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16 Aug 2013

Understanding the New Demands for Text Complexity in American Secondary Schools

Elfrieda H. Hiebert

Book Chapter
Submitted for Publication

Hiebert, E.H., (in press). Understanding the New Demands for Text Complexity in American Secondary Schools. In M.C. Hougen (Ed.),  Fundamentals of literacy instruction and assessment, 6-12. Brookes Publishing.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston) is a classic American novel, and one that often appears on secondary school reading lists. But as this passage shows, the text has several features that may pose challenges to many students’ understanding, including its extensive use of figurative language, its unconventional structure, and its cultural and historical setting. The text poses challenges for teachers who use it in their classrooms. They must identify which specific features of the text will be difficult for their students, then develop instruction that addresses those features.

Of course, these are familiar and longstanding challenges for teachers who want both to provide students with worthwhile texts and to ensure that they understand and enjoy reading these texts. The challenges of identifying and addressing the features that contribute to text difficulty have become more pressing as schools begin to use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to shape their instruction. Indeed, the major focus of the CCSS English Language Arts (ELA) standards is that, over their school careers, students encounter and become more proficient at reading increasingly complex text.