A lot of hay is being made about the Common Core State Standards, and the biggest hubbub revolves around text complexity.

I am not sure why one anchor standard, number ten if your counting, is getting all the attention. It could be the debate around leveled books versus grade level texts. Some believe that the idea of giving an 11th grader with a 3rd grade reading level an on level book is detrimental. Others believe that limiting students based on their lexile score actually dumbs down the curriculum. This debate ignores the massive amount of scaffolding called for in the CCSS for below grade level reading.

The other debate around text complexity may swirl around some folks who call for severely limiting pre reading activities and the teaching of reading strategies. This of course flies in the face of thirty years of comprehension research. The authors of CCS toned down their initial disdain for pre-reading and the standards now read,

“Care should be taken that introducing broad themes and questions in advance of reading does not prompt overly general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specific ideas and details, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning and knowledge from it.”

Defining Text Complexity

Neither of these critical issues, however, are the root of my woes. I feel the standard, “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently” simply ignores the digital texts and tools that will shape the literary lives of today’s youth.

I know the Common Core claims to embed technology across all of the standards:


To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society,
students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and
report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer
questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and
extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The
need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded
into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media
skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than
treated in a separate section.

Yet if you do a  close read of the standards the Internet only makes a strong appearance in the writing standards. It is treated as a publishing tool not a text for reading. I do not see digital texts and tools mentioned explicitly in a definition of text complexity.

You could of course, infer that technology is embedded into standard 10, but if you look closely at the definition for text complexity I do not see it.

Quantitative- This involves standard measures of reading difficulty. Anyone who has tried to determine the reading difficulty of websites knows that this is problematic. Navigation links are often read as one word sentences, multimodal texts are ignored, and texts are often multigenre. I know websites I assign will be well above the grade band standards called for by the CCSS but will have low reading difficulty scores.

Qualitative- This base of the triangle refers to the meaning, structure, and knowledge demands. These qualitative text factors shift constantly online; especially as students engage in “self-directed text construction.”

Reader and Task– Teachers can find the most freedom in defining text complexity in this base. One could argue that online inquiry would fit in the task. Yet I find even defining the task as involving the digital text and tools does not capture the socially complex nature of texts.

Socially Complex Text


I define socially complex texts as concurrent arguments that unfold in print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification. Basically socially complex texts are authored by opposing focus discussing an issue with equal passion and mutual disdain.  
I would add a fourth rung to text complexity and include socially complex.
How do I find and use socially complex texts?

I would begin with Twitter. I view Twitter as an endless hallway of doors that open to countless texts. If you choose a socially charged issue you can find opposing views.

Then you can follow the links back to the articles that the different positions cite in their tweets. From those articles you can go to the comment sections. These comments are great exemplars for explaining the differences between persuasive texts and argumentation. While these comment sections are full of vitriol and persuasive techniques there is often a lack of evidence.

On the articles you can also highlight how the authors use evidence from outside sources to back up their claims. You can also note who wrote the article and the studies.

The final step is to find the primary sources and investigate the points of view and biases of the authors of the articles and the study.

If you want to step up the complexity of the text you can than have the students complete an inquiry task on both positions. Even more complex would be to have students role play from different positions.

How do I use socially complex text in the classroom?

I am assuming Twitter is blocked in most schools. This does not have to limit your use of socialy complex text.

-You could find the sources ahead of time and create a search engine using Google Custom Search.
-You could take screenshots of the twitter feeds.
-You could recreate the twitter feed using a table in word.

The bottom line: the social nature of today’s digital texts and tools are the most complex text students now read. It is impossible to claim your curriculum is addressing the true nature of text complexity without using the Internet to read and write.

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