Topics: Featured Implementation Support

Reading Complex Texts in Wit & Wisdom

Maia Merin

by Maia Merin

December 2, 2020
Reading Complex Texts in Wit & Wisdom

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > Implementation Support > Reading Complex Texts in Wit & Wisdom


All Wit & Wisdom students engage in a transferable process—the Content Stages—to read grade-level texts so that all develop comprehension skills with complex texts, build shared knowledge, and experience the joy of reading.


“Let all kids read the good stuff.” (Susan Pimentel)

We know that ability to read complex texts is a strong indicator of success in college and the workplace (ACT, 2006) and an essential requirement for engaged citizenship. Yet too many students, often limited to reading leveled texts, continue through school without being challenged—or expected—to read the rich, complex, quality texts that will adequately prepare them for what comes next (TNTP, 2018). Many of the students who are denied access to these types of engaging, complex materials are from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds or ethnic or racial minorities. Letting all students “read the good stuff” is a matter of equity. Reading challenges are not specific to certain student populations; “struggling readers are found across all student demographics” (District Leadership Forum, 2019). To help all students build the reading and literacy skills they need to pursue their dreams and goals, whatever they may be, we must engage all students with grade-appropriate texts.

What do we mean by complex texts? At Great Minds®, we evaluate text complexity beyond Lexile level and measure complexity by these three elements:

WW December IS Blog
  1. qualitative factors, such as meaning and language,
  2. quantitative factors, such as word and sentence length, and
  3. reader considerations and task demands, including how motivated and knowledgeable readers are and what readers will do with the text.

Our teacher–writers selected Wit & Wisdom texts with careful consideration of the first two elements, qualitative and quantitative complexity. To ensure appropriate complexity as defined by the third element, Wit & Wisdom purposely builds all students’ knowledge through engaging module texts, collaborative academic discussions, and implicit and explicit vocabulary instruction. As a result, all students have the knowledge, engagement, and skill to comprehend and engage with complex texts.


What are the teaching and learning implications of the research on the importance of teaching students with appropriately complex texts? Teachers will want to take these actions:

  • Provide complex texts for all.
  • Embrace the Content Stages.
  • Support students when needed.
  • Include multilingual learners.
  • Focus on fluency.
  • Learn with colleagues.

Provide complex texts for all. Each Wit & Wisdom module includes carefully selected text sets of grade-appropriate, complex texts. These text sets include full-length, published texts that serve as exemplary models of craft for students and intentionally build knowledge of the module’s topic. The core texts and supplementary texts in each module include informational and literary texts and a full range of genres—including fine art. For students to progress to higher levels of comprehension, they must engage in the joyful challenge of reading grade-appropriate, complex texts. Wit & Wisdom students do not read leveled texts.

To offer choice in addition to the module texts and extend students’ knowledge building, use the Wit & Wisdom Volume of Reading suggestions (provided in print or digital as an appendix to the Teacher Edition) to help build a classroom library or book list with books related to the Wit & Wisdom module topics.

Particularly in year one or during times of disruption, teachers may be tempted to abbreviate, skip, or replace texts for pacing, text complexity concerns, or other reasons. An unintended consequence may be that students fail to learn the content they need to progress successfully in the module and to the next module. Support students in reading a text rather than omitting it. Or, for those teaching with Wit & Wisdom in Sync, follow the streamlined text list as recommended.

Embrace the Content Stages. Wit & Wisdom provides an essential scaffold for complex text reading with the transferable Content Stage process. That process deepens students’ understanding through five progressive stages of repeated, close reading:

  • Wonder: What do I notice and wonder about this text?
  • Organize: What is happening in this text?
  • Reveal: What does a deeper exploration of [text element] reveal in this text?
  • Distill: What is the essential meaning of this text?
  • Know: How does this text build my knowledge of [topic]?

Research has emphasized the importance of close reading and repeated reading for comprehension (Fisher and Frey, 2017). The Content Stages support students and teachers by providing a structure, and related questions and learning activities, for building comprehension.

The Content Stages are progressive. If students proceed to the next stage but begin to struggle, teachers can return to the previous stage and purposely make connections to help students comprehend more deeply before continuing to the next stage. For example, if students struggle with the close reading in the Reveal Stage, teachers can bring them back to the Organize Stage to confirm what the author has written before they consider why and how the text affects the reader.

Support students when needed. If students need additional support beyond the scaffolds embedded within the Content Stages and the lesson activities related to each stage, teachers can provide scaffolds such as these:

  • Read Alouds or audiobooks,
  • opportunities for fluency practice,
  • explicit vocabulary instruction,
  • instruction on text features and genre structures, and
  • integrated instruction in sentence and language structures and syntax.

Include multilingual learners. Complex texts provide multilingual learners with exemplary models of English language text structures, features, and craft. In addition, they challenge these students and convey high expectations—which increases motivation. Teachers should ensure that multilingual learners engage with the same shared texts as all students, providing scaffolds as needed. Scaffolds include Read Aloud previews, audiobooks, preteaching of key vocabulary terms, and close reading work with individual sentences or sections of texts. Like striving readers, multilingual learners also benefit from collaborative peer-to-peer academic conversations about texts. In hybrid or distance learning environments, teachers will want to plan how to facilitate these discussions across various learning contexts. Reading additional texts on the topic to build content knowledge also will support students’ reading of increasingly complex texts, whether they are learning in person or at a distance. The Wit & Wisdom in Sync Help Center provides additional guidance for supporting multilingual learners, including scaffolding for reading tasks.

Focus on fluency. Students engage in fluency practice across all grades, K through 8, in Wit & Wisdom. Why this emphasis on fluency? Research shows the deep connection between fluency and comprehension. Fluency practice helps all students—especially multilingual learners and striving readers—build and assess comprehension. A fluent reading that is expressive, well-paced, and clearly articulated is an audible demonstration of comprehension. In Wit & Wisdom, fluency practice occurs through modeling, explicit instruction, coaching, assisted reading, repeated reading, and opportunities for performance.

Learn with colleagues. Especially during times of disruption, learning with and supporting professional colleagues becomes even more critical. When it comes to complex text instruction, professional colleagues learn with and from each other. Teachers may want to arrange for peer observations (in person or virtual) and professional learning conversations about complex text instruction.


The engaging texts in the Wit & Wisdom modules offer a great opportunity for involving families and caregivers in conversations about the texts. Encourage families and caregivers to read and discuss core texts outside of school and engage in book club conversations about the characters, settings, plots, central ideas, and themes of these literary and informational texts.

The Wit & Wisdom Volume of Reading text lists (see Appendix D in each module) recommend topic-related texts of varying genres and quantitative complexity levels for students to continue their learning about the module topic. Each module also includes Volume of Reading Reflection Questions that provide students and their families and caregivers guidance and structure for discussing these choice books.

Teachers can engage families and caregivers further in the joy of reading and the challenge of building comprehension skills in these ways:

  • Encourage families and caregivers to practice fluent reading at home with the fluency passages included in all Wit & Wisdom modules. Guide parents and caregivers to check for students’ phrasing, pausing, expression, pace, and clarity. These key passages support students’ comprehension skill development and knowledge building—and provide a starting point for conversations outside of school about module texts and topics.
  • Create and share a short video modeling fluent reading of key passages and teaching key elements of fluency so that learning partners have a model of fluency and know what to look for in students’ Read Alouds.
  • Schedule monthly or quarterly book club discussions—via online meeting platforms if students are learning at a distance—and invite families and caregivers who have read the texts to join in the conversation.
  • Be an ambassador for reading! Send home book reviews on recommended books. Share information with families and caregivers about local library membership and access to free texts online.


  • Wonder: If students make surface-level observations, ask for text evidence and provide wait time to encourage students to go deeper into the text.
  • Organize: Ask prompting questions to draw attention to specific text elements, such as character, plot, or setting in narrative texts and key details and text features in informational texts.
  • Reveal: Break questions into small chunks to guide students to deeper thinking, and engage in whole-group discussion so students learn from each other.
  • Distill: Share a possible response to model the thinking of the Distill Stage, emphasizing that there is not just one right answer at this or the other stages.
  • Know: Prompt students to reflect on what they now know about the world, ideas, and skills. Celebrate their learning.
  • To deepen understanding of the Content Stages, use them yourself with texts you are reading for pleasure. To deepen learning with colleagues, choose a text for professional learning, read with the Content Stages, and discuss how each stage deepens your thinking about that text.
  • Harness the power of fluency for comprehension instruction and assessment. If you are not already assigning fluency passages for homework, begin that practice. To informally assess student comprehension, invite students to read short passages of text aloud during independent work time as a quick way to assess their understanding of the text. When possible, provide the technology for students to record and self-assess their Read Alouds.
  • If students struggle with complex texts, increase opportunities for collaboration, whether in person or virtual. Encourage students to complete text-dependent questions or evidence collection activities with a partner or share their draft responses with a partner to learn from others’ ideas.


ACT. Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading, 2006, 

Adams, Marilyn Jager. “Advancing Our Students’ Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex

Texts.” American Educator, vol. 34, no. 4, Winter 2010–2011, pp. 3–11, 53, 

Assiraj, Farah, and Lily Wong Fillmore. “Do Leveled Readers Hurt or Help My ELs?” Do’s and Don’ts

of EL Instruction, English Learners Success Forum,,

District Leadership Forum. Narrowing the Third-Grade Reading Gap: Embracing the Science of

Reading, EAB, 2019,

Fisher, Douglas, and Nancy Frey. “Show & Tell: A Video Column/The Importance of Struggle.”

Educational Leadership: Lifting School Leaders, ASCD, vol. 74, no. 8, May 2017,

Liben, David, and David D. Paige. “Reading Fluency Overview.” Achieve the Core, Student

Achievement Partners, p. 2,

Pimentel, Susan. “Expanding the Important National Conversation About Reading.” Fordham Institute,

Nov. 2018,

Rasinski, Timothy. “Creating Fluent Readers.” Educational Leadership, ASCD, vol. 61, no. 6, Mar.

2004, p. 51,

Shanahan, Timothy. “Letting the Text Take Center Stage: How the Common Core State Standards

Will Transform English Language Arts Instruction.” American Educator, Fall 2013, p. 4–11, 43.

Shanahan, Timothy. “Why Children Should Be Taught to Read with More Challenging Texts.”

Perspectives on Language and Literacy: The Importance of Knowledge, Fall 2019, pp. 17–23,

TNTP. The Opportunity Myth: What Students Can Show Us About How High School Is Letting Them

Down—and How to Fix It, TNTP, 2018,

Submit the Form to Print

Topics: Featured Implementation Support