Four Online Reading Tasks

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Researchers are delving deeper into the nature of online reading tasks for PK-12 students; however, four common tasks emerge that readers encounter often. The MNOP teaching strategies (model, name, overcome obstacles, and probe) for digital and online texts are bolded throughout. Tasks readers might encounter in digital environments include:

  • Finding and reading appropriate material
  • Determining the best approach for reading digital materials
  • Synthesizing multiple sources
  • Integrating multimodal resources

Finding and Reading Appropriate Material

Confronted by search results from Google or other providers, readers must make a number of decisions. As important, they must do so quickly if they are to succeed in reading anything meaningful in a reasonable time frame.  Identifying appropriate online material is not as easy as it sounds; it involves much more than simply choosing some search terms.  Effective readers of online content try search terms, survey the results, refine search terms as necessary, skim some pages, and read other pages in depth.  Equally important: This process continues as readers encounter ideas and links to other sources; in short, the process does not proceed step-by-step.

Effective practice: Teachers assist readers to set a purpose for reading online sources, evaluate the sources they find, and challenge themselves to read increasingly complex materials online. They model these behaviors, often using a data projector or interactive whiteboard.

Example: Stephanie, a fourth-grade student, looked for information about “California missions,” but most of what she found using just those two words in her search was very broad, and repeated the same information.  She had visited the mission at San Luis Rey, and she knew it was not far from the famous San Juan Capistrano mission. Many of the sites in her search results included information about nearby hotels and restaurants which she knew would not help her learn more about the network of missions along the California coastline.  She knew she needed a web source that went into more detail than what she was finding, and she was sure the information was online somewhere. But, where was it?

CapistranoMrs. Wilkinson, the fourth-grade teacher, had seen students struggle with finding just the right search terms. She had learned that students often got stuck and couldn’t get out  of the mire of many search results but little useful information.  On her class webpage, she had linked some fourth-grade friendly resources.  When she saw Stephanie’s face scrunch up after another click to another website that wasn’t helpful, she walked over and watched for a minute.

“It looks like you have found several sites about the missions, and a couple of them about San Luis Rey that we visited last week on our field trip. But, you seem puzzled, too. What’s going on?”

Stephanie took her finger off the touchscreen, relieved somewhat for a chance to tell Mrs. Wilkinson about her search, “I found a ton of sites, but most don’t tell me anything new. I’m not sure what to do to find out more.”

“Ah, it’s no fun to search and search and come up with so little. That happens to me, too. I remember when we were at the mission, you wondered why San Luis Rey was built so close to the ones in San Diego and Capistrano. Is that what you’re trying to find out?” Mrs. Wilkinson probed.

“Uh huh. I thought it wouldn’t take long to find out. What do I do?”

Do you remember the class webpage we created with ideas to use when we get stuck? Why don’t you open a new browser window, so you don’t lose your place, and take a look at that link? It might have a model you can use.

Young readers of paper-based texts are frequently taught for finding texts that are not too hard to read, called the five finger rule, [learn more about the five-finger rule]. The five-finger rule is used to roughly determine how difficult a text will be; however, online, the five finger rule may not be very effective because page lengths are indeterminate, the amount of text on a page may be lengthy or very brief, and multimodal sources may also constitute portions of the information the reader is asked to process.  Instead, young readers can be taught to challenge themselves by asking themselves a few simple questions when they arrive at a website or other digital text:

  1. How well does it seem this information match my purpose for reading?
  2. How much do I already know about what I am seeing on the page?
  3. Do most of the words look familiar? If not, are there links to definitions or examples that can help me?
  4. Are there tools, such as Twurdy [learn more about Twurdy on this blog here and here], that can assist me in knowing how difficult this page will be to read?
  5. When I read this page, do I feel like I am challenged to learn new information as I read, or do I just feel overwhelmed?

Determining the Best Approach for Reading Digital Materials

Reading for specific purposes that promote content learning as well as increasing proficiency with text means that readers in digital environments must attend to features that differ from traditional paper-based texts. Readers must understand the fundamental differences of reading electronic texts from those in the paper-based environment, and they must be able to regulate comprehension processes in ways that recognize these differences.

Some differences are evident in the layouts designed to work well on a computer monitor or screen versus those that are designed for paper-based environments. A quick experiment will highlight the differences between what our eyes do as we read, what we must do with our hands and fingers, and what are brains are doing when we read complex texts.  Compare this blog post designed with the computer screen in mind with this PDF file that was originally designed mainly for paper (click the link for an example of such a text). As you read, what do you have to do when you read the bottom of page 23 with your eyes, your hands and fingers, and your thinking processes? What if you want to review something from earlier in the article? How do you locate it? Does that process interrupt the flow of your thoughts?

Reading many online materials means that young readers will bring to bear their knowledge of the topic, but it also means they must adapt to online text structures. Online text often differs markedly from paper-based text.  There may be fewer meaning cues to guide inferences because the author believes that the reader will click those links that are relevant to the reader.  The reading may proceed in a non-linear way that is quite unlike reading a book or article in a paper-based magazine.  It is up to the reader in exponentially different ways to construct meaning because the texts are interlinked. Readers literally go to additional sources rather than taking the author at face value, and the quality of inferences drawn may be much more complex. For readers, the potential of consulting a great variety of sources may result in richer thinking. The reader might, for example, consult the links provided by the author, or the reader may search for more information by initiating an original search.

Self-regulation of reading is foregrounded in most online reading environments.  In most reading situations, readers must ask themselves questions as they read and apply fix-up strategies when they realize that the words they read are not matching closely with the background knowledge they bring to the reading task (Hacker, 2004).

Moreover, online readers may be apt to distractions caused by advertisements, instant messaging, a great many sources in a search result and so on.  Teachers can assist students to avoid information overload by attending to the purpose for reading established early on and knowing when to switch from one reading approach to another.

The f-shaped pattern described earlier on this blog can be an efficient approach to locating appropriate sources online; however, as online readers find internet sources that are most helpful to them (focusing on the purpose for reading!), they should be taught to switch from scanning material to reading closely.

Close reading is a term readers will hear more often as the Common Core State Standards (2010) are implemented in most of the United States in the coming months and years.  A useful definition of what close reading is can help here:

Close reading: Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support, analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined (Wolsey, Grisham, & Hiebert, 2012, p. 2).

Effective practice: Readers of online materials may apply the same scanning approach to most, if not all, of the web sources they encounter, but sometimes they must slow down and read more carefully.  Teachers can help readers overcome obstacles when they encounter web sources that seem to require close reading. Web sources demand that readers determine when to scan search results and the webpages they find and slow down, applying more thorough approaches as they narrow their search to the information needed to meet reading purposes.

Example: Joe worked on his California missions project, and he was really excited to find out that the hero Zorro, had visited the mission at San Juan Capistrano.  When Mrs.  Wilkinson noticed his finding, she probed for more information. “That’s an interesting bit of information, Joe. Where did you learn this?”

Joe quickly pulled up the webpage, and pointed out that there was a neat picture of Zorro on the Capistrano mission’s website, and the  opening line talked about Zorro at the mission.  Mrs. Wilkinson knew right away that Joe needed help overcoming an obstacle—he had read too fast and not enough.  She probed some more, “Very interesting site, Joe. Zorro is one of my favorite characters, too. What else do you think you might learn if you read some more on this page?” (Note to Literacy Beat readers: There was an exhibit at the Capistrano mission about Zorro, a fictional character, and that is the webpage Joe had mistaken as fact about Zorro visiting the historic mission).

Synthesizing Multiple Sources

Our research, built on the theoretical work of Rand Spiro and his colleagues (e.g., 1992, 1996, 2004), leads us to believe that learners who must reconcile a variety of sources and support their own conclusions with evidence are more likely to think deeply and engage thoroughly with content at every level. Reading online, when properly scaffolded, can lead student readers to develop thinking by carefully evaluating the content they find online, choosing the sources most appropriate to their purposes for reading, and challenging themselves to approach complex material.

Effective practice: Teachers can assist students to approach many sources, evaluate those sources, note differences between them, and reconcile those differences by noting them and deriving their own conclusions. Probing students’ choices of sources and the manner in which they approach the reading task provides the teacher with the opportunity simultaneously name the process (skimming, close reading, and so) and model alternative practices based on the prior knowledge the teacher brings to the interchange as well as the prior knowledge the student has about the topic and the processes necessary for successful online reading.

Example: When Mrs. Wilkinson’s fourth-grade students began to explore the legacy of the California missions, they often encountered information that was new to them. For every new idea they included in their final multimedia projects, she asked students to do two things: 1. Determine the reliability of the source, and 2. Find at least two sources of information (three is better) that supported the new information.  She found that as students read to verify what they included in their projects, they also drew connections between the sources, noticed new ideas and information to explore, and found disparities between the sources for which they had to account.  As a result, they had a richer understanding of the role of the missions in California and that not all views of the mission were positive.

Integrating Multimodal Resources

Though textbooks and other sources have long included photographs, graphs, and artwork, online reading more thoroughly integrates media into the online reading experience.  Graphics are easier for authors to create in the 21st century and include as are video and audio elements.  Icons require readers of online content to understand the icon and the process clicking it may initiate. Often, icons provide support, such as pronouncing a word or reading a passage aloud, that a paper-based text cannot.  Increasingly, multimodal sources invite the reader to interact with concepts about which they have been reading (learn more on this blog about multimodal learning).

Effective practice: Students are often innately aware that multimodal elements found in online reading are worthy of their attention or may be a distraction depending on the purpose for reading the online text, the arrangement of elements on the page, and the relevance of those multimedia elements to the text (and the other way around).  However, novice readers may be distracted by these or lack a process for reading text and viewing multimodal elements.

Example: Often, as Mrs. Wilkinson’s fourth graders worked with online sources, they found video clips, photographs, and primary source documents from the era linked or embedded within the text.  She taught them to decide what elements seemed to be more useful by watching short bits of video to determine whether to watch the entire piece.  Students learned to quickly scroll through a webpage noting the types of information in addition to the words, and whether any of those were ads and other visual information that might not be relevant at all.

Reading Online Text

What difficulties and successes have you and your students encountered when reading digital texts? What made the reading a friendly experience? How have you and your students challenged yourselves to read increasingly complex texts, perhaps a little beyond your comfort zones?

References

Common Core State Standards. (2010). Common core state standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Coiro, J., & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(2), 214-257.

Hacker, D. (2004) .Self-regulated comprehension during normal reading. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 755-779). Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Spiro, R. (2004). Principled pluralism for adaptive flexibility in teaching and learning to read. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 654-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. J., & Coulson, R. L. (1996). Two epistemic world-views: Prefigurative schemas and learning in complex domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, 51-61.

Spiro, R.J., Feltovich, P.J., Jacobson, M.J., & Coulson, R.L. (1992). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In T. Duffy & D. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the technology of instruction (pp. 5-75). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). Module 1: Participant edition – What is text complexity? TextProject Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/teachers/teacher-development-series/

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Reading Complex Texts In Digital Environments: Four Teaching Practices

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Go to the parking lot of almost any school and ask ten adults (parents, school staff, faculty, etc.) if technology is helping students to be better readers in general or if it is detrimental to student reading.  While you will have ten very different answers, it is very likely that most of those adults will tell you that digital technology hinders students’ reading capacities.  This need not be the case, however.

Fortunately, teachers hold the answer to improving how their students interact with digital texts. Many have anticipated that asking students to read complex texts also mean asking them to navigate digital environments more often. In this post, we explore effective practices to help students navigate complex digital environments and the texts found there.

As schools move toward increasing the amount and the complexity of texts students read, digital environments will become increasingly important in meeting the goals to prepare students for college and work (CCSS, 2010). Reading online differs in many ways depending on the text itself and the electronic format (e.g., Kindle or Nook, PDF or HTML webpage, etc.). Here are four effective practices for teachers to encourage engagement with complex digital texts. In a future post,  I will explore those four practices in context of four reading tasks students might confront when reading digital texts.

MNOP

Model, Name, Overcome obstacles, Probe

Teachers can do a great many things to help students find, engage, and comprehend complex materials in digital environments.  Four critical teacher practices include modeling, naming, overcoming obstacles, and probing.

M (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Modeling may be the most time-honored tradition of the effective teacher, with good reason, we add.  When students see their teachers or peers employ effective reading habits, they tend to mimic those habits. Moreover, as they do so, they expand their repertoires of skills that serve them when they encounter new or challenging texts.

N (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Naming recognizes that students have skills on which they draw. However, students don’t always know why a skill or strategy might work effectively or under what conditions. When a teacher names the strategy, the student learns that it is an effective approach recognized by others and that it can be replicated.  For example, Howard is a sixth grader who skimmed several search results finding one near the bottom of the page that met his purpose for searching and reading.  His teacher noticed what he had done and specifically named the strategy as “skimming for the best website.”

O (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Overcoming obstacles suggests that novice readers of digital content often arrive in class with preconceived notions of what reading online is all about.  Sometimes those ideas are accurate, but at other times, these ideas present obstacles to comprehension of digital content.  For example, readers of webpages typically use a skimming strategy that resembles the shape of an ‘F.’ They read the top line, skim the left margin, and occasionally read a portion of a line partially down the page.  The strategy is effective when readers try to determine if a site is worthwhile for their purposes; however, it may hinder reading of complex content if the same skimming strategy is employed.

Read more about the F-shaped pattern on this blog: https://literacybeat.com/2012/08/28/text-complexity-digital-reading/

P (source http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html)Probing involves teachers watching their students read online and probing for insights into their thinking processes as they read. For example, Sheila’s tenth-grade social studies teacher noticed that she selected a link with challenging vocabulary about a Civil War battle site instead of an easier site intended for younger readers.  He asked her why she chose the site, and she explained that the easier site presented information she already knew; she wanted to challenge herself.

Next month, we explore how these four teacher practices can be applied as students work with complex digital texts.

  1. Find and read materials that meet academic and other purposes
  2. Determine the best approach for reading digital material
  3. Synthesize multiple sources to create a deeper understanding
  4. Integrate multimodal resources into their reading experiences

Reference

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Images source

abaverman. (2012). Letters M, N, O, and P. Retrieved from http://www.clker.com [creative commons CC0 public domain dedication]

Text Complexity in the Digital Age: An F for Online Reading?

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

If you are reading this, chances are good that you are a teacher or education professional. As a result, the subtitle probably caught your attention right away; but this blog post is not about the ill effects of digital reading. Instead, we are going to explore what reading online might mean at a time when we will all be searching for ways to increase the amount and quality of text students read and the complexity of those texts. Shortly, you will see why an F in digital reading can be a useful tool.

Why Do Digital Texts Get an F?

To understand how text complexity can be promoted in the online environment, it helps to know and understand how readers approach reading many webpages. As you probably know, readers’ eyes move across text sweeping from left to right (a saccade) and stopping on some words to take in the content and perhaps focus on more challenging terms or phrases (fixations). However, when readers go online to a search engine, their reading tends to skip wide swaths of text as they search for the content they need. Eye movements can be tracked, and during perusal of a search result, the places where the reader’s gaze tends to be most concentrated resembles an ‘F’ shape. It would not be productive to read every word of a search result. Rather, the reader takes in key terms most often on the left side of the screen and sweeps across in some places forming the arms of the ‘F.’ Would you like to see what eye movement tracking of a search result might look like? Check this out:

An image from Clickrmedia: Eye Movements on a Search Page

More important, once readers do select a web source to read, they tend to follow the same pattern during initial reading of the webpage. Because reading on the screen is somewhat different than reading on paper, web designers actually take advantage of this F-shaped pattern and write text using headings and key words that fall within the F-zone in an effort to gain the reader’s attention. This results in important concepts from the site being conveyed to the F-zone reader, and perhaps entices the reader to go beyond the F-zone and read more closely. This is a good thing for the same reasons we cannot and should not read every word on a search page. The challenge for teachers and the readers in their classes is deciding when to use this strategy and when to go beyond this approach and read a bit more thoroughly and perhaps slowly. In this photo, you can see what the F-shape looks like when eye movements are tracked. The redder the color, the more time the reader spends looking at the content on that part of the page.

An image from the Nielsen Norman Group: Eye Movements on Three Webpages (Notice the general shape of the ‘F’)

F-shaped Pattern

See eyetracking in action (real-time): http://www.vimeo.com/40021154 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

…and eyetracking in action (slowed-motion version):  http://vimeo.com/40021215 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

Is F-Shaped Reading a Problem?

Some voices in education believe this F-shape reading pattern is part of a larger problem that demonstrates how online reading in some way detracts from a reader’s ability to comprehend complex and longer texts. While we certainly need more research in the area of digital reading and how it affects young readers (and older ones, too), we can use what we know about the F-shaped pattern to our advantage in the classroom. Slow and careful reading need not be impossible in digital environments.

Effective reading online involves complex skills that can build what Newkirk (2012) calls a growth mind-set. This mind-set “…is the capacity to view difficulty as an opportunity to stop, reassess and employ strategies for making sense of problems” (p. 122). When readers encounter uncertainty, they may quickly navigate away from the webpage causing doubt; however, teachers can assist readers to make clear and conscious choices to seek out uncertainty, confront doubt, and consult many sources. Moreover, maintaining a healthy skepticism that promotes further inquiry even as some uncertainty is reduced, new doubts will surface. A  reason the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010) includes qualitative elements represents recognition that young readers and their teachers have a role in deciding how they may challenge themselves to greater growth as proficient readers.

A really neat thing about the human brain is that it is very capable of changing its own behavior. Metacognition theories tell us that thinkers (in this case, thinking through reading) can be aware of their learning behaviors and consciously choose to adapt them to suit varying purposes and contexts. Because the Internet is full of worthwhile and complex texts, the online environment presents a challenge for young readers. Fortunately, the challenge is one educators are well-equipped to take on. Reading online has many facets, and four of them appear in the list below. In this post, we have zoomed in on reading habits in online environments. Others will be explored in subsequent posts.

  1. Finding the most appropriate reading material
  2. Determining the best approach for reading that material
    1. Monitoring reading habits
    2. Reading text in a non-linear manner (cf. Reinking, 1997)
  3. Synthesizing multiple sources
  4. Integrating multimodal resources

A Challenge to Readers of Literacy Beat

As you read the remainder of this post, here are some reader challenges for you. Did you use the F-shaped pattern in selecting this blog post from a search engine? Did you use the F-shaped pattern as you read the post at first (remember, this is a good thing)? Did you read “below the fold” or the point at which you had to scroll to get at more content? At what point did you decide to abandon the F-shaped pattern and choose a different approach (you did, didn’t you?). Why did you change your approach? Finally, if you are a teacher, how have you helped your young readers to understand and effectively read online sources?

Tools and thinking habits for evaluating the reliability of online sources are well-known (e.g., Schrock, 2002). Therefore, we won’t spend more time with these tools here. A good point to add, though, is that online readers often do not apply principles successfully for evaluating sources even if they know they should do so (e.g., Leu, Zawalinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2007). Effective instruction in choosing reading material online that suits the purpose for the search and challenges the reader to think deeply about the topic of the search is critically important. To that, I should emphasize that students need to be taught how to select online reading that is appropriately challenging to them rather than defaulting to the easiest material available.

While the F-shaped pattern seems to be the default reading pattern for reading on the web, there are appropriate times when readers should slow down and read closely. In Module 1 on the TextProject site, we defined close reading in rather concise terms:

“Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined” (Wolsey, Grisham, & Heibert, 2012, p. 2).

The F-shaped pattern and close reading of complex texts need not be exclusive of each other. There are times when scanning content is appropriate and other times when slowing down and reading closely is the better choice—even for web content.

Please use the comment feature of this blog to explore this topic with us.

  • How do you help your students choose increasingly complex texts that challenge them as readers to work with uncertainty?
  • In what ways do you help students monitor their reading behaviors such that they move from the F-shaped pattern of most web reading tasks to the slower close reading tasks associated with complex text?

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards; Glossary of key terms. In Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Benerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y. & O’Neil, M. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? Retrieved from http://www.newliteracies.uconn.edu/pub_files/What_is_new_about_new_literacies_of_online_reading.pdf

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-154.

Newkirk, T. (2012). The art of slow reading. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

Reinking, D. (1997). Me and my hypertext:) A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy (sic). Retrieved from ReadingOnline: http://readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/hypertext/index.html

Schrock, K. (2002). On a good website you can tell… Retrieved from http://kathyschrock.net/abceval/primary/index.htm

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). What is text complexity? Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/tds

What is Text Complexity: TextProject Resources

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham

Have you heard the term “text complexity” and wondered what it means for you and your students? Dana and I, along with Freddy Hiebert, have developed a series of teacher development modules that we want to share with you. These can be incorporated into professional development activities or course syllabi for graduate degrees and teacher education programs. The modules may also be used by individuals who just want to explore what text complexity will mean in their classrooms. Right now, a preview version of the first module is available online on the Teacher Development Series page of TextProject.  The full series of five modules will be available on August 16, 2012.  In the meantime, we hope you find this preview useful and informative.

Text Complexity

from the Common Core State Standards Initiative

More on text complexity on this blog: Follow the link.

Webquest for CCSS

By Dana L. Grisham

Last year in this blog, I wrote about about TextProject (http://textproject.org) , a not-for-profit organization that supports struggling readers with appropriate texts see the earlier blog on TextProject at https://literacybeat.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/exploring-the-textproject-website-and-text-complexity/.  The site changes constantly, as new materials are added. Below is a screenshot of the current homepage.

The project is headed by Elfrieda Hiebert (Freddy to all) and recently, I have been working with Freddy to provide modules on text complexity to teachers and teacher educators for professional development.  The good news is that the modules (5 of them) will be posted to the TextProject website this summer; the better news is that everything will be FREE to interested parties. You will be able to download the modules and all materials that go with them at no cost. We recently made a research poster presentation on the modules at IRA. The poster shows you the content and instructional sequence of the modules and provides an overview of the final (5th module). Our poster is displayed below.

Speaking for myself, after three decades of teaching reading, I thought I understood text complexity. I found out that I had a somewhat superficial understanding when I began working with Freddy. So this blog post concerns several important understandings that relate to text complexity and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

One of the instructional tools that we decided NOT to use is a WebQuest, but for teachers and teacher educators, I think the WebQuest works well to acquaint educators with the CCSS and with some elements of text complexity. I decided to share the WebQuest with you here and you are invited to use it in whatever way you think appropriate. I have field-tested it with several groups of teacher candidates and most of them expressed appreciation for the “just in time” learning.

Critical evaluation of information is an important skill in a print-based or electronic environment. A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web (Internet). The WebQuest model was developed by Dr. Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995. (You can find out more about WebQuests by visiting the official website at http://webquest.org/index.php). http://webquest.org/index.phpThere are now a number of websites where WebQuests on various subjects may be downloaded and used.

For the Webquest on CCSS, if you are a teacher educator, I recommend dividing it into three parts for use during class sessions or completing it over several sessions of the class. If teacher educators have access to computer labs on campus, the students may work there during class (supervised by the instructor) and may work in pairs or small groups to complete the assignment. It may also be used in this way for professional development for practicing teachers.  Teachers who may be interested may adapt, skip parts that are not of interest to them, or focus on single questions they might want answered.

In order to understand the CCSS, you might also want to spend some time acquainting yourself and/or teacher candidates with the CCSS. One resource is a PowerPoint (in pdf format) presentation that is available through California State University’s Center for the Advancement of Reading (CAR) and available as a free downloadable pdf at http://www.calstate.edu/car/publications/. There are many helpful publications on the website in addition to the CCSS PowerPoint.

In closing, we know that CCSS will generate new assessments for our students, that state standards and curriculum frameworks will change, and that our students will be expected to read more non-fiction more closely and learn to read and write in emphasized genres. How can we use our professional judgment and available technological tools to aid this process? And how can we incorporate these standards into our teaching in a caring and thoughtful way?

The Webquest:

To complete this task, you must carefully read and respond to the questions. Please remember that this task is designed to assist you to become familiar with the Common Core State Standards and your specific content area standards to assist you in your professional life.

Learning Outcomes

  1. What are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?
  2. How are the CCSS to be implemented?
  3. What is text complexity and why is it important?
  4. What is the difference between narrative and expository text? How does this affect our teaching of reading?

Websites for this Lesson

The following websites will be used in this WebQuest.

CCSS Website: http://www.corestandards.org/

Lexile Website: http://www.lexile.com/

TextProject Website: http://textproject.org/teachers/the-text-complexity-multi-index/

Activities: CCSS

  1. What is the stated mission (purpose) for the Common Core State Standards? What motivated the NGA and CSSO to generate these standards?
  2. How many states have adopted the CCSS? Has your state adopted the CCSS? If so, what is the URL (web address) for the CCSS in your state?
  3. What is the recommended percentage of literary and informational text at 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels and what do you think this means for you as a teacher of reading?
  4. How are the English/Language Arts standards for K-5 and for Grades 6-12 organized differently? Why do you think this is?
  5. How do the CCSS standards define text complexity?
  6. Choose a grade level for K-5 (pages 11/12) and read the components; compare to the next or previous grade level components. In the Text Complexity section, what do you think is meant by the “text complexity band?”
  7. Look at page 31, Standard 10. What are the three factors for “measuring” text complexity?
  8. What constitutes “informational text?”
  9. Go to Reading Standards for Informational text, page 39/40. Choose one grade and read the components; compare to the next or previous grade level components.  What are the differences in text complexity in the two grades?
  10. Choose a grade level for literacy in History/Social Science (p. 61) paying attention to how Language Arts is integrated in Social Science. What does this mean to you as a teacher?  Why would this be important to a K-5 teacher?
  11. For the E/LA standards, there are three Appendices (these are NOT in the document you downloaded). Go back to the website and locate these appendices.  Download Appendix A. What is the subject of this appendix?
  12. What was the message of the ACT, 2010 report called Reading Between the Lines?  What is meant by “complex text” and what definition is given of this term in the literature review?
  13. What does Appendix A have to say about scaffolding reading instruction?
  14. What is the three-part model for text complexity (p.4)? Which one is measurable by computer?  What measure is used?
  15. Read the Key Considerations in Implementing Text Complexity (p. 8). What do we know about the tools for measuring text complexity?
  16. Looking at Figure 3, (p. 8), what can we say about Lexile Range changes?
  17. Why do the authors recommend that teachers decrease scaffolding and increase independence?
  18. Download Appendix B and read about the process of text selection for exemplars. Talk about your own definition of complexity, quality, and range. Why are these exemplars important? The authors of the CCSS make some caveats about the exemplars. What are they?
  19. Read the FAQs about the CCSS (on the website). What questions still remain for you?

Activities: Lexile

  1. Go to the Lexile website. Under “What is a Lexile?” read the text and considering scaffolding and independence, respond to the following statement:

“When a Lexile text measure matches a Lexile reader measure, this is called a “targeted” reading experience. The reader will likely encounter some level of difficulty with the text, but not enough to get frustrated. This is the best way to grow as a reader—with text that’s not too hard but not too easy.”

  1. View the video at http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-video/. Should teachers allow students to read above or below their Lexile level? Why or why not?
  2. What should you say when someone tells you:  “Research says…”
  3. Books that have prefixes (IG, NC, etc.) before the Lexile level (called Lexile Codes) have meanings for teachers, librarians, and children. Focus on one of these Lexile Codes and tell why this is important.
  4. What is the relationship of MetaMetrics and the CCSS?
  5.  What questions still remain for you?In closing, we know that CCSS will generate new assessments for our students, that state standards and curriculum frameworks will change, and that our students will be expected to read more non-fiction more closely and learn to read and write in new genres. How can we use technological tools to aid this process? And how can we incorporate these standards into our teaching in a caring and thoughtful way?

Exploring the TextProject Website and Text Complexity

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_words

“The learning from complex texts in content areas and literature needs to be the centerpiece of schooling in the 21st century” (Hiebert, in press).

For the past twenty years, I have been working at the university level with preservice teacher candidates and practicing teachers in master’s and doctoral level courses. My field—and my passion—is literacy learning and there is nothing more exciting to me than the thrill experienced by teachers learning something new professionally that they may use to teach their K-12 students to enhance literacy learning. Part of that joy is the discovery of new resources to share with my students and my colleagues.

For each of us there is an amazing “aha!” in learning that just because something is published doesn’t mean it is “the truth.” Many experience it earlier than I did—in grad school! It is sometimes most confusing to locate websites with reliable and accurate information and resources for teachers. How does one know that what is out there on the Web is truthful? Eagleton and Dobler (2006) provided us with the QUEST model to use with K-12 students to teach them how to critically evaluate websites. But what about the rest of us? How do we know when we find a truly useful and genuinely valuable website?

Recently, I have become involved with Freddy Hiebert and Charles Fisher’s TextProject (www.textproject.org). This is a website I have spent a great deal of time exploring and one I am willing to recommend to my colleagues. The TextProject focus is on increasing literacy levels of beginning and struggling readers through access to the “best possible texts.” TextProject is a non-profit organization that provides three types of resources for educators: TExT Products, Teacher Support, and Research. There is so much on this website that I’m breaking it down into three components, which are listed below. You can spend quite a bit of time exploring each of these. For me, as a literacy teacher educator and researcher, I loved the research library. I have recommended this website to my teacher candidates and master’s level students, particularly the TextProject topics. I believe they get a new viewpoint on reading fluency!

             TExT  Products

TextProject creates reading programs and products based on the TExT model of text complexity. (Click the link and read about the linguistic and cognitive demands of texts for beginning readers.)

1.  SummerReads, This is TextProject’s free summer reading program that helps at-risk readers avoid the summer slump.

2. Talking Points for Kids This is a free program designed to increase meaningful discussion among students.

3. BeginningReads This program is designed to connect children’s knowledge of oral language with written language.

4. QuickReads and ZipZoom are two commerical reading programs based on the TExT model. (In other words, you have to pay for these!) ZipZoom, in particular, is a research based reading program for English Learners created by Hiebert and Fisher.

Teacher Support

TextProject helps teachers improve students’ reading achievement with materials and lessons.

1. E4: Exceptional Expressions for Everyday Events This is a set of 32 free vocabulary lessons that builds on words that students hear every day in their classrooms.

2. QuickReads: Word Pictures Here is a set of free lessons that develop critical words in content areas, especially helpful to English Learners.

3. Benchmark Texts is a free list of tradebooks that support grades 2-3 students’ capacity for complex text to meet CCSS.

4. WordZones for 5,586 Most Frequent Words is a free word list focused on vocabulary needed to be successful in reading.

 

Research

TextProject publishes reviews and reports of research on pressing issues in current reading education.

1. Reading Research Reports Here you will find summaries of original studies. The latest report looks at the measurement of text complexity under the guidelines of the CCSS.

2. TextProject Library offers a decade’s worth of articles, presentation slides, and more from TextProject founder Elfrieda H. Hiebert and colleagues.

3. TextProject Topics are clusters of resources on topics such as:

• Common Core State Standards

• Texts for Early Reading

• Vocabulary: Morphology

• Vocabulary: Informational and Narrative Texts

• Reading More / Silent Reading

• Fluency and Automaticity

In the time I’ve spend exploring the site, I’ve also come to value the TextProject as a key to learning about the Common Core State Standards mentioned above and the role that text complexity plays in both reading fluency and reading comprehension. On the site, you can download Karen Wixon’s article on “what” the CCSS are and you can also download Freddy Hiebert’s editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/are-21st-century-5-year-olds-cognitively-ready-to-read/2011/08/11/gIQAV3Vm9I_blog.html) on problems that may be associated with their implementation, particularly at the early grades.

Another aspect of TextProject that fascinates me is the model of text complexity that Hiebert and Fisher explore. TExT stands for “Text Elements by Task.”

For linguistic content, the TExT model calculates the percentage of words in a text that conform to a specific curriculum, which is expressed as a combination of phonetically-regular words and high-frequency words.

Hiebert and Fisher (2003) also state that another type of words is essential linguistic knowledge for children’s word recognition—words that are easy to image and remember because of children’s knowledge of, and interest in, the underlying concept,

For cognitive load, the TExT model examines the introduction of new words in a text, as well as the repetition of new words. New words are those that fall outside of the specified curriculum. The TExT model scores a text to be more difficult if it contains a large percentage of new words, but repetition of those words reduces the overall difficulty. Informational texts in science and social studies are used to develop concepts. Multisyllabic words are repeated to assist struggling readers.

There are approximately 9,000 words (4,000 root words and their simple endings) that account for about 90% of the total words in most texts. If young readers become fluent with this core vocabulary, they can better climb the “staircase” of text complexity set forth by the CCSS.

TextProject also provides YouTube videos. For example, Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert describes the QuickReads Text Model (http://quickreads.org/video/in-depth-overview) in a 13-minute film. Access the film and see how TExT measure text difficulty through linguistic content and cognitive load.

A shorter (4 minute) version can be seen at http://quickreads.org/advantage/quickreads-text-model.

To understand the QuickReads program, another 7-minute video (http://quickreads.org/video/text-fluency-and-quickreads) explains the process of constructing the text for QuickReads and cites initial research findings for its efficacy.

Now, if you are wondering about the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words” that I placed at the beginning of the blog, I will refer you to the “high meaning, concreteness and imagery value” of words we teach our youngest readers. Words that are highly “imagable” and concrete are always the most meaningful to young students, therefore teachers need to focus on teaching vocabulary and word recognition of such words.  Download the pdf of From Seeds to Plants on the Text Project Website.

Finally, here is an excerpt from SummerReads for third grade students. Think about text complexity and the linguistic and cognitive demands of text as you read this.

Introduction

Bats and Balls

There are many games that use bats and balls. In the United States, playing ball usually means playing baseball. That’s because baseball was first played in the United States. Two other games, T-ball and softball, are very much like baseball. All three games are usually played in summer or early fall. That’s because they all need a big, flat, and open space for hitting balls and running around bases. This is hard to do in the snow!

Baseball is a team game, so you need to have two teams to play a proper game. You may not have enough people to make two teams. But, if you have a friend, a bat, and a ball, you can learn to pitch, hit, and catch the ball even in your yard or a small park.

In closing this blog, I’m hoping that teachers begin to see the complexity in text complexity, because rumbling down upon us from on high is a juggernaut of assessment being developed to measure children’s mastery of the CCSS. There are currently two assessments being developed in two different parts of the country, but they will be in place by 2014 or 2015. We need to get a handle on what this means for all of us.

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