Search form

Total Reader:
How Cool Is That?

Share Image

I would tell my students, Think of yourself in a race with yourself. Yesterday, you ran one mile in 5 minutes; today you ran the mile in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Yesterday, your Lexiles were 1000; if you read carefully today, they might climb to 1010. My students would jump out of their chairs and yell Mrs. Coleman, my Lexiles are ________ today!
How cool is that!

How cool is your reading assessment system? And does it merely assess current reading performance or like Total Reader, the program used by Nancy Colemans students, does it improve reading performance as well?


Total Reader is a Web-based reading assessment and improvement system for students in grades 3-12 and for adult learners.

For the educators out there, explains Coleman, Total Reader is an online assessment system offering a large selection of stories and/or paragraphs -- on a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction topics -- that use the cloze concept to help students improve their reading vocabulary and comprehension.

Total Reader employs the Lexile Framework for Reading, a scientific approach to reading measurement that matches a students reading ability with the difficulty of text material. A Lexile represents the level of book that a student can read with 75 percent comprehension, which is generally agreed to be the level at which a reader is both comfortable and appropriately challenged.

Students first are introduced to various reading selections meant to determine their Lexile reading level. Each student chooses a selection and reads it. When the student comes to an open space in the text, he or she clicks the mouse and four word-choices appear. The student then selects the correct word using content and context clues.

Once theyve completed the initial diagnostic test, students independent and instructional reading levels are entered into the Total Reader system. From then on, each time a student opens Total Reader, he or she selects a story, reads, and clicks. The process begins to teach students to read, and to understand their reading, based on the content and logical context of the story.


Built on the Lexile Framework for Reading, Total Reader

  • identifies each student's Lexile measure using a series of online diagnostic cloze tests called testlets.
  • provides further individualized reading selections and ongoing assessment based on each students initial -- and constantly changing -- Lexile range. Selections currently include more than 10,000 fiction and nonfiction passages in such areas as current events, cars and motors, family, sports and math, government, and health.
  • reports individual student Lexile measures to the student, the teacher, and the parent (via email).
  • makes class, school, and district Lexile reports accessible to school, district, and state officials. Reports contain information on current Lexile; previous Lexile; last 10 testlets taken; specific content accessed (including fiction/nonfiction ratios); annual progress; progress over multiple years; class, school and district averages; number of students whose Lexile measures are decreasing; and number of students reading substantially below the average Lexile range for their grade level.


How did Total Reader radicalize my teaching of reading? Nancy Coleman reflects. Students who read at their correct independent and instructional reading levels are able to pick up vocabulary based on the framing of the word in the story. Over time, students move from their lowest independent level to an instructional level because they are beginning to see words in relation to the words surrounding them and their place in the content and context of the story. They don't have to look up the meaning of a word, or write a word with the definition five times; unknown words begin to make sense on their own because of the other words in the selection.

As students move out of their independent level and into their instructional level, their Lexile reading levels increase as students build upon what theyve done before. Students also constantly see their own Lexile levels, which allows them to visually see improvement as well -- a visual that has tremendous importance as it constantly reinforces their increasing ability as readers, leading to greater confidence and motivation.

I teach World History and the History of Mexico at El Camino Community College, Jason Suarez tells Education World. One of the challenges regularly faced by faculty here is how to bolster the skills of under-prepared students in order to ensure access and success in college. One of the ways I attempt to do that is by embedding basic skills into all my content courses. When I learned of Total Reader, I immediately saw the potential this Web-based program has in facilitating reading skills/comprehension acquisition in my students. In fact, I would argue that Total Reader facilitates the embedding of effective reading practices in any course, which in turn contributes to student learning and reading enhancement.

I equally appreciate Total Reader's flexibility in what can be uploaded and how that can be tailored to meet my course demands. A case in point is my upload of Pericles' Funeral Oration, which is a source my students are required to read as we embark on a study of Athenian democracy. I now will be able to monitor student progress in reading and information mastery of that source in particular -- and of their reading ability in general. That monitoring will serve not only as an early alert system for me to intervene on behalf of a student where and when needed, but also will aid in my selection of appropriate Lexile level reading materials for my classes.


"I'm working with Total Reader this semester and my students are really taking to it," says Jean Schoenberg. "They especially like the fact that they can see their Lexile score moving in real time. I've given them some ancillary materials about Lexile scores and careers, income, and so on, and they're always interested."

"I can't tell you how excited I am about Total Reader for the purpose of improving student comprehension," says Inna Newbury, another Total Reader teacher. "The cloze procedure is the best researched method for eliciting reading strategies from students. All the instructor has to do in order to reinforce the strategies that good readers use is require students to log on to Total Reader twice a week for about 20-30 minutes per session. Students learn best by making closer and closer approximations that lead to mastery -- and that's the approach Total Reader uses."

"I got my students started on Total Reader and I couldn't believe how quiet the room was. I've never seen them so engaged," notes Claudette Paul.

Debra Mochidome agrees."I had to kick my ESL students out of the lab. They wouldn't stop using Total Reader," she says.


The final word for me as a college instructor, adds Suarez, is that the use of Total Reader constitutes an effective practice in helping faculty ensure that student access and success is in fact being addressed in their respective courses.

As a mother of four and a teacher of elementary, middle school, high school and college students, my feelings about reading are very strong, agrees Nancy Coleman. Reading is the glue; it connects student success across disciplines. You might argue that math or science or social studies -- or even the study of Chinese -- is more important in today's world, but success in reading lays the groundwork for literacy in all disciplines. Successful readers are able to grasp general ideas and main ideas and transfer those concepts into how they will live and work in the world beyond the classroom. Reading allows you to be an involved citizen, a voter, and a taxpayer -- and to follow your dreams. With Total Reader, each students reading skills can improve at his or her own rate -- and improve they do!

Next semester, adds Inna Newbury, we will use our Basic Skills funding from the state to purchase 5,000 Total Reader licenses for our students. (This semester we purchased about 1500 licenses). The faculty is thrilled, and students report that this is the best program we have ever offered.

Oh! And it is so affordable!

In Clozing...

Total Reader is web-based. It is accessible online from any computer, either at school or at ___1___. It does not require special software, hardware or manuals. Students read short passages, called "testlets". Each testlet contains several blank spaces, or "clozes", placed throughout the text. Students are provided multiple ___2___ choices to fill each cloze. At the end of the testlet, students receive their grades and are informed of any incorrect choices. Testlets are only practice; they do not affect a student's grade. Like practice at any skill, however, the more testlets students take, the more their reading ___3___. As students improve, Total Reader automatically advances them to a higher level. It's that ___4___!