Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Big Ideas in Literacy

Text Complexity

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has drawn attention to text complexity as it relates to the increasing literacy demands of college, career, and civic life. The CCSS measures text complexity using a three-part model that includes the qualitative dimension (concerning cognitive, cultural, and content factors), the quantitative dimension (concerning word, sentence, and passage length), and the reader and task considerations. Complex structure can also include implied vs. stated ideas, graphics, time/sequence of events, contemporary vs. archaic vocabulary, language, multisyllabic words, long sentences with multiple clauses, content rich in historic or literary references, etc.

Determining text complexity is not always easy or uncontroversial. While textual features are important, the reader’s context is also significant: background experience with text, experiences outside of reading, degree of intertextual connections, etc., influence the complexity of the reading experience. Although it’s important for students to be reading texts with complex features, it is also important to engage students where they are and scaffold them into more complexity. Sometimes, high-interest, low-ability texts are important. Additionally, the purpose for reading often determines the complexity of the reading experience rather than the text itself. We can ask students to perform many cognitive functions with any text: they can make comparisons, determine sequences and plot structures, identify causes and effects, etc.

Video and Reflection: Watch One-on-One Conferences in which a teacher lets her student guide the processes of identifying text features that create challenges for her during reading. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How do you determine text complexity for your students?
  • Watch the video: Ms. Barrales's student tries to determine the meaning of a word. The lack of a glossary makes the process challenging. How does Ms. Barrales determine text complexity with students?


One-on-One Conferences

Wendy Barrales has a one-on-one conference with a 6th grader who needs help applying strategies to define an unknown word.

Teacher: Wendy Barrales

School: Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, Brooklyn, NY

Grade: 6

Discipline: English Language Arts (Humanities)

Lesson Topic:  Analyzing genres

Lesson Month: March

Number of Students: 25

Other: This is an all-girls college preparatory middle and high school with a focus on math, science, and technology.

  • Reflect: How does Ms. Barrales reinforce her student’s learning at the end of the class? How can you incorporate peer-to-peer instruction in your classroom?