Reposted from Tracy Watanabe at this link. (Tracy is a Tech Integration Specialist in Arizona, and she was one of the panel presenters for Peer Coaching at ISTE this summer. I had the honor of sharing dinner with Tracy and several other members of the Peer Coaching Panel.
Although Tracy specifically mentions the Arizona Dept. of Educ. increasing the rigor and text complexity of their state standardized exam, Illinois is making similar changes that affect the ISAT exams students will complete in March. The following post contains valuable information for teachers about helping students prepare for the changes they will face.
The Internet is a key resource for text complexity. We are in a day and age where information and resources are at our fingertips.
I frequently see people use the Internet to look up recipes, movie listings, and news; however, I still don't see it as a natural source for engaging rigorous learning in the classroom. Why? Maybe it's a matter of understanding what text complexity is really asking us, or how to create rigorous and deeper engaging tasks associated with the text.
Those of us who are transitioning to Common Core standards know that text complexity will affect the rigor in our classrooms. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) issued a letter informing us they will increase the text complexity as well as higher Lexile levels on the current AIMS test this year to help transition to the PARCC assessment. This means we need to understand what text complexity is and how to address it right now, regardless of what grade/subject we teach.
What is Text Complexity?
Text complexity reminds me of a s'more. It contains three main parts, and while you can talk about each ingredient separately, it's not really a s'more until you put them all together.
Understanding the Quantitative Ingredients
Understanding the quantitative ingredients are important, especially when thinking about selecting text for independent reading and guided reading.
Teachers and librarians who use Accelerated Reader (AR) in their schools need to take into consideration that the AR levels (ATOS) are changing to adapt to the higher reading levels in Common Core. Here are the new AR scores also in comparison to the Lexile scores:
However, it's not the be-all and end-all for selecting independent reading. Teachers and librarians shouldn't tell students not to read a book if it's above their reading level because the student might be highly motivated to read that text regardless of it being "above" their reading level and therefore might be highly successful with reading it.
Furthermore, teachers can't shy away from exposing text that is much higher than their independent reading levels because students need to grapple with rigorous text. This is where teachers get to "teach" by providing guidance and scaffolding for the students.
Here are some websites that can help teachers determine the Lexiles and ATOS of other websites, their own documents, and books:
Understanding the Qualitative Ingredients
It is so important to understand that a book can not be measured quantitatively alone. Qualitative ingredients must be considered. For example, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is given an ATOS score of 5.5, however I do not believe it is appropriate for a 5th grader (by the old measure, and a 4th grader by the stretch ATOS score). I read that book in college!
Another example is The Hunger Games, which is given an ATOS score of 5.3, however the qualitative measure puts it more at a 7th grade level.
Understanding the Powerful Ingredients of Reader and Task
This is where we tap into student interests, which will push students to read rigorous text and more non-fiction text. Knowing our students, and their interests is key for this ingredient. It's the graham cracker in the s'more because it's what holds the qualitative (marshmallow) and the quantitative (chocolate) together.
One way to harness their motivation is through an engaging task. No longer are we asking students to just answer knowledge and comprehension type questions one at a time or to fill in their worksheet, but instead to engage them with a meaningful task.
How are we Boosting Text Complexity?
Many educators in our district are turning to poetry, as a way to boost text complexity. This makes sense, plus it's one of the listed types of text complex exemplars in the CCSS Appendix B. The caveat to this is Appendix B is not a shopping list for what your grade level needs to run out and buy. It's merely an example of how to use the text, which includes example performance tasks.
It's more than just changing the material educators are teaching with, they also need to change the behavior of how they use the text. They need to create 21st century, student centered learning, which is partially done by creating rigorous and engaging tasks.
Expose them to a variety to types of text, and tap into their interests to create student centered learning. Take Depth of Knowledge and the Hess Matrix to create deeper thinking and engaging tasks. This is where I see the Internet as a key resource for text complexity!
Harnessing the Internet to Boost Text Complexity
We have a plethora of rigorous text online to tap into. We can use one of the sites listed in the quantitative section above to determine the ATOS or Lexile measure of the site (you might need to copy and paste the text into a document).
However, if we ask our students lower level questions, then don't expect a lot to change with their engagement in the text. One of my colleagues suggested that students just Google the answers, which is why teachers shy away from the Internet. So, why are we still asking questions they can Google?!
Why aren't we asking questions that require them to compare a variety of sources and perspectives that has them to dig into multiple texts? Below are a few examples for comparing text and perspectives.
While you are bringing in other resources to address text complexity such as poetry and the enrichment parts of our reading anthologies, consider the Internet as an amazing resource to tap into. Point them towards rich sources of text complexity. Give them choices that tap into their interests. Engage them in valuable tasks that are meaningful outside the four walls of the classroom.
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