Making Time for Complex Text in Literacy Instruction

The Common Core Standards call for teachers to use more complex texts more often. One of my previous blogs shared ways to help all readers access complex text. Even when teachers are committed to using more complex texts, though, they often struggle to fit them within their school day.

Here, then, are practical suggestions of how to incorporate more complex text in existing structures — namely guided reading and independent reading — when redesigning them is not an option. Read more

Three Ways to Help Students Master the Vocabulary Demands of Complex Texts

With the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity (including a standard devoted exclusively to it), there’s been a renewed interest in what actually makes a text complex. Alongside teachers in Massachusetts, I’ve been doing some work on this. We’ve been determining the big idea of a text, and then using rubrics and reading closely to analyze the qualitative elements of text complexity. This includes levels of meaning, structure, language, and knowledge demands. Knowing what makes a text complex helps us decide what to target for our instruction.

Of these qualitative elements, vocabulary likely contributes the most to text complexity. Teachers often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of unknown words students encounter. This is even more the case for students from low income backgrounds who come to school knowing fewer words (Hart and Risley 1995). Though we now know that a set “frustration level” is a myth, the fact remains that if kids don’t know enough of the words, they’re going to have a hard time understanding the text.

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Help All Readers Access Complex Texts

You’ll notice that text complexity is an important part of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). (You can read more about this in this my previous post.) The “staircase of text complexity” will give students more opportunities to learn from complex texts, and the hope is that by setting a benchmark for students to read grade level complex texts “independently and proficiently” by high school graduation, students will be ready to read college and career level texts.

However, I know from my own time in the classroom that many students struggle with grade level complex texts. Teachers ask me every day about how to help such readers. “I give them complex texts like the standards say, and they can’t do it!” is a common refrain. I always begin by asking them about their approach to planning, because thoughtful planning holds the key to student success with complex texts.

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