Understanding Text Complexity – Qualitative Measures

In the last post, I discussed the quantitative measures of text complexity that a teacher will need to understand for meeting Common Core expectations. In this post, I will continue by exploring the second consideration which are the qualitative measures of matching reader to text. One factor to be considered when analyzing the qualitative factors is the richness of the plot and the levels of meaning found in the text. For example, while Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels can be written and even read at a simplistic level as a story about the travels of a guy who visited the land of Lilliput,  the text as it was written by Swift, is considered complex because of the parody and satire that it contains. A teacher would also want to consider the text’s structure, organization and levels of purpose. The language conventionality and clarity for the reader is another factor to be considered. A text which contained a large amount of unfamiliar dialect would be more complex than one written in the dialect with which the reader is familiar. Finally, the last thing to consider when determining out whether a text will be a good match for the reader is to consider the sophistication of the vocabulary, what prior knowledge the reader must bring to the text and the cultural understandings that the text will require. The more limited the reader’s background knowledge and cultural understanding of the text content, the more complex the text should be rated. In general, texts that are written in a literal, contemporary style are easier to read than ones containing an abundant presence of figurative, ironic, ambiguous, old fashioned or unfamiliar dialect or highly specialized text. For example, unless you worked in the mortgage industry or were trained in this specialized area, you probably found it difficult to understand the 2 inch high stack of mortgage documents place before you when you bought a home. Although the words in isolation are known to you, the way they are used and coupled with industry jargon, is not. Therefore, this text would have been highly complex for you as a reader. Rubrics for analyzing literary and informational text will help you determine what texts might contain higher levels of complexity and which might be “just right” to stretch your students but not overwhelm them. In the final post in this series, I will discuss the Reader and the Task and how a teacher needs to consider these elements in his or her analysis of text appropriateness and complexity.

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