Monday, November 14, 2011

Complex Text and Common Core

When we were young, and reading was difficult, we would remark, "It's all mumbo jumbo to me."   However, our generation had no alternative to print.  It wasn't like we could substitute video for learning, pictures, infographics, or more.  It was do or we had to try.  We built determination, focus, and fortitude.  All three are lacking in the Millennials, according to the research behind the Common Core. 

In the appendix to the Common Core, the research is noted as to why the CCSS authors recommended increasing Lexiles and stressed the need for students to tackle complex text.   As I sorted through the research, personally trying to find the "why" behind the increase in Lexiles, I stumbled upon the following poignant golden nugget of truth that are worth sharing:
K–12 Schooling: Declining Complexity of Texts and a Lack of Reading of Complex Texts Independently
Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. ...Average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades declined. ...Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts... What is relevant in these numbers is the general, steady decline—over time, across grades, and substantiated by several sources—in the difficulty and likely also the sophistication of content of the texts students have been asked to read in school since 1962.
Worse still, what little expository reading students are asked to do is too often of the superficial variety that involves skimming and scanning for particular, discrete pieces of information; such reading is unlikely to prepare students for  the cognitive demand of true understanding of complex text.
 Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text ...they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text. [p.4 -- This is the "transliterate" youth of today.  As transliterate as they may be, transliteracy won't build lawyers, actuaries, or detail-oriented individuals who have the fortitude to change the world.]  
The most important implication of this study was that a pedagogy focused only on “higher-order” or “critical” thinking was insufficient to ensure that students were ready for college and careers:  what students could read, in terms of its complexity, was at least as important as what they could do with what they read.
The Common Core standards have asked us to raise difficulty of classroom content so that classroom instructional material would be considered, "complex."   This fits very well into the Differentiated Instruction model, regardless of the students' abilities.  We should be presenting challenging material to our students so that their level of reading skill will increase --regardless of where they are reading now. 

As educator's hear this for the first time, they are asking, "Wheres the research behind this position?"  I'm continuing to dig into the Appendix A reading research to find this, but the body of research presents a clear compelling picture that we've moved a long way from rigor.  It's time to return.  Rigor is not Google.  Rigor is not reading for pleasure.  Rigor is compelling content and a question to answer that required students to: dig, research, debate, find meaning, create, reply, construct, continue and collaborate....Inquiry based learning.  Ask your librarian for some help in designing a unit for deep learning.  Ask your Cybrarian to help you dig up a document from one of many primary source libraries or current databases that have articles filled with your content vocabulary and present problems that need to be solved.   Increase rigor and increase relevance. 

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