In this series, we have been working to identify common misunderstandings about text complexity that we fear may impact children’s reading growth and development. In yesterday’s post, we discussed the widely held belief that giving children text with much harder words addresses text complexity. Today we shift our focus to the primary grades and think about the popular notion that texts written for emergent readers can’t have complexity.
In discussing the relationship between hard words and text complexity, we pointed out that ideas are every bit as important as multisyllabic words. If you are a kindergarten or first grade teacher, this means that, rather than throwing away all of those level A-E books you’ve been collecting over the years in exchange for books with harder words, what you need to do is examine those early readers through the lens of, “What does this books give readers to think about?”
Let’s practice doing this together using Animals and Me, an early emergent reader “think book” available for free on this website. As you look through the pages you can see that the text is patterned (A (insert animal) is (insert action).You can (insert action). How is your (insert action) different?) Note also that there are many high frequency sight words presented in this text. These are the elements of early emergent texts that we value and know that children need in order to practice and progress along the continuum of independence and proficiency. However, by virtue of asking questions like How is your swimming different? and How is your eating different?, children are given something to think about when they read. In order to answer these questions, children must look between the words and the illustrations and consider how the animal featured swims or eats in order to make a comparison.
So when it comes to text complexity for early emergent readers, the problem is not that we must force hard books on young children first learning to integrate print and understanding. Rather, the problem is finding texts that allow readers to do both. We encourage you to use the rubric we developed to help you evaluate the texts you have to support early emergent readers. We have worked with groups of teachers to evaluate their books for beginning readers and the exercise is always enlightening. Usually, about 25% of the books in a bookroom or classroom collection fall into category four, meeting demands for complexity. This confirms an important point that we keep reiterating: Text selection is everything.