Dimensions of Text Complexity

The selection of appropriately complex text is critical during the planning phase of instruction. While quantitative analysis of text provides a solid starting point for text selection, it should by no means be the sole criteria. The use of qualitative analysis, as well as reader and task considerations, are equally important in the selection of text and the utilization of it within instructional structures. Professional judgment on the part of the teacher plays a key role in these two aspects and is explained in detail in the following sections.

Qualitative Analysis (professional judgment)
Levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands

Quantitative Analysis (simple computer computation)
Lexile readability scores of text complexity related to word length or frequency, sentence length, text length, familiarity, and text cohesion

Reader and Task Considerations (professional judgment)
Reader’s cognitive abilities, background knowledge, motivation, interests, experiences, purpose and complexity generated by the assigned task

Qualitative Analysis

Use professional judgment in determining the level of complexity present in the text with regards to knowledge demands, meaning/purpose, text structure, language features, and visual supports.

 

Knowledge Demands

Meaning/Purpose

Text Structure

Language Features

Visual Supports

Subject matter common or familiar to most readers with no references or allusions to other texts or ideas

One level of meaning or purpose with an obvious theme or point revealed early in the text, in clear, concrete, narrowly focused, and explicitly stated language

Organization of main ideas, events, or plotlines is explicit, clear, chronological or easy to predict, rendering text features non-essential to understanding content

The language is explicit and literal; vocabulary is familiar, contemporary, and conversational; the text employs primarily simple sentences

In literary text there are extensive graphics that support the text, whereas in informational text there are minimal graphics that are unnecessary for understanding

Subject matter common or familiar to many readers who possess some discipline-specific content knowledge and text includes few references or allusions to other texts or ideas

Multiple levels of meaning or purpose distinguished from each other with a concrete theme or point implied in language with some subtlety but easy to identify based upon context or source

Organization of main ideas, events, and plotlines are for the most part evident, generally sequential, yet contain implicit or subtle elements that render text features helpful in understanding content

The language is fairly explicit and literal with some more complex meaning; vocabulary is mostly familiar, contemporary, and conversational; the text employs primarily simple and compound sentences

In literary text there are several graphics that support the text, whereas in informational text there are some graphics that supplement understanding

Subject matter is uncommon or unfamiliar to many readers, relying on discipline-specific content knowledge that includes some references or allusions to other texts or ideas

Multiple levels of meaning or purpose that are difficult to identify or separate with an implicit, subtle, and complex theme or point revealed over the entirety of the text in language that is implied and more abstract than concrete

Organization of an expanded range of ideas, events, and plotlines is often implicit or subtle, and may include narrative complexities or discipline-specific material that renders text features useful to understanding content

The language is fairly complex, containing abstract and”/”or figurative language; vocabulary frequently includes archaic, unfamiliar, and discipline-specific words; the text employs many complex sentences with several subordinate phrases or clauses

In literary text there are some graphics that support the text, whereas in informational text there are several useful graphics that directly support understanding

Subject matter is uncommon or unfamiliar to most readers, relying on specialized, theoretical, or discipline-specific content knowledge that includes many references or allusions to other texts or ideas

Multiple competing levels of meaning or purpose that are difficult to separate and interpret with an ambiguous, sophisticated, complex theme or point revealed over the entirety of the text in language that is subtle, intricate, and abstract

Organization of an extensive range of ideas, events, and plotlines is intricate and ambiguous, and include narrative complexities or discipline-specific material that renders text features essential to understanding content

The language is complex, containing abstract and / or figurative language; vocabulary regularly includes archaic, unfamiliar, or discipline-specific words; the text employs mainly complex sentences with several subordinate phrases or clauses

In literary text there are minimal graphics that support the text, whereas in informational text there are many essential graphics that critically support understanding

Reader and Task

Note any “outside factors” that teachers should consider with regard to this particular text. Is it a good “match” to the student based on content, ability, interest, and understanding? Are the tasks associated with the text aligned with the purpose behind reading it? What skills should be particularly reinforced when reading this text to help readers when encountering similar texts in the future?

Outside Factors to Consider

Self Reflection for Planning Instruction

Content Complexity

What challenges are posed to readers when the content or theme is considered? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students approach the content or theme respectfully and in a mature manner?

Cognitive Capabilities

What challenges are posed to readers who lack the ability to focus their attention? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students make the necessary connections among the various details?

Reading Skills

What challenges are posed to readers who lack visualization or inferential skills? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students ask the right questions to improve comprehension?

Motivation & Engagement

What challenges are posed to readers who lack motivation as readers? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students become interested in the content?

Prior Knowledge

What challenges are posed to readers with regards to assumed background knowledge? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students address them without front-loading the reading experience?

Tasks & Assessment

What challenges are posed to readers when the tasks planned for assessment are considered? How can teachers anticipate these challenges and help students complete the tasks successfully?