Knowing Ahna’s affection for all things “I Love Lucy” from the 1950s, it didn’t surprise me when she squealed about the Archie Meets Glee comic book. It’s not because she’s a Gleek; she’s never seen the show. No, the appeal is that the mash-up of Archie/Finn, Veronica/Rachel and Reggie/Puck connects the new to the known.
I take a similar approach to my study and teaching around text complexity. Last month Amanda Adrian and I taught the text complexity class in our ELA Common Core Shifts course. We opened up with a chapter from Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp titled, “Text Complexity Is the New Black.”
One of our favorite lines is, “Unlike a pendulum, which is often how reading instruction is described, we see this continual research process as a drill, with each subsequent return to a topic resulting in deeper knowledge.” Since college I’ve known that text complexity is more than a number spit out by a computer analyzing word counts, types of words, mean sentence length etc. Through continued professional development I understand more that, “Text complexity is (also) more than an analysis of the current skills of readers.” But as we grapple with the current three-part model, teachers want to know, “How is this different from what I’ve been doing?”
To encourage discourse, we shifted to a Teaching Channel Let’s Chat Core segment and watched the first five minutes with time to talk with colleagues.
Then I talked about the book Holes by Louis Sachar that Ahna started and had difficulty comprehending. The quantitative (computer) assessment of the book is a 5.2 grade level equivalent, which is close to appropriate for her. But looking at the variety of qualitative attributes that only a human reader can identify, we begin to see that the structure of the text is quite complex. There are frequent manipulations of time and sequence–it’s unconventional. Further when we consider the reader and task we ask:
Is she reading for pleasure?
Or is she reading to track the changes of the main character, Stanley Yelnats?
Or perhaps analyzing the theme?
All of these components play a role when we decide what to put in front of kids.
From stacks of literary and informational texts Amanda and I brought, we had teachers choose a text and a text complexity rubric to analyze the books.
Upon completion, one teacher said it best, “This is really hard, but I’m glad we are thinking about the texts we are putting in front of students. I don’t want to see them stagnate in my room, I want them to keep growing. But I also don’t want to put text in front of them just because it’s difficult. I want to be intentional.”
While some people may see this work with text complexity as the pendulum swinging again, I see it as an opportunity to drill deeper and use what we’ve learned over the past decades to teach smarter. Like when Archie Meets Glee, we can appreciate the new and connect it to the known. We can feel curious about the unfamiliar within the familiar. And we can ask ourselves this crucial question, “How can knowing more about my students as readers and the texts I put in front of them help them grow?”
If you are thinking deeply about text complexity too, here are some other blogs on the topic that have stimulated my thinking:
Burkins & Yaris: Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy Four Types of Text Complexity
Vicki Vinton’s To Make a Prairie Looking at Complex Texts
How are you thinking about text complexity as a coach?