Complex Times

This is the time, this is the place.  So we look for the future, but there’s not much love to go round.  Tell me why, this is a land of confusion.

If you close your eyes you can see Phil Collins on stage with the other members of Genesis singing this.  You can see the crowd signing along and dancing to the beat.  The image in your mind doesn’t appear that confusing even though that is what the song is about.

Fast forward to today and the lyrics might be something like this:

This is the time, this is the CCSS.  We continually look for resources, but there’s not much round.  Tell me why, this is land of complex times.

I’ve never said I was any kind of a song writer, but I think we can all agree that this is certainly a time of complexity.  We are all looking for the simple solution to the work we need to do, but in doing so we sometimes make things a little more difficult.  Know that we are not alone in our struggles.  A massive teacher survey conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that 78% of the teachers surveyed were somewhere between somewhat prepared to very unprepared to teach Common Core standards.  Only 22% of the respondents felt very prepared.  Complex times indeed.

Our work with ELA CCSS over the past month has really brought to light that reading and text are quickly becoming the center of classroom instruction.  Tied closely to this is an increase in the rigor of the reading and an increase in text complexity.  Students are now expected to be able to engage more actively with complex texts in all content areas and grade levels.

With this expectation comes the challenge of finding appropriate level texts for your students.  In order to select appropriate texts we first need to understand how the Common Core assesses for text complexity.

The Common Core uses a three-part model that includes qualitative measures, quantitative measures, and information regarding the reader and the task when assessing for text complexity.  The qualitative measures relate to items best measured by practitioners.  The measures include levels of meaning, structure, language clarity and the demands on knowledge needed to understand the text.  Quantitative measures are generally done through the use of formulas.  This is where the readability is determined through determining word frequency and sentence length.  The final piece of measuring text complexity takes into consideration the readers knowledge, motivation, and interests.

Many of you have asked the question of what do our students need to read and what is appropriate for the grade I teach?  Given how text complexity is determined, these guiding questions might prove helpful in selecting appropriate texts for the student or your class.

Can students understand what they are reading?

The answer to this involves professional judgement and an understanding of where students reading abilities lye.  This really focuses on the quantitative level of the text.  What is the Lexile range?  What is the reading level (ATOS, AR, etc.)?  It also brings to light the expected comprehension of the student.  Students need to understand and comprehend what they are reading in order to feel success.

Is the content appropriate for my grade level?

The answer to this question also brings into consideration professional judgement and really understanding the social emotional level of the students in your class.  Even though a student should be reading a book with a Lexile level of 900, the content of the book might be well beyond their level of understanding.  Not to mention it could be completely inappropriate for their age.  When looking for books that are appropriate it is important to consider the knowledge demands and levels of meaning that are placed upon a student.  Books that make few assumptions about a readers’ life experiences and that contain a single meaning are easier for students to comprehend and interpret.  The more clear the language is along with a structure that is simple allows the reader to engage with the text and comprehend the authors’ intent and purpose.

Is the text going to be motivating?

Simply put, if a student in interested in the topic or are interested in the topic will engage in the text regardless of its difficulty.  This is where we hook students to stretch their ability and present them with more complex texts.  Allowing students to choose a text to read within certain parameters can have a lasting and profound impact on developing their skills to comprehend complex texts.  All students should read texts that appeal to them.

Complex times indeed, but if we keep a few simple things in mind our work will become clear.


About Scott Friedman

Reflective learner who enjoys time with his family and cycling. By day, I am the Director of Teaching & Learning for the Nine Mile Falls SD.
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