Teachers at Calvary have been learning and refining Language Arts instruction this year, specifically in the area of text complexity. In evaluating the texts that our students read, we need to make sure that the text level is appropriate and challenging for the students. Simply assigning hard books will not ensure that students learn at high levels. Instead, it is important to use a three-part model in determining which texts are right for our students. First, we look at qualitative dimensions, such as levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands. Secondly, we look at the qualitative dimensions of the text, or the word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion. We can use our Accelerated Reader software to evaluate this area. Finally, we look at the reader and task considerations. We evaluate our reader’s needs and abilities and the complexity of the task that the student is assigned. Using all three of these measures helps us to choose just the right text for our students here at Calvary.
After learning about text complexity, the teachers have already been evaluating texts that we are currently using. This is an ongoing process, and we will be making some adjustments to our reading selections for next year. In addition, teachers have employed different strategies and techniques to guide students when reading texts of various complexities. One such technique has been used in third grade this year. We are reading a novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall, which is of average text complexity, as measured quantitatively by the Accelerated Reader program. However, we have assigned many interactive reading tasks for the students that require higher level critical thinking skills and the use of evidence specifically from the text. The novel is about a mail-order bride (Sarah) who comes to live with a family on a trial bases. We asked the students to find evidence from the book that supports the opinion that Sarah will stay with the family, and evidence that she will go home. Then the students wrote an argumentative essay taking one of the sides. They had to support their opinion with the evidence that they found directly from the book. This is just one of many examples of how third grade, as well as all grade levels are ensuring that the students read and interact with complex texts. We are excited to look at text complexity as we prepare our students to be ready for the 21st century demands that await them.