7 Actions That Literacy Leaders Can Take Right Now: Text Complexity

    by Elfrieda H. Hiebert | February 27, 2013

    Increasing students’ capacity with complex text—the aspect of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which distinguishes it from previous standards documents—is causing considerable confusion, misinterpretation, and worry. The seven actions which follow illustrate ways in which literacy leaders can support teachers in ensuring students’ increased capacity with complex text. Literacy leaders can enact these actions in a variety of settings—schools, districts, state departments of education, and professional and community organizations.

    1. Interpret readability informationcautiously. The staircase of text complexity is implicit within the Standards with statements that students should read at the upper end of the text complexity band for a grade span independently or with scaffolding. An extensive literature calls into question over-use of readability formulas for instructional purposes. These problems are exacerbated with digital reading formulas. Through guidance and sharing of information, literacy leaders can ensure that readability formulas do not drive text selection and evaluations of students’ proficiencies.
    2. Design a fund of information initiative. Many American students have reasonable reading proficiency but they don’t like to read. One explanation is that school tasks involve students in reading short texts on disparate topics and with little autonomy in selecting texts. Teachers can engage students’ interest in reading by giving them opportunities to read deeply, thereby gaining funds of information. Literacy leaders can be the liaison between school and community librarians as they identify texts and guidelines for encouraging students to develop areas of expertise or “funds of information.”
    3. Share resources on vocabulary learning. Vocabulary is the single best predictor of comprehension and the resources for supporting rich, vigorous vocabulary learning in classrooms are many. Through short book talks in school settings or at professional meetings, literacy leaders can give teachers the resources for giving students the vocabulary foundation needed for success with complex texts.
    4. Identify reputable and reliable sources for articles. There are many reasons for increasing students’ exposure to articles, including the fact that article reading (in print and the internet) is the primary form of reading among adults. Articles can also engage students in content in ways that textbook selections often do not. Further, current assessments often use magazine articles. By giving teachers reputable and reliable sources (i.e., ones that remain available on the internet), literacy leaders can contribute to the breadth and depth of students’ reading experiences.
    5. Give teachers ideas for increasing students’ in-class reading. In many American classrooms, students read for only a small percentage of a reading period. Students who are successful with complex texts read frequently and extensively. Literacy leaders can assist teachers in gathering baseline information on their students’ reading and then can demonstrate ways of increasing in-class reading.
    6. Conduct mini-workshops on increasing students’ reading stamina. Getting students to read more is part of the solution but the amount of reading which students do in a given reading event also needs to increase. A primary reason why American students do more poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than on state assessments has to do with the length of texts on assessments (short passages on the latter; longer ones on the former). Literacy leaders can share ways of increasing the length of reading events, including chunking of texts and strategies for monitoring comprehension.
    7. Organize a book benchmarking event. The CCSS writers provided lists of exemplary texts for grade spans. Some educational agencies have interpreted these texts as the mandated curriculum which is an inaccurate view of exemplars. Exemplars are illustrative, not compulsory. Literacy leaders can support local groups in identifying their own exemplars—texts with content that represents the community and demonstrates increasing complexity of content.