Developing a Complex over Text Complexity?
One of the major shifts, and major misconceptions of the common core revolve around the idea of text complexity. This is a shift in mindsets around from choosing texts at an instructional level to choosing texts at a grade level.
Does this mean we need to throw out all of the research on comprehension instruction? No, by focusing on the specific texts, and not just the reader, make the work that has been done in the field of comprehension even more critical.
For example one of the major instructional tasks to address text complexity is to ensure that we are asking text dependent questions. You know the type of questions that require students to use the text to answer..No, not the first review question at the back of a chapter that requires students to find the first bold word in the chapter. A good text dependent question would require stduents to build an inference while using information from the text.
Teachers need to create an environment where students can see this kind of inferencing and discussion around a text going on. This will not be a simple task One area that I think can not be overlooked is the role of the gradual release of responsibility.
Luckily new tools are emerging that will allow us to define, model, faciliate, and participate in ways that support text complexity. My favorite, like many of you, is Evernote.
Evernote and Text Complexity
Evernote is built for teachers to address text complexity without abandoning the research based practices for teaching comprehension.
First evernote allows students to import and annotate a PDF. Students can delve into these texts with a level of interaction that was not possible a decade ago.
As a teacher you can use evernote to create visual aides to explain explicit defintions of text interactions during direct (but not always synchronous) instruction.
So if you want to assign a classic in your literature class you can go the GutenbergProject, download a Twain novel, save it as a pdf.
You can then model with students how you answer text dependent questions by finding details in the text and then making an inference.
Evernote is not always useful for pdfs. Students can also snapcapture, and annotate, websites. What text is more complex than those that students build while they are conducting an online inquiry? What text is full of more perspectives and bias than the websites around a contreversial issue? Students can discuss these texts with each other using shared notebooks.
Evernote will also teachers to vary their level of scaffolding for students that will need extra tools to mediate their understanding of a challenging texts. Using annotations and notes teachers can create a text with varying levels of support for students.
The students can then use their notes to answer text dependent questions you share with them using Evernote.
One of the major goals of classroom teachers when addressing text complexity is to create a classroom that celebrates and reinforces what good readers do in specific disciplines. Evernote will open new levels of participation. Using the shared notebooks students can annotate models, read complex texts together, and draw conclusions across multiple texts.
Evernote is also a great tool for tracking student growth when dealing with text complexity. Teachers can track what students do across multiple time points. This will allow, for example, a teacher to watch how well a student's inferential skills are developing. They may start by making no inferences and drawing solely on personal experiences. Next month the student may make an inference to a text dependant question using explicit information. Finally they may draw their own conclusion using implicit information.
Education is at a crossroad. Yet new standards and new technologies do not have to be on divergent paths. In fact our role as teachers must include showing how the most effective and efficient way to address the Common Core is through the use of Digital Texts and Tools.