Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Text Complexity is Complex!

Recently at Dryden we participated in "close reading" of the first 16 pages of  Appendix A of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts to learn more about text complexity and what this means for our students. We quickly learned that text complexity is very complex!

According to this document, although the reading demands of universities and the work place have increased in recent years, the overall text complexity of K-12 reading texts have decreased significantly. Furthermore, although non-fiction texts make up the majority of required reading in college and the workplace, relatively very little non-fiction reading has been required in the elementary and middle school grades. Fortunately at Dryden, we strive to ensure a balance of quality fiction and non-fiction literature instruction that enhances student learning in the content areas like science and social studies. 

In order to read complex texts with understanding, students must develop skill, concentration and stamina. Students should have many opportunities to persist at reading challenging texts that offer them "new language, new knowledge and new modes of thought."

Lexile uses word length, word frequency and sentence length to give a quantitative measure to text complexity. However, to ensure students are reading and comprehending age-appropriate texts within an increased Lexile band, there are two additional features of text complexity that are important to consider:

1. Qualitative Dimensions of Text Complexity include levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language conventionality and clarity and knowledge demands. These dimensions range from simple to sophisticated. At this time, qualitative dimensions are most discernible by humans and require attentive reading and trained judgement.

2. Reader and Task Considerations are variables specific to readers such as motivation, knowledge and experiences. They are also specific to tasks, such as purpose, complexity of task, and the questions posed. Teachers' "professional judgement, experience, knowledge of their students and the subject" play a critical role in determining whether a text is appropriate for a child.

What further complicates reading instruction is that "students' ability to read complex text does not always develop in a linear fashion." For example, a teacher may choose to use a text with a lower Lexile but challenging content that could carry multiple meanings, figurative language and events out of sequence as a student learns to understand text with this kind of sophistication.  

It is important to note that increasing text complexity alone for our students will not strengthen their reading and comprehension. In addition to instruction that stretches students' reading abilities, they also need many opportunities to read for enjoyment at levels they find easy to understand. Parents and teachers play a valuable role in nurturing, supporting and being aware of our children's reading interests and giving them time and space to read for enjoyment.