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Complex Text

Page history last edited by kieran.ohare@... 10 years, 1 month ago

Complex Texts in the Adult Education Classroom

This page will address the following questions: 

What makes a text "complex?"


The creators of the Common Core Standards identify three criteria by which to judge the complexity of a text: quantitative features; qualitative features, and reading and task considerations.  This link describes these criteria in more detail, along with the rationale for including complex texts in classroom teaching. 


Are there lists of "complex texts" to use in the classroom?


  • There are several lists of complex texts on websites dedicated to Common Core teaching in P - 12 classrooms.  Some helpful ones can be found here and here.


  • There is as of yet no "adult education" list of recommended complex texts, but as HSE curricula that meet Common Core Learning Standards are developed, complex texts appropriate for adult students will be identified.


  • In addition to newspaper and magazine articles, excerpts from trade books such as "The Omnivore's Dilemma," or "The Tipping Point," and primary source texts such as excerpts from Frederick Douglass' "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," photographs, political cartoons and scenes from movies can also be considered “texts” to be used for interpretation of meaning or gathering information.  Engage NY provides examples of Curriculum Exemplars here.  


What teaching strategies most effectively support students in reading "complex texts?"


Most professional development in Common Core instruction focuses on close reading as a core practice for helping students meet the challenge of comprehending complex texts.   


This video, while a bit dry, offers a brief description of what close reading entails:


Or as Grant Wiggins says in a blog post on Teachthought.com: "What 'close reading' really means in practice is disciplined re-reading of inherently complex and worthy texts."  The idea is that complex texts will deserve a close reading in which students are forced to re-read, but that not every text deserves a close reading. 


What are the instructional practices involved in close reading?

Close reading practices include:

1. Teachers read the text aloud while students follow so that students can hear the text and read fluently.


2. Built into lessons are tasks or questions that require students to reread sections of the text several times for different purposes.  Students might be asked to:

  • Answer Text Based Questions
  • Paraphrase
  • Look for figurative language
  • Examine and "chunk" complex sentences
  • Puzzle out why an author has chosen to use a certain work,etc.


Grant Wiggins illustrates the shift in focus from reader response questions, which take students away from the text, and text based questions.  About two thirds of the way down in his Teachthought.com blog post, he uses a "Frog and Toad" story to illustrate this difference.  You can also click here to access the story on this wiki and see the difference in the types of questions asked of students.


3. Teachers model their processes as they identify the main idea and supporting details; make associations with a detail, or figure out an unknown word from context and other clues.


Some links to examples of lessons designed to help students read closely include:





The term close reading actually includes many sub-skills, such as determining what’s important, attending to style, etc.  In this link, a teacher demonstrates how he focuses on one sub-skill of close reading, setting clear, explicit instructional goals for students so that they can evaluate whether they have successfully developed the skill.


 Should I only introduce complex texts?


Curricula should include texts of different genres and different levels of complexity.  Adult students have often failed to experience success in school.  Introducing too many complex texts, or introducing complex texts without instructional supports, is likely to discourage them.  Some guidelines:

  • Complex texts should be short.


  • If possible, complex texts should be part of a larger unit so that students have had time to build background knowledge and develop an interest or to think about the issues raised by the topic.


  • For any text, students should be asked to identify the genre and the features that helped them to do so, as well as the author's purpose for writing the text (to persuade? To inform? To entertain?)  In many cases it will also be helpful to draw students' attention to text structure and help students analyze the way an author has structured a text to inform and persuade.


  • Students need reasons to persist in reading a complex text.  There should be a clear rationale for including the text, learning goals, and sufficient support so that students experience success.



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