Text, Task, & Context: 3 Key Common Core Considerations

Text Text complexity. Close reading. Increased Rigor. These and other similar topics have become commonplace as teachers are beginning to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Since all teachers are now expected to address reading skills within their grade level or content area, new demands and challenges arise. And, as teachers use more nonfiction and informational text in the classroom, questions emerge. Sometimes I think a “back-to-the-basics” framework is in order and can help clear the waters.

The purpose of this post is to focus on 3 key areas to consider when planning lessons for readers – the text, the task, and the context. When thinking about the text, task, and context, consider these 3 elements in relationship to the reader. These three important considerations can help you focus on how to best support readers.

Text A great place to begin is by focusing on the text. Strive to become exceptionally intentional as you select text for whole group or small group instruction. This is particularly important as you select texts worthy of close reading. 

Text complexity isn’t as simple as a grade level indicator or a Lexile level. Several elements interact to determine text complexity. These three elements include quantitative, qualitative, and reader and task demands.

Lexile levels, a quantitative measure, are simply one way to categorize the difficulty level of the text. And, more importantly, Lexile levels can be deceiving as is shown in the example below.stack of books

In addition to quantitative measures, keep in mind qualitative measures that include text structure, meaning, and language conventions. A good example of the (mis)match between quantitative and qualitative measures can be found in the award-winning book, The Giver, by Lois Lowry. The Giver measures at a Lexile level of 760L which makes it potentially suitable for students in 4th or 5th grade according to Lexile bands. While many students may be able to independently read the book in 4th or 5th grade, the question really lies in the suitability of the themes for intermediate students. I would argue that while many students are able to decode the words the mature themes would be lost on a good portion of students. In this case, the meaning and dystopian theme remain more suitable for older students who have more experience.

A reader’s background knowledge and the task demands also influence text selection. You are likely familiar with considering a reader’s background knowledge and experiences and how they impact making sense of text. Task demands are important, too, and will be discussed in the next section.

Text selection is key. Become familiar with children’s and young adult literature. While this knowledge is critical when selecting texts for small or large group discussion, it’s also important for building your classroom library. Classroom libraries are a key resource in a balanced literacy classroom and I’ve written frequently about their importance. You’ll find all the posts here.

If you’d prefer honing your selection skills through discussion with colleagues, check out #TitleTalk, a lively book discussion held once a month on Twitter. (If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, check out the Twitter Cheat Sheet for Educators which will get you up to speed. And, to venture into Twitter chats, check out the topical list of 101+ Twitter Chat Groups for Educators.

TaskA second key consideration when planning lessons is the task required of readers. Tasks will differ depending on the text type, text features, and level and proficiency of readers. However, the task required of readers should be carefully considered.

Examples of tasks may include but are not limited to the following: respond orally and in writing to text-dependent questions, retell narrative selections based on illustrations and text, asking questions, compare and contrast, create visual displays of information, identify meaning of vocabulary, locate information using text features, and interpret visual information.

Choose tasks carefully based on the text, your students, and the context.

ContextFinally, the context must be considered when selecting text, the task, and planning lessons. I think about context in a broad sense. The question you are trying to answer is, “What kind of support will students need to make meaning of this text?”

One way to think of context is that it is part of the continuum of the gradual release of responsibility framework. Gradual release can be summarized by these six words: showClassroom Library me, help me, let me.

A context in which students receive guided support could be in a small group led by the teacher (show me). For example, as students read and respond to a passage, the teacher may provide specific and timely feedback to help students make meaning. Or, the teacher may guide a group discussion with the class using carefully selected questions or discussion prompts. In another case, the teacher may selectively read aloud challenging passages and think aloud while reading.

Students can also be placed in pairs or small groups as they complete tasks related to making meaning of text. These formats  provide support for students (help me) as they work toward independence.

Finally, the environmental context also deserves our attention. A literacy-rich environment that includes a well-stocked classroom library provides the perfect environmental context to support students. First, a diverse classroom library supports students as they independently select and read books and other materials. In addition, it also provides the context for the practice students need as they become independent learners who can be successful with increasingly challenging text-related tasks (let me).

Final Thoughts

Carefully consider the implications and interactions between the text, task, and context when designing lessons to meet the Common Core Standards. Students need to move along the gradual release of responsibility and become proficient at independently making meaning from text. Students will benefit from all aspects of the show me, help me, let me continuum. It’s a balancing act. And one that an expert teacher will master.

Leave a comment below. What are your key considerations as you prepare lessons to support students to make meaning from text?

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Kimberly

Kimberly is an educational consultant who works with district leaders to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning. No Tears for Tiers, a book about Common Core Vocabulary that she is writing, will be published by Solution Tree in 2014. In her other life, you'll find her in her gardens, biking, reading, or hanging out with her two teenagers (when they let her, that is).