The Common Core Shift: Short, Focused Research Projects in Elementary Grades

What and Why?

Why use a complex text?
Studies show that proficiency with vocabulary and syntax is a defining factor in success beyond high school.  Working with complex texts provides opportunities to build vocabulary, help students wrestle with complicated sentence structures, and identify the author's purpose, among other things. 
When working with complex texts, it will be necessary for students to do a close reading of the text, and it is our task to ask questions that lead them back into the text as part of that close reading.

What makes a text complex? 
Complex texts are rich texts that lend themselves to text-dependent questions.  There are three dimensions to a text’s complexity: qualitative, quantitative, and reader and task considerations.  As teachers, we will need to rely on our own professional judgment and knowledge of our students in selecting these texts.  There are some general guidelines to follow, however.  When analyzing a text, consider its layout, purpose, structure, language features, and knowledge demands for the reader.  Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards reminds us that complex texts have a number of the following characteristics:

  • Multiple levels of meaning
  • An implicit purpose
  • Unconventional structure (as in poetry)
  • Sophisticated graphics that may provide information that is not in the text itself
  • Figurative or literary language
  • A fair amount of new vocabulary or domain-specific vocabulary
  • Complex sentences with increased subordinate phrases or clauses
  • Multiple themes
  • Experiences different from the reader’s own experience
  • Multiple perspectives, or perspectives unlike the reader’s
  • Assumed cultural knowledge and/or a range of challenging concepts

For more information about text complexity, refer to Appendix A  of the Common Core State Standards. An excellent article with links to related resources about text complexity is available here from ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

Some examples of rubrics to analyze informational and literary texts for complexity are available here and here from the Council of Chief State School Officers.





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