Analysis of a Text’s Complexity

The Common Core’s focus on “text complexity” begins with 2nd grade texts. There are multiple dimensions of text complexity to consider – quantitative, qualitative and reader & task. For the purposes of this blog, I want to look at how we can use the qualitative measures of text complexity to plan for supporting students’ reading informational text during guided reading. My source for this analysis is Fisher, Frey & Lapp’s (2012) rubric for analyzing the qualitative measures of text complexity – Figure 3.1 in their book Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. While I couldn’t find this particular rubric on-line, I did find (on-line) a very similar rubric that could easily be used to come to the same conclusions. See below. Both address the following dimensions –

  • Levels of Meaning & Purpose,
  • Structure,
  • Language Conventionality,
  • Knowledge Demands.

Fisher, Frey & Lapp’s rubric scores these dimensions as follows:

  • Score of 3 – “Texts that would stretch a reader and/or require instruction”
  • Score of 2 – “Texts that require grade-appropriate skills”
  • Score of 1 – “Texts that are comfortable and/or build background knowledge, fluency, and skills”

Fisher, Frey & Lapp suggest using this way of gauging text complexity to match readers to texts. When we choose texts to teach with during guided reading or perhaps for a read aloud, we want to make sure the texts have some qualitative scores of 2-3; if your analysis reveals all scores of 1, then that book is probably appropriate for a student to read independently or with very little instructional time.

My analysis of qualitative dimensions of text complexity in the informational text From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons –

Levels of Meaning & Purpose – Score of 1. Gibbons’ meaning in this text is very straightforward as she describes the cycle of plant growth. She does not use symbolism or figurative language; her language is explicit and literal. The purpose of her book is clear from the moment the student reads the title.

Structure – Score of 1-2 (leaning towards 1).  From Seed to Plant is written in a typical sequential text structure with language that indicates movement forward in the sequence like “beginning of a seed,” “as the seed becomes bigger,” “when,” and “later.” There is an appropriate amount of detail for these readers (although ELs might be a different case). This text is made more complex if we want to incorporate close analysis of the illustrations that support the text – labels are included and pictures are arranged to show a multi-step process.

Language Conventionality and Clarity – Score of 1-2. By second grade, many of our readers are familiar with the language of describing a process or sequence of events and probably have read or heard read about plant growth. The language of this book will sound familiar to these students, but the language is not conversational. There is an academic tone and yet Gibbon’s tone takes into consideration the developmental level of the reader.

Knowledge Demands – Score of 2. This is where the text becomes more complex qualitatively. There may be significant distance between the reader’s experiences and the content being described in the book. Not every child has seen seeds pop out of a pod and spread with the wind or examined the inside of a seed and considered how a seed coat can protect a plant. This book contains domain specific knowledge which the reader must retain to understand how each step in the growth of a plant builds on the next. There is a lot of domain specific vocabulary as well – pollen, stigma, pistil and so forth. Fortunately, Gibbons’ writing and illustration support the reader in understanding these concepts – with teacher support.

What does my analysis mean for instruction? Because of the knowledge demands of this text – it would be appropriate for students who are striving to read at a late second grade level. Students who read and understand easily on their own a text at say a level J/K (beginning of second grade), might benefit from guided instruction in a small group with this text. The instruction doesn’t necessarily need to focus so much on meaning and purpose or structure and language conventionality/clarity. Instead the instruction would need to focus on tapping relevant background knowledge and strategies for learning and retaining domain specific vocabulary. (Of course – we always keep in mind what we know about our students as readers…)  I think students reading independently closer to a level M, might benefit from a short reading conference with a teacher that directs the student to pay close attention to the domain specific vocabulary as a way to understand this text and that reminds the reader to reread this text to review and retain the domain specific content.

My analysis of this text has given me an idea of what it is about this text that would stretch readers and, as a result, what dimensions of the text I need to focus on during guided instruction with students. While I don’t think teachers have time to go into this kind of analysis of every text they use, I do think that engaging in this type of experience with several texts – perhaps as a professional learning community – can be helpful. Just my experience with this one book has given me a new way to look at other texts (maybe more quickly) in a way that will help me focus my instruction.

Qualitative Measures Rubric–Informational Text


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