Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Texts on Tuesdays: Notice and Note

Today is the third Tuesday of June and the continuation of an exciting summer of professional reading on Tuesdays!  Today I am hosting a section on "Notice and Note" which is being "cohosted" by a number of bloggers, me included!  Today's section addresses the idea of "text complexity".

2014 Notice and Note Book Study

This is a topic that is VERY interesting to me because I have spent a huge amount of time over the last years trying to advocate for all the ideas in this section!  So many people make decisions about text based solely on guided reading levels, lexile levels, or grade level equivalents on random lists--and I have fought for years that "text complexity" is far more involved than the formulas used for most of these lists--formulas that use word length, sentence length, and so on.  This is a critical topic in my opinion; I feel a huge part of my job as a reading teacher is to match readers with text--and knowing what a "just right" book is an essential piece of this!

Beers and Probst explain that text complexity is, indeed, far more complex than most people believe.  I really encourage you to read this section carefully...but in a nutshell, the authors explain that there are three components to text complexity:
1.  Quantitative measures (Fry readability, sentence length, syllable count, etc)
2.  Qualitative measures (text organization, level of abstractness, vocabulary, familiarity, etc)
3.  Reader and task considerations (student background, interests, attitudes, maturity)

In other words...

It's why Esperanza Rising is more difficult for my students--they don't have the background...and many don't have the maturity!  It's why sometimes realistic fiction is easier than other genres...the familiarity with "real kids" and "real settings" makes it easier for students to comprehend.

The chapter goes into far more detail and has some wonderful resources for evaluating texts.  I really believe it is critical for us to reflect on this issue as we need to be as "expert" as we can be so that we can do our very best matching students to "just right" texts.

We've all looked on the back of books and seen things such as...

These are sometimes the only "guides" available to teachers and parents!

I have a few questions for you to reflect on and to comment about...I'd love to hear your ideas!  Write about one or all..but let's hear your thoughts about text complexity!

1.  How much focus does your school/district place on leveling systems?  What systems do they use?

2. Have you found texts that you have used with students that were either more challenging or less challenging than you had originally thought?  What text was it?  What was surprising to you about the difficulty level?

3.  What are your thoughts about the importance of using what we know about text complexity as teachers of reading?  Is this a dialogue we should be having with our students?  With the parents of our students?

Do you want to read about the next section of this book?  

Hop over to THIS blog post to see what comes next!  If you are reading this book along with us, make sure to comment along the way...and if you are blogging about it, link up with us!


  1. Hi Meg,
    I haven't read the book you're highlighting, but that doesn't stop me from having an opinion about the topic. It sounds like we're coming from the same viewpoint, but perhaps I have a little more freedom in choosing books for my students? That's just a guess. It is ABSOLUTELY essential that teachers use Lexile Levels, recommended ages, etc. as a guide, not as carved in stone. There are many students in my classes who are good readers, who find differing degrees of difficulty with a particular text because one has more background knowledge than another, or more fluidity with language and context clues. There is definitely no one-size-fits-all when it comes to reading, and districts that require leveling of books do students a disservice, I think. My books are on my shelves by genre. Before I started teaching in this district (now 7 years ago) books were required to be leveled. I never did that. For Pete's sake, I just finished a challenging but wonderful fiction book for adults, and now I'm reading a middle school fantasy book. Why shouldn't students be able to do the same thing?
    As far as challenging text, I used Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with a group of low readers one year. They were mostly boys and I thought the adventure would get them more excited about reading. Gary Paulsen uses rich, complex language in that story, including lots of run-on sentences, short phrases, and all kinds of imagery that these boys had a hard time with. We ended up discussing it as a large group way more than I initially expected. They appreciated the insight; on their own, they wouldn't have finished it. Other kids whip through that book and go on to all the Brian sequels.
    As far as having that conversation with students, I do, from time to time, need to talk to a student (and sometimes his/her parents) about a book being too complex for that particular kid to understand AT THAT TIME. I've explained to parents that their child has struggled to read fluently, or that his/her comprehension isn't what it should be, and I'm recommending switching to another book. I've never had a parent argue with me about that, after we've had the conversation.
    I don't know if all this information helps, but I hope it does!

    1. Thanks for sharing! Actually, I have FULL flexibility in choosing books for and with my students--we have no series nor any rules. My post is merely a reflection on the content of this chapter of the book with a few of my musings--especially since I know so many teachers aren't given that flexibility. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts! :)