Considerations for Selecting the Right Complex Texts for Your Classroom

McGraw Hill
Nov 17, 2020 · 4 min read

By Enrique Puig, Director of the UCF Morgridge International Reading Center

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As we curate resources to create a dynamic learning environment for students, we need to consider the function of texts and how they ensure learning over time. We must first understand text complexity before we can use increasingly complex texts. They need to be age-appropriate, build disciplinary vocabulary, and provide background knowledge. They should be rigorous, push thinking along with disciplinary knowledge, and foster expertise that can be transferred across disciplines. Essentially, there are three key considerations that are vital when using complex texts to promote comprehension and critical thinking, regardless of the disciplinary content area.

  1. First, we have to acknowledge that complex texts are relative to the learner. Even within the same grade level, what may be complex for one learner is not necessarily complex for another. Moreover, we cannot dismiss individual interests and motivation.
  2. Second, we need to understand, as professional educators, what “text” means before we begin to use complex texts in our classrooms.
  3. Finally, we need to have a framework in place for analyzing text complexity to ensure student learning that allows them to construct a defensible interpretation.

I have learned to define text as a source of information that can be examined, explained, discussed, debated, and deconstructed. Texts can fall into two broad and general categories: print and non-print. We are all familiar with the concept of text as print. Yet, with the advent of technology and emerging technologies, texts can also be audio and video. If we want to get really existentialist, what about the texts in our heads? Our thoughts and the narratives of our lives are a form of non-print text. So, before we begin to curate resources for our students, we need to ask ourselves, “What kinds of texts am I talking about, and what language will I use to explicitly, intentionally, and coherently introduce complex texts to my students?”

Students need to read texts that are increasingly challenging, not frustrating, and complex in order to make the next texts more accessible. A mindful and intentional selection of texts can be accomplished by using a triadic model of analysis that accounts for quantitative features, qualitative features, and student-centered features. Quantitative features are assessed by using a readability formula where the number of words, the number of syllables, and the sentence length are some of the variables that may be considered. When assessing qualitative features, you may consider genre, length, illustrations, and cultural responsiveness. The third factor for analyzing text complexity in a triadic model requires understanding the students’ strengths and needs. What knowledge are students bringing to the text and how are they going to be interacting with the text?

Wonders author, Dr. Doug Fisher on monitoring students’ understanding of qualitative text complexity

The question always arises regarding how to use more complex texts to ensure that students are exposed to increasingly challenging vocabulary and disciplinary content. This includes texts that are so complex the students cannot quite read them. Here is where the rubber meets the road and educators have to make a professional decision about what instructional practices to employ to make sure that students are exposed to disciplinary vocabulary and content. In my personal teaching experiences, I have found that a good solid content introduction infused with related vocabulary is always a good start!

The following reflective questions will help during collaborative conversations with colleagues in selecting increasingly complex text.

  1. What are the students’ strengths and needs?

2. What are the supports and challenges of the text?

3. What instructional practice would be most appropriate for students to learn the content?

Text quality and text complexity are key elements of literacy instruction, and one of three areas which align with the Gateways described by EdReports.org. Wonders ©2020 received positive marks in all three areas: Text Quality and Complexity, Building Knowledge, and Usability. To learn more, click here.

Hear more on complex tests considerations from our Wonders authors, Dr. Doug Fisher and Dr. Tim Shanahan.

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Enrique A. Puig has over 36 years of experience in education with experience in K-12 classroom teaching, literacy coaching, and nation-wide educational consulting. He has been recognized as a Title I Distinguished Educator by the Florida Department of Education. Currently, Enrique is the director of the UCF Morgridge International Reading Center and teaches undergraduate and graduate K-12 Content Area Reading and Diagnostic Reading courses in the College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida. He is a consulting author for Florida Wonders ©2022, offering his expertise in professional development to the literacy program.

Read more from Enrique

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McGraw Hill

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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

McGraw Hill

Written by

We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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