Teacher Scholar Voices

Complex Text: A Spectrum of Approaches

Teacher Scholar Voices

Teacher Scholar Marguerite Sheffer spent last year thinking about how to support students with making sense of complex text.

“Depending on who you ask,” she writes in her first blog post,”close reading means reading multiple times, reading through multiple critical lenses, or reading for “layers” of meaning.  All agree that close reading is deep reading, but there is not one sure path to get students there. “

Here she comments on some of the sources she consulted to inform her work : 

Text Complexity:Raising Rigor in Reading by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey & Diane Lapp advocates for multiple readings being the key.  The task is open ended, and students are only guided to narrow in on “what the text is about.”  It reminded me strongly of the Visual Thinking Strategies method of using sustained time and open-ended questions (“What is going on in this picture?  What makes you say that”?) to find meaning in an image.  This method, like leveled-questions, lets the students make their own meaning, but does not guide them to focus on the sections of a text that pose a dilemma.  But maybe this would occur naturally in multiple readings.


Notice and Note:Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst highlights a series of lessons that teach middle-school students to recognize six “signposts” that alert a reader to an important moment in the text, signifying that they should read more closely.  For instance, one signpost is “Words of the Wiser”–when an adult character gives advice to a protagonist.  This approach is clear and well-scaffolded, but is geared towards young adult novels, not the more obtuse novels taught in high school courses.  Additionally, I worry that the signposts again draw student attention away from complexity in the text, by focusing on easy-to-recognize, categorizable moments.


Finally, the method of “close reading” instruction that is most antithetical to leveled questions is titled “Text Dependent Questioning,” detailed by the organization Achieve the Core. This method implores teachers to carefully craft questions that lead students to close reading–bringing me back to where I started with my own inquiry: staying up late into the night fretting about the ideal seminar question.  In this method, the cognitive burden is taken off of students, and put onto the teachers, who are prompted to: “determine key ideas,” “locate academic vocab” and, most strikingly, “Find the sections of the text that will present the greatest difficulty.”  The text dependent questioning method has teachers go through these key elements of the close reading process for students, effectively wresting away their control.  All that is left for students to do is to find the best evidence for the right answer.