professornana (professornana) wrote,

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The complexities of complexity

The article is entitled, What Makes a Text Complex? let me save you some time and list the aspects of text that make it complex (according to the authors) here:

1. vocabulary
2. sentence structure
3. coherence
4. organization
5. background knowledge

Where to begin? How about this? First and foremost, what makes for a complex text for me is the ability of the book, article, blog post, tweet, etc. to make em THINK. That generally is not the result of the 5 items listed above. You see, to me A SOLDIER'S HEART by Gary Paulsen is a complex text. It has nothing to do with the vocabulary (though, I guess it does to some extent because it is the WORDS and how Paulsen uses them that reduce me to tears in places and make me shudder in horror in other places). I know this text is written at the 5th grade level and is worth a wonderfully measly TWO points on AR. OCTOBER MOURNING is worth ONE WHOLE POINT. Obviously neither of these books is complex, this despite the fact that OCTOBER MOURNING is a novel in poetry (not verse) about the murder of Matthew Shepard with poems from the point of view of the fence, the killers, Matthew's mother, and more. Now, OCTOBER MOURNING might move up a tad when you consider sentence structure even though that term is not readily applied to poetry, I think.

I think this is code perhaps for reading level. After all, the more syllables, the higher the reading level (generally speaking). So, here are some books that will never be deemed complex due to their assigned reading levels: NIGHTJOHN (3.8), SPEAK (4.5), NIGHT (4.8), CODE NAME VERITY (6.5), THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (5.5), JASPER JONES (3.9), SERAPHINA (6.0), WHERE THINGS COMEE BACK (5.7), MONSTER (5.1), THE CHOCOLATE WAR (5.4), and so many more titles that are complex when one considers other factors such as theme, mood, tone, symbolism, figurative language, unreliable narrators, multiple points of view, foreshadowing, flashback, and more. I know, I know, some of these would be considered acceptable once we added in those other 4 variables. But riddle me this: how many factors are harried and hurried and crazed teachers going to have time to sift through? Will not many simply opt for the exemplar texts? I fear this is true.

As for sentence structure, I will posit this: it is the impact of the sentence, not the length that counts. I think of the final sentence of Eve Bunting's THE WALL: 'I'd rather have him here." and of the great gulps I have to do to keep from sobbing as I come to them. I think of the final sentence of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA which I cannot read without choking up or the Skin Horse's conversation with THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. I think of the opening line of THE CHOCOLATE WAR: They murdered him." And I think of poetry here, too.

And now we come to COHERENCE. What do the authors mean by this term? Here is their definition: how particular words, ideas, and sentences in text connect with one another. Hands, please, if you find this vague. (*HAND WAVING FURIOUSLY*) I am not even going here for now. If someone can provide a more direct and specific definition, please do so. For now, I will sign off. Let me tackle organization and background knowledge in a later post. It seems, though, the more I read, the more questions arise. Do you all feel that way, too? I wonder how our kids will see it?
Tags: ccss, reading level, text complexity, words
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