Skip to Main Content

TCH 208 - Reading and Language Development

Text Complexity

You will consider text complexity during TCH 208. Depending on your section of TCH 208, this will either be a required component of the Responsive Text Set, a separate assignment, or an in-class activity. Regardless, text complexity can be considered through both qualitative and quantitative means. 

Analyze the Text Complexity - Qualitative

When analyzing a text's complexity through qualitative means we seek to analyze various features of the text to determine:

  1. What challenges are presented in a text and how will these challenges impact students?
  2. How would a given text ideally be used instructionally?

To answer these questions, we carefully read a text and note how the book is written and likely to be read by students. When considering challenges presented in a text, Lupo et al. (2022) propose elements of the text which should be evaluated. These elements include: complexity of meaning, concept, and themes; text structure; vocabulary; figurative or literal language; and formality or writing. The chart below further outlines what a less complex versus more complex may contain for each listed element. 

Table 7.1 - Factors That Make a Text Complex

By analyzing what elements of a text will be more challenging for readers, instructors can better identify how a text is instructionally useful. For example, the below excerpt from Joanna Ho's Eyes That Kiss in the Corners has more complex use of figurative language and vocabulary and would be well-suited to focusing on developing those skills in readers. 

Text Excerpt: Some people have eyes like sapphire lagoons...

When reading, consider for both individual pages and the book as a whole, what would readers need to know and understand for true reading comprehension? For more information about analyzing texts to support comprehension, read the below book chapter by Sarah M. Lupo et al.:

Analyze the Text Complexity - Quantitative

In addition to analyzing a text's complexity through qualitative characteristics, texts can also be analyzed for complexity through quantitative means.

The easiest way to determine the text complexity of a book represented through quantitative measures rather than qualitative, is to search the title on NoveList Plus. This is a searchable database that can tell you the Lexile measure or Accelerated Reader designation assigned to certain books. These numbers, while different, both communicate the text complexity of a book calculated by formulas which weigh factors such as unique vocabulary, word frequency, total words, number of sentences, length of sentences, patterns, and complexity to decode. A high number means the book is more complex to read and a low number means it is more accessible. 

It is critically important to recognize that we do not assign texts to readers by level. Levels instead can be used as a shorthand for educators to quickly understand something about the phonological complexity of a text. These formulas miss the nuance possible through a qualitative analysis and fail to answer questions such as, "What does someone need to know or do to be able to read something?' or "What aspects of this text will be most challenging for a reader?"

For more information about text leveling and the ramifications, read the below article by James V. Hoffman:

Step-By-Step Instructions - Levels

To get started, use the search bar in NoveList Plus to lookup the title of your book. Look through your results. One of three things will happen, identify from the below list what happens for your book title. To see details on how to interpret the text complexity given what you found on your book, expand the accordion in the relevant section.

  1. Your book has an identified Lexile Measure

Example Search Result

For some books with a Lexile measure, there is a letter code that comes before the Lexile number. These communicate key information about the book and are explained below:

  • AD: Adult Directed: Better when read aloud to a student rather than having the student read independently.
  • NC: Non-Conforming: Good for high-ability readers who still need age-appropriate content.
  • HL: High-Low: Content to engage older students who need materials that are less complex and at a lower reading level.
  • IG: Illustrated Guide: Nonfiction materials often used for reference.
  • GN: Graphic Novel: Graphic novels or comic books.
  • BR: Beginning Reader: Appropriate for emerging readers with a Lexile reader measure below 0L.
  • NP: Non-Prose: Poems, plays, songs, recipes and text with non-standard or absent punctuation.

To interpret what the number itself means use the Reading Comparison Chart linked below to convert the Lexile number to a grade level and/or Fountas & Pinnell level. Please note that there may be some discrepancies. 

For example, Alma and How She Got Her Name shows that it has a Lexile Measure of 490L. This tells me that the book is generally good for independent reading for 2nd-4th graders and is a level M book according to Fountas & Pinnell. 

  1. Your book does not have an identified Lexile measure, but it does have an Accelerated Reader designation.

Search Results for Saturday

If your book has an Accelerated Reader designation, It is broken into three parts: interest level (IL), Book Level (BL), and Accelerated Reader Points (AR Pts). You only need to pay attention to the first two.

1. Interest level communicates what grades will likely engage with the content. It is sorted into clusters represented as LG, MG, MG+, or UG.

  • Lower Grades (LG) (K-3)
  • Middle Grades (MG) (4-6)
  • Middle Grades Plus (MG+)(6 and up)
  • Upper Grades (UG) (9-12)

2. Book level communicates the text complexity and is assigned a number. To interpret what the number itself means use the Reading Comparison Chart linked below to convert the Accelerated Reader designation (called ATOS Book Level in the column) to a grade level and/or Fountas & Pinnell level. Please note that there may be some discrepancies. 

For example, Saturday shows that it has an Accelerated Reader designation of IL: LG, BL: 2.4, AR Pts: 0.5. This tells me that the book is generally interesting to student in the lower grades (K-3) and that the text complexity is good for independent reading for 2nd graders and is a level J book according to Fountas & Pinnell. 

  1. Your book is not in NoveList Plus OR it does not have either a Lexile Measure or an Accelerated Reader designation.

Amah Faraway Search Result

It takes time for books to be assigned a Lexile measure and some titles never have one identified. 

If you searched a book and it was not found or it does not have an identified Lexile Measure/Accelerated Reader designation, you have two main options:

  1. You can identify another book entirely to use as your independent reading text.
  2. You can use a work-around strategy to decide if the book could be independently read by your student. 

In the second case, it is best to identify another book that you know already that your student could read independently, even if not related to your text set. Then, compare your selected book with the book you know the student could read independently to decide if they are around the same complexity, or if one is more or less complicated than the other. Pay attention and estimate if the book you are interested in compared to the already identified text has similar vocabulary difficulty, number of words, unique words, number of sentences, sentence length, etc. They can have differences, but should be somewhat similar.