Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Professional Reading - Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading

I love summer break for many reasons: spending time with my kids, sleeping in and catching up on much needed housework.   Another reason that I love summer break is that I get the chance to delve into professional reading.  I can really devote the time to reading and reflecting on professional books that I don't have time to do during the school year.  The first book on my summer reading list was Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp.  

Chapter 1 - Text Complexity Is the New Black
Chapter one challenged my thinking about matching readers to easy and instructional leveled text.  The book gave evidence as to why we as educators should be putting reading materials in student's hands that is neither too difficult nor too easy and supporting them with the reading material and helping guide and instruct them on more challenging and complex text.

Since I began teaching, most of what I have learned and read centered around the idea that students should be reading material that is either easy or at an instructional level.  This  thinking was challenged while reading this book.  While the book doesn't suggest that everything students read should be hard or difficult, it does suggest that students need to be reading challenging material in order to learn and improve.  According to Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012), "The idea is not to either limit a student to a low-level text or allow him or her to struggle without support in a difficult text, but instead provide texts and couple them with instruction" (p. 8).  

Chapter 2 - Quantitative Measures of Text Complexity
Chapter two gives quantitative ways to measure text complexity, including readability formulas.  It also discusses the Lexile scale, which is a common way text is leveled, especially with the new Common Core State Standards.  The chapter gives examples where specific texts are different levels depending on the way the text was assessed (word or sentence length or frequency of word occurrence).  According to Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012), "As with all measures, each can report accurately on some aspects, while other equally important elements remain untouched.  For this reason, quantitative measures should be viewed as a first step, but by no means a final one." (p. 38).

Chapter 3 - Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity
According to Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012), "Sometimes there are words, or ideas that throw off the reader but are not picked up by readability formulas.  It takes a human to notice these aspects of text difficulty." (p. 41).   The chapter also discusses the many aspects that go into determining how complex a text, including: levels of meaning and purpose, structure, language conventionality and clarity and knowledge demands. For example, using a word differently than it is normally used, can cause a text to more of a challenge or a more complex text.  This really isn't something new, but was an excellent chapter to reaffirm my thinking.   

Chapter 4 - Matching Readers to Texts and Tasks
Chapter four discusses all that should go into matching readers to texts, including: cognitive capabilities, motivation, knowledge and experiences.  Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012) argue that "the most important factor, the reader, is what makes a text come to life.  Until a reader explores the pages of a book, it is simply a collection of words" (p. 77).  As educators, we often forgot about this key component and working to engage them with text appropriately, including keeping in mind their motivation, interests and background knowledge.  

Chapter 5 - A Close Reading of Complex Texts
Chapter five talks about what kind of text to use for close reading activities and what strategies to teach/model.  An interesting point brought up by Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012), "A significant portion of the reading standards in the Common Core State Standards, upwards of 80% in most grades, require students to provide evidence from the text in their responses" (p. 119).  This is something that I know is something I don't always encourage my students to do both orally and in writing when discussing literature.  I will need to continue working on it as I move forward implementing the CCSS.

According to Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012) "we must commit to our students and help them read increasingly complex texts and read those texts well (x).  While this book gave evidence and examples of how to implement more complex text, I feel that I need to read more professionally on text complexity, look deeper at the literature that I am currently using and analyze them for their complexity and work harder to matching students with books to move them forward.  One quote from the book that I need to keep in mind is, "It's time to step it up a bit and teach students to read--and read well.  This starts with an understanding of text complexity" (p. 100).  


  1. This looks like a really good read. I like all the snippets and summaries of chapters. Thanks!
    I am going to the ALLWrite conference, I will be looking for you!! I am going with my kindergarten team, one of them is also a fellow slicer. If you want to get in touch my email is:

  2. Looks like another book for my summer TBR professional stack. I don't think there is enough time. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

    1. It was a great read! Looking forward to the PD in July!