, instead of continuing, I stop and quietly say, “Hold on a second, let me ask you a question.”

She quiets; seethes, but quiets.

Looking at her, I ask a simple question, “What am I trying to do?”

She quickly answers, with sass in her voice: trying to get me to do my work; trying to get me organized; making me do work.  To each, I shake my head.

“No, really, what is the only thing I’m trying to do?”

Dejectedly, “I don’t know.”

“Help you.”

I let that sink in for a second.  Let her hold on to that idea.  There are a ton of things she needs to do, but right now, I’m only trying to do one thing:  help her.

“I’m trying to help you, and, for some reason, you’re angry at me.  Is that how you should treat someone who is just trying to help you?”

The anger visibly fades from her.  She relaxes and shakes her head.

“Let’s look at this notebook.”

And we keep working.  

I believe you

Growing up in the 80s, one of my favorite movies was Some Kind Of Wonderful. I think I, like the male lead character, wanted what he couldn’t have, and, more importantly, didn’t really know what he wanted.  I have never forgotten one of the lines of this movie, “Trust is the basis of every relationship.”  Of course, the use of the line is completely ironic as the handsome foil to the lead male tells this to a young girl he is attempting to seduce while cheating on his girlfriend.

But the truth behind the statement is solid, trust really is the basis of all relationships.

And one aspect of trust is listening and believing what people tell us.

A few days ago, I was talking with a young man who is struggling in school.  He, like many other ninth graders, is struggling with the realization that he cannot just do ninth grade the same way he did eighth grade.  He is a student who has potential, but does not understand what he needs to do to be successful.  As I am working with him, I show him his failing grades — except for PE in which he is earning a “D” — his grandmother is really excited about that.  I begin a conversation that I have had several times with students who are much like he is.  His reading level is below grade level – it is actually four grades below grade level.  He is not completing work outside of school, for he has never had to complete homework in the past 10 years of schooling.  In the past, his teachers had assigned homework, but if he didn’t complete the homework, it really didn’t count against him.  Furthermore, the homework wasn’t essential to learning because he was smart enough to ask questions in class, and pay attention during class which enabled him to glean enough information to pass, minimally, the assessments that he was given.  He had enough support, or assignments were created in such a manner that he could complete them. And so, he has never had to do work outside of school to receive passing grades.

But high school, as so many students have heard before, is different.  Lower level students are now expected to move very quickly through complex curriculum, and the hours during school are never enough.  Students are expected to learn exact vocabulary that is specific to the curriculum — for courses such as Earth Science  — vocabulary that many students have never encountered.  Furthermore, some of the concepts are so nebulous that students don’t even have the background knowledge to which they can hook the new information. Without using more than the time in school, few students are able to, even at a minimum, grasp the basic vocabulary to have the tools to pass the class.  And the student with whom I now work, has fallen into this cycle.  Minimal work in school which has, with poor academic habits, like studying out side of school, completing homework, and organizing his assignments and notes, made it tremendously difficult to be successful in school.  And so, with all of the work he has done in avoiding school work, he has become really able at avoiding school work which has resulted in his failing grades.

Now, I sit and talk with him about his failing grades.  We have looked at his binder; we have looked at his grades; we have discussed what he can do to start changing his high school outlook.  I ask him a simple question, “So what can you do?”

And he answers in the way that so many other struggling students do, by looking my straight in the eye and defiantly saying, “I don’t know.”

The “I-don’t-know” is flippant.  It carries with it that he doesn’t care, that he isn’t going to care, and that if anyone tries to change anything, he isn’t even going to even try.

At this point, many teachers will realize that the student is being defiant and decide that, until the student is ready, there is little to be done.  Many teachers, at this point, will smile at the student, if they haven’t taken the response personally, and let the student know that if he decides that he wants some help, I’ll be there.

But for some reason, I say something that I have never said before.  My response is based off of the idea that people always do the best they can on any given day.  And so, I say to him, “I believe you.”

The student looked at me, shocked, and says, “What?”  There is no incredulity in his statement, no defiance.  It is a genuine question.

I look him square in the face and, sensitively say, “I believe you.  I believe you don’t know.”


Then, surprisingly, he looks down.  His shoulders slump.  He stares helplessly at his hands and says. “I don’t.”

And then I start the conversation again, about what he can do, about various techniques we can try, and, if he wants, ways that we can get him back on track.

And he listens.




The truth

When we were told that my five-year-old daughter had epilepsy, we sat, the four of us, a doctor, my wife, my daughter and me, in a small, brightly lit, sterilized room.  It was modern, and had many calming colors painted on the walls.  The computer was in an alcove opposite the small, pediatric bed on […]

What do I know anyway?

I have always wanted to be a writer.  When I was younger, while taking a class, we were told to tell our students that if they wanted to be writers, they needed to call themselves writers.  We were encouraged to make sure that we called them writers in class.  The most difficult thing that we were told was that we needed to call ourselves writers too.  I did it.  Quietly, and in a room by myself.  Making sure that nobody heard me utter the words, “I am a writer.”  It was a step, a baby step.  I realized that as long as I kept it to myself, I could never be a writer, nor could I help students believe that they too were writers.  After all, If you are not a writer, how can you teach others to write?

I took the first step.  “Since we are all writers,” I begin one day in class.

A student interrupt, “Wait, you’re a writer.”

It was a challenge.  I’m not positive that the student was challenging me, but it was a challenge.  It was my moment of truth, “Yes, I am a writer.”

“What have you written?”

Here was the rub — what had I written?  Sure, like so many others, I wrote poetry.  I wrote essays.  But was I published?  I picked up the gauntlet. “I’ve written a lot.”

“Like what?  Can you share it with us?”

And so I decided to.  I shared with them things I had written — some were awesome.  But most, like is the truth for all writers, was terrible.

I am a writer.

As I have narrowed my pursuit in education, I have found that supporting teachers with specific interventions and techniques that support education are floating in my head.  Once again, I have found myself in a room, quietly uttering to myself, “I am an intervention specialist.”  But as long as I stay alone, I cannot help students, nor teachers.  As an RTI specialist, my knowledge helps no one.  My hopes are to help other intervention specialists and teachers gain some understanding of techniques and interventions so that they can become more effective.  A hope that they will no longer stay alone, in their rooms, uttering only to themselves.