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LEARNING FROM CHALLENGING TEXT Timothy Shanahan University of Illinois at Chicago www.shanahanonliteracy.com.

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Presentation on theme: "LEARNING FROM CHALLENGING TEXT Timothy Shanahan University of Illinois at Chicago www.shanahanonliteracy.com."— Presentation transcript:

1 LEARNING FROM CHALLENGING TEXT Timothy Shanahan University of Illinois at Chicago

2 Challenging Text CCSS requires that students read texts at harder levels than in the past CCSS specifies the readability levels that students must read to reach the standards (using 6 different readability measures: ATOS, Degrees of Reading Power, Flesch- Kincaid, Lexiles, Source Writer) This presentation will provide some guidance as to why this change is being made and what will be needed to implement it successfully

3 Why the change? U.S. students are not reaching the levels of reading that they need to by the time they leave high school Reading demands of college and career tend to be well beyond high school level texts Students typically have to gain more in reading ability during their first 5 years after high school than they do during their last 5 years of secondary education Being able to meet the standards with relatively easier text is NOT meeting the standards

4 Text Varies in Difficulty In the 18 th -19 th centuries, educators recognized that text difficulty varied and they arrayed textbook difficulty from easy to challenging (e.g., Protestant Tutor, New England Primer, Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller, McGuffey’s Reader) This has continued in the 20 th century

5 Measurement of Readability In the 1920s, psychologists began measuring the difficulty of text (readability) Criteria: prediction of comprehension or specification of difficulties of a known set of passages Readability measurement improved across the century (in terms of reliability, inclusion of interesting variables, amounts of variance accounted for)

6 Key Ideas about Readability Texts vary in difficulty We can measure text difficulty Readability formulas predict variation in comprehension Readability estimates do not reveal why a text is complex

7 Role of Readability in Education Originally, there were no explanations of why text difficulty may matter in learning Has to be inferred from things like the titles of popular textbooks (e.g., “The Gradual Readers) The basic notion was that learning should progress from easier to more complex This changes during the 20 th century

8 Text Challenge and Learning Theory Two basic ideas on the role of text difficulty in learning emerge: Basal readers: controlled vocabulary gets very specific during 1950s (William S. Gray) Emmett Betts (1946): instructional level theory specifies how texts need to match to text difficulty to facilitate learning

9 Instructional Level Theory Betts claimed learning would be optimized if students were placed in text with appropriate difficulty levels Independent (fluency %; comprehension %) Instructional (fluency 95-98%; comprehension %) Frustration (fluency 0-92%; comprehension 0- 50%)

10 Source of Betts’ Criteria? Betts attributed the ideas to a validation study conducted by Killgallon Unfortunately, Killgallon didn’t do such a study -- nor did anyone else (Shanahan, 1983) The role of text difficulty in facilitating learning was more a matter of lore than empirical research

11 Powell Criteria William Powell challenged Betts’ criteria during the 1960s He put forth the idea of “mediated levels” PP-2: fluency 87-93%; comprehension 55-80% Grades 3-5: fluency 92-96%; comprehension % Grade 6: fluency 92-97%; comprehension % Students placed in harder texts 50% of time

12 Betts’ Instructional Level Theory Learning is facilitated by ensuring students can read the text with relatively good comprehension Reader Level Text Level

13 Powell’s Mediated Text Theory Learning is best from harder texts because teaching facilitates comprehension Mediation Student Level Text Level

14 Readability Measures Most readability measures make their predictions on the basis of word difficulty and sentence difficulty They are indexes (or correlates) of difficulty, but they do not identify why texts may be challenging (you can’t use these formulas as a specific guide for re-writing)

15 Evidence that Text Should Be Harder Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldredge (2000) Varied text difficulty for three groups Had groups study in the same way for the same amount of time Measured impact on growth in reading comprehension “Frustration-level” placement led to greatest gains Lack of descriptive data

16 More evidence Chall, Conrad, & Harris, 1977 Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996 Textbook publishers/school districts strove to reduce levels of texts since early 1940s Studies show that 3-12 th grade textbooks have gotten easier Decline in text levels has presaged the declines in student performance levels

17 Still more evidence ACT (2006) Correlational study showing close connection between amount of reading of challenging text in grades 8-12 and success

18 Summary Readability formulas predict comprehension, NOT learning Readability formulas don’t reveal why texts are challenging Students seem to learn more from trying to read challenging texts, with teachers mediating this reading Mediation requires an awareness of why a text may be difficult

19 What will it take to make this work? Difficult challenges may require revolutionary responses One fundamental response required to meet this new demand successfully will be: …for teachers to actually read the texts they are going to teach from …before the kids do

20 What will it take? (cont.) Someone needs to read a text to identify what might impede reading comprehension and this insight can become part of the support provided in the reading lesson Teachers must anticipate miscomprehension: to head it off, to be vigilant about it, and to be responsive to the problem

21 Scaffolding Challenging Text Scaffolding Text Features Complexity of ideas/content Match of text and reader prior knowledge Complexity of vocabulary Complexity of syntax Complexity of coherence Familiarity of genre demands Complexity of text organization Subtlety of author’s tone Sophistication of literary devices or data-presentation devices Other Approaches Provide sufficient fluency Use stair-steps or apprentice texts Teach comprehension strategies

22 Complexity of Ideas “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (Einstein) Readability is about the language that is used, legibility is about how the information is presented – both are separate from the ideas themselves But some ideas are complicated: Abstract versus complex Extensive versus brief (hierarchies of information) Many connections versus few connections Confusability

23 Complex Idea “The appeal of the view that a work of art expresses nothing unless what it expresses can be put into words can be reduced by setting beside it another view, no less popular in the theory of art, that a work of art has no value if what it expresses can be put into words.”

24 Build/Access Prior Knowledge Readers do not just take in information – all learning is interpretive We interpret information through the lens of what we know Texts can be challenging if they presuppose or require overt use of particular prior knowledge Students can be guided to use their related experiences in ways that scaffolds the new knowledge, but we tend to overdo this and misconstrue this

25 Prior Knowledge Example Three men came to get their haircut, but Stanley barked at them. The barber looked at William. “Boy,” he said, “isn’t that your dog?” “No,” he said. “He just followed me. He lives next door.” “Well,” the barber said, “that dog is keeping people out of my shop. There are people here ahead of you, but I’ll cut your hair now.”

26 Teach Vocabulary Texts can be hard because of unfamiliar vocabulary (difference between academic vocabulary and key vocabulary in a text) Less widely known words tend to be harder than known words Sometimes known words are used in different ways as well (e.g., post, paw, bird) Metaphorical language (“common currency”, “charming and charmed innocence”) Carefully analyze text for the challenging and important vocabulary

27 Which words would you teach? I can never forget the scene that met us. Between us and the Barrier was a lane of some fifty yards wide, a seething cauldron. Bergs were calving off as we watched: and capsizing: and hitting other bergs, splitting into two and falling apart. The Killers filled the whole place. Looking downwards into a hole between our berg and the next, a hole not bigger than a small room, we saw at least six whales. They were so crowded that they could only lie so as to get their snouts out of the water and my memory is that their snouts were bottle-nosed. At this moment our berg split into two parts and we hastily retreated to the lower and safer floes.

28 Which words would you teach? I can never forget the scene that met us. Between us and the Barrier was a lane of some fifty yards wide, a seething cauldron. Bergs were calving off as we watched: and capsizing: and hitting other bergs, splitting into two and falling apart. The Killers filled the whole place. Looking downwards into a hole between our berg and the next, a hole not bigger than a small room, we saw at least six whales. They were so crowded that they could only lie so as to get their snouts out of the water and my memory is that their snouts were bottle-nosed. At this moment our berg split into two parts and we hastily retreated to the lower and safer floes.

29 Help with Sentence Structure Texts may be hard because of grammar or syntax Explain clearly using at least three different reasons or drawing three diagrams why McClellan lost the battle. Explain clearly why McClellan lost the battle. Give at least three reasons or draw three diagrams.

30 Help with Sentence Structure Guide students to interpret complex sentences (clause and phrase analysis) In dense prose, help find the subject and verb: “However, on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a group of individual astronomers and astronomical societies from around the world, made an announcement.” Complex punctuation, such as split quotes: “Where are you going,” Maurice asked, “I thought you were going to help Tony wash the windows.”

31 Help with Cohesion Texts can be hard because the relationships and connections may be unclear to readers The killer whale tosses the penguin into the air and generally torments its prey before it eats it The killer whale tosses the penguin into the air and generally torments the penguin before eating it.

32 Help with Cohesion (cont.) Guide students to interpret anaphora Iguanas are lizards. They often live in deserts. Guide students to deal with ellipsis Where are you going? To school. Guide students to deal with substitution Which toy do you want? The big one. Guide students to deal with conjunction (however, consequently, but also unmarked conjunctions)

33 Genre Guidance Genres express the intent of the writer (texts within a genre have similar communicative purposes), but they also have structural or lexical commonalities Narrative, procedural, expository, persuasive, descriptive (but many subgenres) Fiction: action-adventure, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, Information (content, newspaper sections, structures) Make sure students know the communicative purpose of the text

34 Guide Use of Text Structure Texts can be hard because they are organized in complex ways The structure of what is read can help students determine importance. Students should know common text organization schemes (description; compare/contrast; problem-solution; sequence; enumeration) Students should know how to use headings and subheadings to determine the scope and sequence of information Examine texts to see if organization holds a special key to the meaning (like in a comparison text or problem-solution text) and to guide students to attend to this structure

35 Guide Tone Awareness Author’s tone expresses attitude towards subject or audience Text can be hard because author’s tone might be subtle (it matters if a student expects the text to be literally correct, when the author intends it to be satirical) Young children always expect a positive tone Help students to recognize the tone of the text (e.g., formal, informal, intimate, solemn, playful, serious, ironic)

36 This living hand This living hand, now warm and capable Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold And in the icy silence of the tomb, So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood So in my veins red life might stream again. And thou be conscience-calmed — see here it is — I hold it towards you.

37 Analysis of tone & organization Living Hand now warm and capable of earnest grasping in my veins red life might stream here it is I hold it towards you. Dead Hand if it were cold and in the icy silence of the tomb, haunt thy days and chill thy nights You would wish your own heart dry of blood

38 Guide Awareness of Literary Devices Literary devices allow a writer to show rather than just tell (they communicate ideas in aesthetically powerful ways) Alliteration Allusion Analogy Connotation Hyperbole Irony Metaphor Point of view Symbolism, Understatement etc.

39 Guide Awareness of Data Presentation Devices Data presentation devices allow a writer to show rather than just tell (they communicate ideas in powerful ways) Tables Charts Three-dimensional projections Graphics Formulas Statistics Etc.

40 Resources Shanahan, T., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012), March. The challenge of challenging text. Educational Leadership.

41 What else? What else can we do to ensure that our students can handle challenging text?

42 Build Text Reading Fluency Texts may be hard because they demand more advanced reading skills Students need practice reading (orally) with accuracy, appropriate speed, and prosody Not round-robin reading (repeated reading, echo reading, paired reading, reading while listening, etc.) Putting fluency first might make sense with some texts Parsing texts can be helpful

43 A Walk in the Desert Sunbeams are flickering over the landscaper as the sun rises. A kit fox heads for her den as another day in the desert begins. Deserts are surrounded by other kinds of landscapes. Scientists call these different land zones biomes. All the plants and animals in a biome form a community. In that community, every living thing depends on other community members for its survival. A biome’s climate, soil, plants, and animals are all connected this way.

44 A Walk in the Desert Sunbeams/ are flickering/ over the landscape/ as the sun rises./ A kit fox/ heads/ for her den/ as another day/ in the desert/ begins./ Deserts/ are surrounded/ by other kinds of landscapes./ Scientists/ call/ these different land zones/ biomes. All the plants and animals/ in a biome/ form/ a community./ In that community,/ every living thing/ depends/ on other community members/ for its survival./ A biome’s climate, soil, plants, and animals/ are all connected/ this way./

45 A WALK IN THE DESERT Sunbeams are flickering over the landscape as the sun rises. A kit fox heads for her den as another day in the desert begins. Deserts are surrounded by other kinds of landscapes. Scientists call these different land zones biomes. All the plants and animals in a biome form

46 Provide Stair-step Texts Texts can be hard because students lack sufficient background knowledge If students have multiple texts on the same topic that are at different difficulty levels, easier “apprentice” texts can help students build background knowledge for the more difficult ones. The overlap in important information should increase the likelihood that students will pay attention to it. Should increase a student’s ability to independently deal with the information in the hard text

47 Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies Previewing texts Considering prior knowledge Setting purposes Monitoring comprehension Asking questions Summarizing Visualizing

48 The physical fitness metaphor If reading and physical exercise are similar, then text complexity is akin to weight or distance Students need to practice reading with multiple levels of difficulty and for varied amounts (these variations can even occur within a single exercise session) Guiding students to read text with support is like spotting for someone during weight lifting (you have to be careful not to do the exercise for them and you have to avoid dependence) Do not always head off the challenges, but always be ready to respond and support

49 WeekMonTueWedThuFriSatSunTotal 13Rest Rest Rest Rest Rest53 10Rest21 64Rest54 11Rest24 74Rest64 12Rest26 84Rest64 14Rest28 94Rest74 16Rest31 105Rest85 16Rest34 115Rest85 17Rest35 125Rest85 18Rest36 135Rest85 20Rest38 145Rest Rest Rest3 Walk 2 Rest26.2Rest Week Marathon Training Schedule

50 LEARNING FROM CHALLENGING TEXT Timothy Shanahan University of Illinois at Chicago


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