What Makes a Text “Complex”?

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 0 Comments

Many educators I meet while I am delivering literacy professional development ask this question:

“What makes a piece of text complex, and how can I determine if the text I use is complex?”

The Common Core literacy standards place significant emphasis on the need to teach students how to read challenging, complex text, as noted on pages 2-3 of Common Core Appendix A (Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards).

This focus is driven by research showing that as demands that college and careers place on readers have either held steady or increased over the last fifty years, the complexity of K-12 reading texts have unfortunately trended downward in difficulty. The result is that there are too many students entering college or the work force without the ability to read and understand the text they will encounter.

I just read a copy of the newly published book “A Close Look at Close Reading” by Diane Lapp, Barbara Moss, Maria Grant, and Kelly Johnson. The first chapter is devoted to text complexity. The publisher, ASCD, has made this first chapter available to read online for free.

I also recently found a helpful 19-minute video that can be accessed for free on the Teaching Channel: “Simplifying Text Complexity” presented by Sarah Brown Wessling.

The Achieve the Core website is another resource for learning about complex text. It has a Text Complexity Collection of over a dozen documents and tools that are organized into these categories:

  • Quantitative Tools to Measure Text Complexity
  • Qualitative Tools to Measure Text Complexity
  • Lesson Planning from Text Complexity
  • Resources to Find Texts
  • Text Complexity Research and Articles

Finally, textproject.org provides links to a number of articles and free webinars about text complexity.

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy professional development programs. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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