Text Complexity – Matching Reader and Task

An important factor to think about when matching readers to text is the connection between the reader, their needs and the tasks that they will be doing with the selected text(s).

Think about how motivated the student might be to read the topic of the text. Then, consider the student’s background knowledge and experience in this topic. 

I have seen many a student struggle through a book far above their reading level when their interest in the topic was high.

For example, one of my 3rd grade students loved reading mythology. She chose mythology books that were written at a middle school level from the library.

She loved the topic and had developed some background knowledge in mythology from prior reading. As a result, she persisted in reading this material even though the reading level stretched her skills.

Girl reading while sitting on a stack of books
Matching Reader Characteristics to Text is an Essential Step in Reading Instruction

Evaluating Text Structure for Matching Readers to Text

We would consider the text’s structure and organization. Is this type of structure or text organization suitable for the age and reading abilities of the student?

In general, texts written in a literal or contemporary style of discourse are easier to read.

For example, a text containing a large amount of unfamiliar dialogue, old fashioned language or unfamiliar dialects would be more difficult than text written in the type of speech with which the reader is familiar.

What about the level of vocabulary used in the text or the point of view that the author has used? These elements might make the text more difficult for some students than for others.

Highly specialized text with a large amount of jargon or technical vocabulary would also be more difficult to read.

Matching Cultural Understandings and Background Knowledge

Another element to consider when determining the complexity of the text is what background knowledge a student will need to understand the text.

The more limited the reader’s background knowledge, the more difficulty they will have reading the text. Are there cultural references made in the text that students will need support with in order to understand the meaning of the text?

Texts containing a large amount of figurative language, irony, or ambiguity are more difficult to understand.

By considering the elements that will be new or unfamiliar to your students, you can determine whether these gaps can be supported through scaffolding or support.

Considering Purpose When Matching Readers to Text

Another factor to consider is why will the student be reading this text? What is their purpose? What will the reader be expected to do after reading the text.

If you simply said: “Read the chapter and answer the questions at the end of the chapter.” it can hardly be a surprise when students have little motivation or interest in reading the text.

In fact, this is one of the least motivating activities to do after reading a text.

Research has shown that students who understand the syntax of the English language can find the answer to literal questions without even completely reading the text at all.

How Will the Student Process or Use the Text?

Consider what the student will be doing to reflect on or think about the text.

For example, will the student be synthesizing the text to prepare for a debate?  Will they need to understand the information and be able to teach it to someone else?  Will the student have to compare and contrast various points of view?  Will the student be forming an opinion about the text or discussing it with other students in the class?

Finally, we must ask: Does the reader have the cognitive and language skills needed to understand and reflect on this text? Are there too many unknown vocabulary items that might cause the student to struggle with comprehension?

Will the topic and content hold the reader’s interest long enough for them to read the entire text?

By thinking in advance how will we use the text with our students we can build interest for students. We can also prepare scaffolds that students may need to get the most out of the texts they are reading.

By thinking about the quantitative and qualitative measures and then considering the reader and the task. we can help our students be more successful with connecting to appropriate and meaningful texts.

You can learn more about matching readers to text and deepening comprehension in my book: Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.

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