Note: This is the second post in a five-part series which takes a look at five steps for implementation of Close Reading, authored by Heath Kelley.
Click here to revisit part 1: Why do we want students to read closely?
Why Complex Text?
As a reader myself, I experience various levels of complexity on a daily basis. At certain times I may read a novel that doesn’t require much deep processing, while other times need to slow down to catch the subtle nuances and character connections. This is even true with certain movies. I can watch The Lord of the Rings multiple times because of the depth and layers of meaning involved. Also, some emails contain basic facts and others require some careful thinking. Students should have the same variety of complexity in their experiences as a reader - across all content areas. Giving students these opportunities to wrestle with complex text increases metacognition and forces students to become more strategic thinkers.
Text Complexity in My Own Classroom
Reading complex text isn’t something that happens all the time in my classroom. During independent reading, students are not asked to read complex text. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to be challenged...but not frustrated. When I am teaching a new skill, I don’t use a complex text. Only after students have a working knowledge of the skills and concepts needed, do I add complexity. For example, during a unit in which I was teaching students about finding the theme in a literary text, I used children’s books to help understand the author’s message. Once the students grasped the concept of theme and were able to use it at a lower reading level, I began adding additional complexity.
Measuring Text Complexity
In the book Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading, Fisher, Frey, and Lapp explain that teachers have traditionally thought of text complexity by focusing solely on Lexile, DRA, or Fountas and Pinnell charts. However, these readability formulas can miss certain demands on the reader. For example, a teacher would not assign John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (Lexile 680) to middle school students. According to the Lexile system, this book would be less complex than Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Lexile 950). The Lexile system focuses mostly on word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion As you can see, there is a definite need for teachers to consider other factors.
The CCSS includes the following three categories to measure text complexity:
In my own classroom, I do not usually complete an analysis document. It was helpful for me to complete the analysis a few times so I could become familiar with the various demands to consider. Now, I can be cognizant of these factors when selecting a close reading text.
Tips for Choosing a Close Reading Text
Finding a close reading text is considered by many to be the most challenging phase of preparation for close reading. It can take some time to find the right text. Appendix B of the CCSS has a list of text exemplars at each grade level. I have personally compiled different anthologies such as this one to select texts. There are many great texts available to use online. Here are a few websites that I've found helpful when searching for a close reading text:
How about you? How do you select complex text? What resources have you used to find complex texts for close reading?
Sources: (both available through Keystone AEA)
A Close Look at Close Reading by Lapp, Moss, Grant, and Johnson
Text Complexity: Raising the Rigor in Reading by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp
Written by Shannon Horton, DCSD Media Specialist
I’d like to cast my vote as to why fiction needs to remain essential in the lives of students and teachers.
What I know so far about reading:
Fiction builds empathy and morality
As someone who has been found alone in a room, clutching a book, and weeping this all makes perfect sense to me. New research suggests that we read fiction with our guard down (unlike non-fiction which we intellectually challenge) thus allowing us to be emotionally moved…and changed. And the more we’re lost in the story we’re reading, the more it molds us. Fiction can literally make us more empathetic, better able to read human emotions, and more willing to jump in and help others. Add to that fiction’s tendency to reward the good guys and we’re taught that it pays to be good, and that it might just lead us to happily ever after.
Fiction makes us smarter
No surprise to us readers, right? Participants in a study who were given a literature selection to read, versus a summary of the same passage, performed better in a subsequent test, and neuroscientists have now found plenty of proof that reading fiction lights up multiple areas of our brain, not just the ones associated with language.
Reading combats stress
Researchers at The University of Sussex found reading to be the most effective method for unwinding and eliminating stress, toping a walk or a cup of tea.
What we can do as teachers:
It’s hard sometimes, but resist judgement
Neil Gaiman, author of numerous books for children and adults, draws a line from learning to read, to reading for pleasure, to citizens that can exchange and expound on ideas. The crux of the progression, learning to read for pleasure, is on folks like us not discouraging any books our students pick up. Enjoying what they read will lead to more reading, and so it stands to reason that they will eventually move beyond what we may turn our noses up at.
Find the time to read aloud
Create time to read aloud to students. Time that’s not associated with assessments of any kind: no vocabulary lists, no comprehension quizzes, and no assigned projects. By reading aloud you’re modeling fluent reading and introducing students to new reading ideas. Best of all you’re creating a shared classroom experience that links reading to relaxation, intellectual stimulation, and enjoyment.
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