Considering Text Complexity Across the Curriculum

Happily, I’ve been having more conversations this school year about text complexity and considering the mix of extended texts and shorter pieces we ask students to consider as readers. Below are a few key considerations of “text complexity”.
Text Complexity Triangle

Three aspects to consider when thinking about text complexity.

1. The recommended extended texts in the curriculum resources are meant as one component of what students experience as readers over the course of a quarter. Think of this as a balanced reading diet. These extended texts are selected for students to be able to read them independently outside of class and then complete more complex tasks and conversations, ideally thematically-related to the other shorter pieces they are reading as a class. The expectation would be that students are reading at least 4 extended texts over the course of the year and 3-5 shorter texts each quarter. Again, at least.

Those shorter texts (coming from Collections or CommonLit) are where students would be asked to repeatedly tackle reading that is increasingly complex from a quantitative measure. What can they do with a short story, an article from The Economist, a primary source speech? These are the pieces they should be encountering in all classes with teacher scaffolds and supports, moving toward gradual release. They are also texts that give students exposure to the type of reading they will encounter in PSAT and SAT settings.
2. Lexile is a measure of text complexity based on vocabulary and sentence variety. It should be taken as a consideration of text complexity along with other factors – oftentimes as the final consideration. As an example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close would fall in the fourth-grade lexile range, based on recommendations in the Colorado Academic Standards, but the subject matter, text structure, and theme are all components that are more appropriate for older students. This rubric from CCSSO is helpful in thinking about multiple factors when considering about text complexity. Hopefully, a class where (some or all) students are studying this text might also be reading articles on Asperger’s Syndrome, understanding the biological effects of trauma on body systems, and other readings that cross domains.
3. My last piece would be a question as to what kinds of trans-disciplinary approaches a school is taking to ensuring students are working independently and scaffolded with cognitively-demanding texts. While helping English teachers select complex informational texts will give students a wider breadth of experiences in class, keeping that conversation in English misses a tremendous opportunity. Science, history, math, and world languages are all subjects that offer opportunities for students working through grade-level texts and requiring students to deal with domain-specific vocabulary and concepts. Having a student in U.S. history deeply examine the effect of writer’s craft on historical context when looking at The Gettysburg Address requires students to activate deep reading skills across their day, rather than one block.
Want more about text complexity? This thinking from Achieve the Core offers a thoughtful approach to considering qualitative and quantitative measures in concert with reader & task. Additionally, this piece from Fisher and Frey helps unpack this new understanding of complexity of texts. Finally, this article from Psychology Today pokes some important holes in how we might think about “reading levels.”
As always, I hope this is the beginning of the conversation, and I’m happy to continue it with you and your teams.

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