Writers and Literary Critics Weigh In On Text Complexity

A recent Education Week article (subscription required) cites a newly released report by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers , which found a disturbing absence of classic literary texts in use in high schools across the country.  Instead, researchers found a hodgepodge of literary works reflecting the idiosyncratic preferences of teachers rather than a standard canon of literary classics.  More worrisome still, researchers found that the text demand of reading assignments does not appear to increase as students move  from grade to grade. 

Researchers also found a troubling tendency toward nonanalytical methods of dealing with texts:

In honors courses, it says, teachers are more likely to teach students to use a non-analytical approach to assigned reading – asking them, for example, to draft a personal response to what they read – than to engage students in a close, analytical, reading of texts.

That’s a problem, the report concludes, because “an underuse of analytical reading to understand nonfiction and a stress on personal experience or historical context to understand either an imaginative or a nonfiction text may be contributing to the high remediation rates in post-secondary English and reading courses.”

The report goes on to suggest a number of solutions.  In particular, the ALSCW recommends that state standards should be written so that reading assignments get progressively harder as students advance from grade to grade.  We’ve written much on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the benefit of reading standards that stretch student ability to handle increasingly difficulty levels of text, as well as the importance of exposing students to a steady diet of nonfiction and informational texts.  Let’s hope some of the suggestions of this report find their way into practice.

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