The March 2012 Educational Leadership publication popped through my mail chute and I was thrilled to read its title:  READING ~The Core Skill~.  As an English teacher and reading specialist, I have always believed that reading is the essence, the core, of all learning, in all grades, in all disciplines.   This issue of Educational Leadership features numerous articles discussing aspects of reading research and practice for 21st Century teachers and learners.  As I pondered the ideas presented by literacy experts such as Tim Shanahan, Nancy Fry, and Richard Allington, one major question came to mind:

How can Professional Learning Teams, busy with the day-to-day schedule of planning, teaching, grading, and team meetings, effectively merge the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity with skill instruction that equips students to comprehend and analyze these complex texts?

Let’s examine what the Common Core writes about text complexity.  According to the Common Core,

One of the key requirements of the Common Core State Standards for Reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school.  By the time they complete the core, students must be able to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers.

Anchor Standard 10 Grades 6-12:  Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

In Grades 6 – 12, this Anchor Standard for Reading is tailored for each content area of English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.

My initial question then divided into three prongs as I contemplated how Professional Learning Teams can determine text complexity while planning curriculum.

  • What exactly is text complexity?
  • How can my PLT accurately measure text complexity for our content area?
  • How will my PLT select materials that enable students to climb the staircase of text complexity?

What exactly is text complexity? 

The Standards Model of Text Complexity consists of an equilateral triangle divided into three obtuse triangles comprised of Qualitative, Quantitative, and Reader and Task.  Following is a summary of each obtuse triangle.

Features of qualitative include:

Level of Meaning for literary text or Purpose for informational text: The text with a single level of meaning and straightforward purpose would be easier to comprehend than a text with multiple levels and a purpose that must be inferred.

Structure:
Is the structure simple and chronological?  Or is the structure more complex?  Do graphics clearly contribute to the meaning of the text?  Or, do graphics demand the reader’s interpretation?

Language Conventions & Clarity:
Is the language literal or figurative?  Is the language contemporary or archaic?

Knowledge Demands:
Does the text rely on everyday life experiences or content specific knowledge?

Qualitative characteristics refer to the quality of the text and are the most challenging to ascertain.  The PLT must combine qualitative components with professional judgment when assessing the qualitative measure of a text.

Qualitative Components = Quality of a text

Features of quantitative include: 

  • Word length and frequency of words
  • Sentence length

Quantitative Components = Computable features of a text

Features of Reader and Task

  • Background knowledge
  • Motivation
  • Students’ reading proficiency

Reader and Task  = Student plus text

How can my PLT accurately measure text complexity for our content area?

For many years, my staff development partner and I introduced teachers to readability formulae such as Frye and Raygor, based on word length, syllable count, and sentence length.  After completing a series of steps counting both the words and the sentences, the results were plotted on a graph that purported the “readability” (grade level range) of a text.  There are clearly limitations to the readability formulae, for text complexity cannot be simply ascertained by numerical operation.

Rather, the PLT should utilize the lexile analyzer to compute the complexity of a text. Common Core refers to text complexity grade bands and corresponding lexile ranges for each grade band.

Text Complexity Grade Band

Lexile Ranges

6 – 8

995-1155

9  – 10

1080 – 1305

11 – CCR

1215 – 1355

How will my PLT select materials that enable students to climb the staircase of text complexity? 
  • Refer to CCSS Appendix B for text exemplars.  Theses exemplars are by no means a national reading list, but rather suggested texts that satisfy the components of the triangle of Text Complexity.
  • Compare and contrast texts selected by your PLT to text exemplars to determine similarities and differences.
  • Systematically analyze text by measuring qualitative and quantitative characteristics as well as ascertaining the reading skills of your students.

Summary

As you can see, text complexity is truly a muti-faceted issue as educators work to prepare students for college and career readiness.  By understanding the components of text complexity and working with your PLT to select appropriate texts, your team will be on its way to helping students comprehend and analyze complex texts.

Stand by for a future blog:  Strategies to enable students to skillfully read and comprehend increasingly complex texts.

(picture from lexile.com)

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Thank you
Core4All would like to thank the readers that have subscribed to the blog. In the short amount of time in existence, we have had over 370 views. We hope you are finding the information useful. Please continue to pass the link to fellow colleagues who want to make a change in their curriculum.

How it all began
The idea of Core4All originated from a conversation at a Barnes and Noble one summer evening sipping lattes (or it may have been diet colas). Our original goal was to create a one-hour presentation providing ELL teachers with instructional strategies that would improve the proficiency and achievement of English language learners. At the end of the evening, we came away with the creation of a book and a design template to help all teachers build units of study around skills and standards.  We believe the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org), aligned with college and work expectations, focus on learning expectations and will improve the academic achievement of students.  There is no better time than the present to initiate these standards to unify our students and teachers.

Top 3 Benefits of the Common Core State Standards
1. The Common Core State Standards will provide more stability for the mobile student. In order to close the achievement gap once and for all we need consistency with learning targets for each grade level. Clear expectations across each county, state and nation will help create stability for students who move often due to economic and personal reasons.

2. The Common Core State Standards will provide students with the necessary skills to access higher education and to compete globally in the workforce. The Common Core is a vehicle that will assist educators in creating quality and fair skills-based instruction to all students.  The 21st century skills embedded in the Common Core will pave the way for students to  think, reflect, analyze, influence, evaluate, and communicate; in other words, become an individual who will lead in the 21st century global society. Look around your classroom. Who will be the leaders of tomorrow?

3. The Common Core State Standards will enhance teacher collaboration across the nation. When teachers across the nation are using the same standards and common language, collaboration becomes more meaningful. Professional development at conferences, professional organizations and across networks will be more powerful than ever. When teachers share best practice, students benefit.

Last week, we asked that you look at the Common Core State Standards and begin to read them, visualize how they can become the cornerstones of your curriculum.  This week, Core4All asks that your teacher-team zero in on one standard you would like to work with.  In the next few weeks, we will analyze standards and show how the SACI design template will help build a stellar unit of study.

We may be familiar with the word “core” in terms of exercise.  Fitness experts state that the more we strengthen our core muscles (abs, back, pelvis), the easier it is to do physical activities.  Just as physical core training develops greater efficiency in movement, improves body control and balance, and increases performance, the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) also benefit a vital part of our bodies. THE BRAIN.  By using the Common Core as a vehicle to drive curriculum, students will improve their academic achievement; in other words, increase brain power.

What we have seen so far…

Since the adoption of the Common Core in June of 2010, it has been comical watching the “educational companies” send out their propaganda on how their materials correlate with the Common Core State Standards.  At least once a week, we have received email blasts from companies soliciting their products.

“Buy our product. It includes the Common Core State Standards!”
“No need to revamp your curriculum.  The Common Core fits right in!”
“Our educational program has already been aligned with the Common Core!”
“Partner with us and we’ll show you how to implement the Common Core into your existing curriculum!”

This is a weak attempt to try to profit from a new initiative. We saw this same approach when NCLB legislation was passed in 2002.  To put into exercise terms, you can’t get a 6-pack without changing your ab routine.

Education needs a fresh start

We must realize that the adoption of the Common Core does not mean plugging the standards into an already existing curriculum.  The adoption of the Common Core provides us with a great opportunity to start fresh, to begin with a new vision, one that puts student achievement at the core of the educational exercise plan.

SACI Design

In the coming weeks, Core4All will unveil its SACI Design Template, a systematized framework that will allow teacher teams to create units of study that puts the Common Core State Standards at the forefront of curriculum planning.  In a gist, the SACI process:
-Focuses on 2-3 standards that a learning team has decided that students need to become proficient in during the unit of study
-Creates a pre/post assessment to check how proficient students are prior to the unit of study and after instruction
-Incorporates non-negotiable curriculum content students must learn
-Uses only proven, research-based instructional strategies

We are beyond the point of reforming education. It is time to get into the gym and work our core before exercising the other parts.  By starting with the Common Core State Standards, we will build our foundation of learning which in turn will make our students stronger, ready to tackle the 21st century workplace.

What changes can you make to increase the brain power of your students?

Core4All hopes that you have been finding our posts to be useful.  If so, please forward our link to 2-3 colleagues who you feel would benefit from the information presented.  These are exciting times.  We believe that creating curriculum around the Common Core will build student capacity and brain power.  Whew!  Time to hit the showers.