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
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