As Common Core is being implemented in my state, I’m hearing the term “text complexity” everywhere I go. It is not just in use by teachers; it is in use by administrators, text book companies, and online blogs like this one! Some teachers are calling it a “buzz word,” alluding to the thought that teachers are already aware of text complexity and this is just a new term for what we’re already doing. However, text complexity is vital to implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with fidelity. It is not just a new term, but instead requires a cognitive shift for ALL teachers. With all teachers becoming reading teachers with the implementation of CCSS, it is important that teachers understand what is required and then evaluate if in fact their curriculum is truly “complex enough”!
Text complexity is one of the big changes teachers need to understand in order to be successful with CCSS. While teachers, schools and districts are all over the board when it comes to rigor and expectations of students, there is no doubt that we ALL will need to increase the complexity of texts used with students. I personally find determining the appropriate reading complexity for a student more difficult to determine than math complexity due to the fact that complexity of reading changes for each student based on any given skill set. While reading skills build upon one another, it is not quite as linear as in math.
I happen to have a huge sweet tooth AND love for outdoor activities, so I love the analogy of s’mores. You can’t really have a s’more without each of the three parts. In fact, not only do you need all three parts, but all three parts are equally as important in creating a tasty camping dessert. Understanding text complexity is similar. Creating appropriate text complexity will require knowledge of three things, all of which are equally weighted:
First, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, there will need to be a qualitative measure of the text. Teachers need to be able to measure the difficulty of text appropriate for students to be successful with the given standards. This will require examining meaning, structure, language clarity and background knowledge required.
Second, there will need to be a quantitative measure of text which includes word length, sentence length and word frequency. This is the easiest measure for teachers, because quantitative measures are prepared for us! There are many algorithms out there to determine the difficulty of a piece of reading material. Looking up the lexile range of a text, using any given number of tools, is a great way to start! Achieve the Core has some great resources for doing this.
Third, there will need to be a connection between the reader and what they’re given. This resonates with me because it is what we already know about good teaching! Teachers will need to understand the standards as well as where each child is along the continuum. Students should be scaffolded in both the text provided to them and the task being asked of them in order to ensure they are making appropriate gains.
There are many sources out there regarding text complexity. However, I like the language in the standards, which can be found here:
Any suggestions for those of us working on curriculum in regards to this topic? I’d love to hear how you’re working with text complexity in your classroom or building!
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.