Text Complexity


Welcome to this presentation on text complexity. Being able to read and understand complex text, independently and proficiently, at or above grade level is absolutely necessary for college and career readiness. The chief difference between students who succeed and students who struggle in introductory college courses is the ability to comprehend complex texts. To ensure students become college and career ready educators must consider text complexity at each grade level. This presentation explains how to determine text complexity levels for both informational and literary texts. Appendix A of the Connecticut Core Standards defines a three-part model for determining text complexity. Quantitative measures are readability scores, such as a Lexile measures or Flesch-Kincaid grade-level readability formula. Qualitative measures are determined by the reader of the text, such as a teacher or curriculum developer. These consider meaning or purpose, text structure, language features, and knowledge demands. Lastly, the reader and task considerations are best employed by those educators who know the background, experiences, and motivation of the students who will read the text, as well as the complexity of the tasks assigned and the questions accompanying the text. We triangulate the information because no single measure is a perfect determinant of text complexity. Quantitative measures place text by using formulas, but don’t take into consideration the challenges posed by narrative fiction or the concepts presented in expository text. Some of these measures are less valid for certain types of texts, such as prose or dramatic text. So while these are helpful as a data point, they shouldn’t be used in isolation as a single determinant in choosing a text. However, using the three dimensions listed, text chosen for students will appropriately challenge them. There are four steps to determining the complexity of a text and the same steps are followed regardless of the type of text. First, find the quantitative measure of the text. Using https://Fab.Lexile.com, you can search for a Lexile measure of a book by title or author. Many sites such as Scholastic will offer Guided Reading, DRA, and ACR levels for books. Lexile Analyzer, which is a free resource available to all Connecticut educators on the new MetaMetrics Hub, allows you to upload texts or, for shorter pieces of work, type in the text you are measuring. Next, complete the qualitative rubric that aligns to the type of text chosen. Rubrics for literary and informational text were developed by educators from across the country. These rubrics align to the expectations for complex text in the Connecticut Core Standards, Appendix A and can be found on the Connecticut State Department of Education website. Using several guided questions, discuss and determine the challenges this text will pose to your specific group of students. Lastly, determine the best placement for the text within a grade level. These text complexity bands are based on grade levels. The bands were determined by the creators of the Connecticut Core Standards. You should be aware that the different quantitative measures use a variety of factors in determining a readability level. Flesch-Kincaid, for example, uses an algorithm that counts the average number of words per sentence, the average number of letters per word, and the frequency of passive and complex constructions. Lexile uses a formula that considers semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity. Using more than one measure when reviewing a text can be helpful, but it’s not required. This chart aligns to the various readability measures with grade bands determined by the Connecticut Core Standards. Remember that Connecticut provides free access to the Lexile Analyzer for all our educators. The final recommendation for a grade band based on the chosen quantitative measures might be validated, influenced, or even overruled by an examination of the qualitative measures and the reader and task considerations. Step 2 is a little more involved and can be done alone or collaboratively. It requires teachers to consider various aspects of a text, such as the purpose structure, language, and knowledge demands. Using the rubrics designed for literary and informational texts make this portion of the process much easier for educators. The aspects presented in the rubric require a close read of the text by a human reader who will decide if the level of meaning is subtle or explicit, and if there are multiple levels of meaning within a text. The reader must establish if connections are made easily between ideas or events, or if they’re buried in a more intricate text. Does the text have graphics, and will they support a student’s understanding of the material or are they extensive, providing information beyond what’s written in the text? The teacher should review the use of language and conclude if literal language is regularly used, or if the text contains abstract or figurative language that adds to the complexity, such as idioms descriptive language, or metaphors. And, they must ask themselves if the vocabulary is archaic or subject specific, as opposed to simplistic vocabulary or commonly used terms that will allow the student to easily comprehend the ideas in the text. A more complex use of sentence structure, and allusions to other texts, also add to the difficulty of a piece of writing and should be noted by the reader during this step of the process. While many teachers can tell that a text is complex, describing precisely what makes it complex is much more difficult. The rubrics were designed to support teachers in developing a common language to describe and discuss texts. The rubrics for literary text and for informational text allow educators to easily evaluate the important elements of a text that are often missed by computer software that tends to focus on more easily measured factors. Because the factors for literary text are different from those of informational text, these two rubrics contain different content. However, the formatting of each document is exactly the same. And because these factors represent a continua rather than discrete stages or levels, numeric values are not associated with these rubrics. The link to these rubrics is available at the end of the presentation. During Step 3 in the process, educators must use their professional knowledge of the students who read the assigned text. What do you your students bring to this text and how might the ideas portrayed or the references made in that piece of writing help or hinder your students comprehension? A list of questions have been written to support teachers when considering the use of a specific text with their students. The questions are meant to stimulate ideas about and reflection on the text, students, and any tasks associated with a piece of writing. Questions encourage educators not only to see the barriers a text might pose, but to think about how to scaffold the text to make it more accessible. These are open-ended questions without single, correct answers that should help teachers think through the implications of using a particular text. The link to these questions is included at the end of the presentation. It’s imperative that teachers consider a number of potential challenges inherent in a text. On this screen I’ve listed just a few. Appendix A of the Connecticut
Core Standards notes that students who are interested in the topic might be more likely to attempt to access difficult text about that subject. Students who are reading above grade level should be provided with text that challenges them at their own level so they should be given appropriately complex text to read. Across the school, year educators can certainly mix less demanding and more challenging reading materials to provide students with an opportunity to have full access to some text without struggling, while improving their reading comprehension and moving them toward college and career readiness. Teachers should develop a pool of annotated texts that exemplify and help benchmark the process of evaluating text complexity, using both quantitative and qualitative measures, and their professional judgment, which would be a complex text playlist. The text, and annotations accompanying them, can provide educators with a deeper, multi-dimensional picture of text complexity that can be used to help them select materials for their students. After reflecting on all three legs of the text complexity model, you can make a final recommendation of placement within a text complexity band and begin to document your thinking for future reference. This is the focus of Step 4. Once the recommended grade band placement has been decided on, educators might find it useful to document the aspects of the text and the final determination of difficulty levels from the rubric that led them to their conclusion. The template offers space to record information from each of the three legs of the model, and a link for this template is available at the end of this presentation. Let’s try this analysis with the Hunger Games. This placemat was created by the Kansas Department of Education. The link to the site containing completed placemats is also included at the end of this presentation. The first of the four steps is to find the quantitative measure of the text. The educator who completed this placemat used an ATOS formula and a Lexile measure, both of which placed this book in the 4th to 5th grade reading level. The book is listed by the publisher as appropriate for grade bands 6 to 8 and 9 to 12. So we have some disparity in the quantitative measure. Step 2 is the completion of the qualitative measure rubric for literary text. The categories that the educator chose are highlighted. The meaning falls somewhere between moderately and very complex because of the varying levels of meaning within the story. The structure of the text, however, is simple and only slightly complex. While the vocabulary and the sentence structure are mainly straightforward and conventional, the reader found a very complex use of abstract and figurative language throughout. The reader felt that this book includes some difficult references to topics that might be unfamiliar to some readers. So, after completing this rubric, notes were written in the placemat for future reference and discussion. This is a detailed explanation of what the reader determined using the rubric. But each teacher must determine the reader and task considerations based on their own students. Recommended placement in the appropriate text complexity band using the guided questions provided earlier in the presentation gives consideration to specific aspects of the text that will likely pose the most challenge for students. The creator of this placemat felt that the topics to cover might be the consequences of hunger or the constitutional rights of the public. There are other books that also question these issues within a dystopia, which might be used in a text set to facilitate more discussion. The final step is the recommended placement in the appropriate text complexity band. The creator of this placemat felt that this novel would be most suitable for Grade 7 and higher, overriding the two readability measures provided earlier. And for some classrooms, this book may not be appropriate at this grade either. That would be determined by the teacher who knows the knowledge, experiences, and understanding of their students. This is the completed placemat available on the link provided by Kansas. While this process may seem involved, the benefits far outweigh the time spent analyzing a piece of text. Teachers who engage in close reads of the texts that they later assign to students are more purposeful in their text selection. Educators can have confidence that those chosen informational or literary pieces are appropriately complex for the students in their classes and, when this is done collaboratively, it provides teachers with a common language and a meaningful process to discuss text. The following links are for completed placemats and further information on text complexity. The Connecticut State Department of Education site has the templates for the placemat and both the literary and informational text rubrics. These resources provide quantitative measures for most trade books. A Flesch-Kincaid measure can be determined using Microsoft Word. Connecticut educators now have free access to the MetaMetrics Hub with hundreds of thousands of books and their aligned Lexile measure. And that site also provides an upload feature to determine the Lexile for certain texts. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. Thank you

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