Why All Students Deserve Complex Texts
Think about the last time you had to do something challenging. Maybe you haven’t had a lot of practice changing a flat tire, but there you were with a flat in the middle of a country road. Or maybe because you are an experienced cook, you took on a long and involved recipe—something with multiple steps, like Beef Wellington or Croquembouche. If the challenge was far above your current skill level, did you stick with it? If so, what helped you rise to the challenge? If you abandoned the task, what led to the abandonment?
Reading is most challenging when texts are long or complicated or feature unfamiliar content. The texts we feature in our English language arts classrooms are often complicated and above the current skill level of many students. However, we know from research that meeting students where they are by providing easy-to-access texts will not prepare students for reading requirements beyond the classroom (Shanahan 2014).
Students need support to analyze, interpret, and derive knowledge from the complex texts they read. Wit & Wisdom® provides students with the necessary supports to do challenging work—and grow to be successful readers.
How Read Alouds Support Language Development Beyond Elementary Grades
Students benefit and derive substantial knowledge from having texts read aloud, especially in the earliest grades. However, the benefits of reading aloud to students persist for quite a while—typically until students are in middle school.
Learning to read print text is a key goal of the early grades. But even as students develop their foundational literacy skills, they also need to build and increase their vocabulary. Without a strong oral language vocabulary, students won’t derive much meaning from the words they can read. This is why reading complex texts aloud to students in the younger grades is such a critical part of Wit & Wisdom instruction. Typically, students will be asked to analyze illustrations, use text features, read small chunks of their core texts, and practice fluency with key passages, but the first read is almost always done aloud by the teacher. Through Grade 5, students still engage in regular read alouds, even though they do some of the heavy lifting of reading the core texts—often with a partner—much earlier.
How Close Reading and Text-Centered Instruction Help Students Build Knowledge
To deeply understand a text, proficient readers often return to a text to reread for different purposes. Rereading—even text as short as a sentence—helps proficient readers unpack the relationships between ideas, make sense of the selected words, and make connections that help them build knowledge. How can literacy educators guide students in building these skills?
It’s not enough for students to learn comprehension strategies. When we place the teaching of strategies at the center of English language arts instruction, students are rarely able to transfer those strategies between texts. Despite our best efforts, explicitly teaching students how to sequence events in one text may not transfer to new texts—especially as the way events are structured increase in complexity across texts and grade levels.
Instead, when we place texts at the center of instruction, students apply their content knowledge, vocabulary, and reading experiences to persist in unpacking the complexities of a text. Often, comprehension of challenging texts takes multiple rereads, a process known as close reading. According to Liben and Pimentel, close reading “is an invaluable tool for building up students’ reading ability overall. It also bolsters their sense of efficacy and standard of coherence, the expectation that texts should make sense” (2018, p.7). The intentional practice of rereading a text, summarizing the key points or events, asking text-dependent questions, and distilling the essential meaning aids students in making sense of texts that might at first be challenging or difficult to understand.
In Wit & Wisdom instruction, students engage in close reading through the Content Stages. The Content Stages don’t arrange for students to conduct a close examination of the entire text, however, only those sections of text most relevant to the knowledge students build throughout the module.
How Simplicity in Design Keeps Students Focused on Knowledge
The Student Edition (SE) features a clean layout with simplified tables and charts to help students focus on what matters most—the knowledge they are building from the texts they read. Whether students are collecting evidence for writing or summarizing a text, the SE aids students in thinking about texts analytically. Working through the tasks in each handout prepares students to construct meaningful responses of their own to each longer writing or speaking task.
Wit & Wisdom materials focus students’ attention on the texts at the center of the instruction. The supports built into the modules, arcs, and lessons help students read complex texts that once felt like mountains impossible to climb.
ACT. 2006. Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading. http://witeng.link/0895.
Liben, Meredith and Susan Pimentel. Placing Text at the Center of the Standards-Aligned ELA Classroom. 2018. Achieve the Core. 7 https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Text-at-the-Center-Report-V5.pdf.
Shanahan, Timothy. “Should We Teach Students at Their Reading Levels?” Reading Today, September/October 2014. https://shanahanonliteracy.com/upload/publications/98/pdf/Shanahan---Should-we-teach-at-reading-level.pdf.
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Topics: Wit & Wisdom