As part of a series of accessible articles on reading instruction (Text Matters), Elfrieda Hiebert examines the particular issues faced by English learners with regard to text complexity. Prior to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), old standards documents referred to reading proficiency with grade-level texts. Instead, the CCSS calls for increasing levels of text complexity to ensure students’ proficiency with college and career texts. The idea of reading complex text affects all students, but it represents a special challenge to English learners, many of whom struggle with their current texts. In this article, Hiebert describes the support needed for English learners in developing strategies and knowledge about the vocabulary of complex texts.
Archaic language, lengthy sentences, new topics, unusual writing styles, unique text structures—these features and many others affect the complexity, and hence the comprehensibility, of text. Teachers of ELLs need support with (a) developing strategies and knowledge about the vocabulary of complex texts and (b) guidelines for selecting appropriate texts that move English Learners up the staircase of text complexity. A handful of the most critical words—those that are fundamental to the meaning of the text—can be introduced before students read the text. Short lessons on critical vocabulary should also follow the initial reading of a text. This resource provides research-based insights on how and when to instruct critical vocabulary and strategies.