Professional Development Resources
Text Matters provides educators with a series of accessible articles on hot topics in reading instruction, such as the emphasis on text complexity in the Common Core State Standards. Backed by the latest reaseach, Text Matters articles highlight important background knowledge along with practical ideas for improving reading instruction.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing curriculum planning and classroom instruction in many ways. One significant change involves the difficulty levels of text. In the past, standards documents have referred to proficiency with grade-level texts. However, grade level was not defined. The CCSS represents a departure from this practice. Standard 10 of the CCSS specifically calls for increasing levels of text complexity across the grades to ensure students’ proficiency with the texts of college and career. This standard affects all students, but it represents a special challenge to English Learners. Many educators ask what increases in text complexity mean for English Learners, many of whom struggle with their current texts.
A separate standard for text complexity in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) means that this feature of reading development is at the center of many conversations among educators. How this standard translates into classroom instruction is less clear. Even with current texts, teachers can take some important actions to support their students on the staircase of text complexity—right now!
Success in the digital age depends on comprehending complex text. That is the message from the Common Core State Standards/English Language Arts—and it is an urgent, timely, and appropriate message. To participate fully in the digital age requires individuals to be able to process large amounts of texts filled with challenging concepts and vocabulary. The learning from complex texts in content areas and literature needs to be the centerpiece of schooling in the 21st century.
For a long time, educators have asked questions about what makes a text complex. Why is it harder for students to read some books than others? How are we to help students select texts that will challenge them without frustrating them? What type of texts will increase their reading achievement most effectively?
The Text Complexity Multi-Index (TCMI) is a process for matching texts with students. The process attends to all three dimensions that were recommended by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS Initiative, 2011) for selecting texts: (a) quantitative, (b) qualitative, and (c) reader-text match. Qualitative measures are of two types: comparison with a set of benchmark texts and a scheme for analyzing core traits of texts. The two types of qualitative measures mean that the TCMI process has four steps.
The Common Core State Standards include a component that has not been included in previous standards documents of either states or national organizations—a staircase of text complexity. The goal of this series of ever-accelerating text levels over students’ school careers is to ensure proficiency with the complex texts of college and the workplace on high school graduation (CCSS/ELA, 2010). One of the signatures of complex texts is the inclusion of low-frequency or rare vocabulary. That means as students take on increasingly complex text, they will need strategies for dealing with unknown words.