One of the major shifts teachers are struggling to make with the new Common Core State Standards is using complex text. Questions that often come up include: What makes a text complex? How do I know if the text I already use is complex? Where can I get other complex texts?
To begin, we have to look at the texts we use. The idea behind this shift is that we want to expose students to more grade-level complex text in order to teach them how to grapple with text that is difficult. That does not mean all texts should be replaced with complex texts. Rather, we need to look at the texts we use across a school year, and be sure there is a balance of both instructional level texts and complex texts, keeping in mind the staircase of complexity. This refers to standard 10 in the Reading Literature strand, which requires students reading within their text complexity grade band with increasing proficiency.
When trying to determine whether or not a text you use is complex, there is a three-part model for determining text complexity. This is outlined in Appendix A of the CCSS. The three measures that should be determined are:
- Quantitative measures—these are Lexiles, Flesch-Kincaid, Fountas & Pinnell letter levels, or other similar measures that are formulaic/computer-generated
- Qualitative measures—these are determined by the teacher, who looks at level of purpose, structure, language conventions, and knowledge demands for a particular text (Click here for rubrics for both literature and informational texts).
- Reader and Task Considerations—these are the things you will have the students actually do with the text
Click here to watch a short video explaining the three part model for text complexity.
When looking for suggestions for complex text, the best place to start is Appendix B of the CCSS. This appendix lists texts that are complex for every grade level for every required genre. The list is extensive, and includes short excerpts for each so one can see what a complex text at a particular grade level actually looks like.
Recently, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association released new information on text complexity. The document includes more recent research conducted around text complexity, and further elaboration on the components of complex text. Quantitative measures were reviewed, and grade bands have since been adjusted, showing wider Lexile ranges than what is listed in Appendix A of the CCSS. Also included is a new tool to determine qualitative measures of a text. Finally, key considerations when implementing text complexity are described, which include:
- It is recommended that quantitative measures be used to locate a text within a grade band because they measure dimensions of text complexity that are difficult for a human reader to evaluate.
- It is then recommended that qualitative measures be used to locate a text in a specific grade.
- There will be exceptions to using quantitative measures to identify a grade band; sometimes qualitative measures trump quantitative measures in identifying the grade band of a text, particularly with narrative fiction in the later grades. (i.e., quantitative measures for The Grapes of Wrath put it in the 2-3 grade band)
- Certain measures are less valid or not applicable for certain kinds of texts. (i.e., quantitative measures cannot accurately determine poetry or drama, or kindergarten or grade 1 texts)
In addition, Marc Aronson is working with teachers across the country to compile The “Better B” List. This is a list of more recent exemplars, which include annotations and justifications as to why they are considered exemplar, something that Appendix B in the CCSS lacks. Check back here as the list should be released soon.
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