Understanding Text Complexity

Navigating this Tutorial

Welcome! This brief introductory tutorial to one of the three major CCSS instructional shifts in ELA allows you to explore resources related to this instructional shift on your own time, in any particular order, and in multiple media. You may navigate this site however you choose, either skipping between pages (listed at the top) or by following the links at the bottom of each page that read “Next” and “Previous” to follow the tutorial linearly. This latter choice might be best for you if you’re unfamiliar with the Common Core’s instructional shifts or the instructional shift related to text complexity.

An Introduction to “Text Complexity.”

The following brief tutorial provides an overview of how the Common Core Standards conceptualize and define text complexity.

Click here for a transcript of this video

What are the “Instructional Shifts?”

The Common Core State Standards identify three major instructional shifts in both ELA and Mathematics; they are called “shifts” because they represent in some cases a slight, and in others a drastic, change for teachers in various content areas. The three major shifts for ELA and literacy teachers include (from the CCSS Website):

  • Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language
  • Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational
  • Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction

All of these shifts are designed with “college and career readiness” in mind; they are meant to highlight the ways in which ELA teachers and teachers across content areas can prepare today’s students with the literacy skills they will need in today’s workforce and college classrooms. The shift this web tutorial addresses is the first one, related to the complexity of texts students read in the classroom. In particular, this shift requires teachers in ELA and across content areas to highlight and encourage students to use the academic vocabulary and discourse of a discipline, as well as academic discourse that crosses disciplinary boundaries. To do this, teachers must be able to assess the complexity of texts within their discipline to find texts that will appropriately challenge students academically.

What does the Common Core mean by “Text Complexity?”

The CCSS do not explicitly state what “counts” as a “complex-enough” text for your students. Though they do provide a list of example texts (both nonfiction and fiction) for each grade level, these lists are limited in scope. It is up to you to decide what texts will challenge your students and engage them with academic language, and it is up to you to make sure that academic language works its way into students’ writing and discussion about texts.

From the Common Core:

The standards call for a staircase of increasing complexity so that all students are ready for the demands of college- and career-level reading no later than the end of high school. The standards also outline a progressive development of reading comprehension so that students advancing through the grades are able to gain more from what they read.

Because the Common Core focuses on the role of informational texts in today’s highly digital culture, they also suggest that teachers engage students with many “types of texts.” These types of texts include novels, stories, drama, and poetry — texts you have likely been engaging students with in the past. They also include literary nonfiction, historical, scientific, and technical texts — texts not commonly seen in ELA classrooms in the past. These texts could be primarily written, but could also include other modes of communication, such as visual or audio components.




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