A new app called Newsela may help classrooms read and discuss the same current events stories despite the differing levels of reading ability among the students. The app works by adjusting and creating versions of the same news story in varying difficulty levels. It operates in a discreet way, so students with the easier version of the story will not get embarrassed. Students also have the option of leveling up or leveling down the story themselves to adjust the material if they find it too hard or too easy. Newsela creator Dan-Cogan Drew states that this new technology will facilitate social learning by enabling all students to be able to participate in class discussion.
While it is certainly valuable for students to be able to tackle readings in order to participate, I wonder if these technologies and teacher’s expectations will prevent students from being challenged with their reading. There have been many studies that prove a strong correlation between a teacher’s expectations of a student and the student’s achievement. This NPR blog discusses the first experiment that demonstrated teacher’s expectations of their students affects their daily interactions with them, and students expected to succeed are more likely to succeed. The reverse is also true: students expected to fail are more likely to fail. Relating this research to Newsela, if a teacher has low expectations of students’ reading abilities and assigns easier versions of the article, then students may actually do worse than if they were all assigned the same reading. However, this does not mean that technologies such as Newsela are not valuable in the classroom, but it does mean that teachers should not blindly rely on this technology. Instead teachers should strive to make sure all students are being challenged in their reading.