National Writing Project

Teaching Complex Texts: A Guide

Publication: Council Chronicle
Date: November 2013

Summary: In this piece for the National Council of Teachers of English, author Lorna Collier explores teaching strategies that help students master "text complexity" in the age of Common Core State Standards.


Many teachers have been using strategies to help students conquer tough works of literature for many years. Now, though, under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), this goal has been codified using the term 'text complexity,' and includes a larger focus on nonfiction, informational texts, and higher-level analysis.

Cynthia Shanahan, associate dean of academic affairs and professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, as well as executive director of the Council on Teacher Education, agrees that some teachers have been teaching text complexity all along, but believes this is a new approach for many, including teachers in content areas besides English language arts.

As part of a recent research project, Shanahan observed classrooms for a year; she reports that in many classes, whether science classes or even English, 'not much reading was going on. [Teachers] were telling the students what they were about to read before they read it, or they were truncating the reading to get to the questions, but they weren't having students read.'

Shanahan says she is 'cautiously optimistic' that, if properly implemented, CCSS reading standards that stress the mastery of increasingly complex texts will be 'a game- changer.'

So how should you approach teaching complex texts in your classroom, especially in light of the new Common Core focus? What strategies can you employ and what type of professional learning might be needed?"

"Teaching Complex Texts: A Guide" by Lorna Collier, Council Chronicle, Vol. 23, No. 2, November 2013. Copyright © 2013 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Posted and used with permission.

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