Text complexity in reading research: A conceptual review

Text complexity in reading research: A conceptual review

First Author: Kristin Conradi Smith -- College of William and Mary
Additional authors/chairs: 
Steve Amendum
Keywords: Text Complexity, Reading, conceptual review
Abstract / Summary: 

Recent curricular shifts have called for an increase in text complexity at all levels (CCSS, 2010), but this shift precedes a clear understanding of its implications. Some research suggests a negative relationship between increased text complexity and achievement (Authors, 2016; Morris et al., 2013), whereas others argue students fare better as texts become more complex (Benjamin & Schwanenflugel, 2010; Shanahan, 2011).

This lack of consensus has led some to conclude that more research should be conducted (Cunningham, 2013; Mesmer et al., 2012), but it is possible that the lack of consensus is instead due to misinterpretations of the literature. Specifically, attempts to generalize findings have been stymied by terminology problems: Researchers have used the term, text complexity, to represent different perspectives (Mesmer et al., 2012). How text complexity is framed in a given study affects results and implications. Moreover, when multiple definitions ground investigations, there is a real risk that parallel lines of inquiry can lead to confusing and even contradictory findings. Clarification in the field is needed.

For the present investigation, we consider how the term, text complexity, has been applied in the literature. We are conducting a concept analysis-where the primary focus is to describe precisely how researchers have framed and investigated a topic (Rogers, 1989). Articles from the top 15 reading and educational psychology journals, published since 2005 are included. This initial search resulted in 86 articles. Each article is being coded for how explicitly authors defined the construct, which theories were used to frame and explain it, and results and implications. Results of this study will not only provide clarity in terms of how researchers have conceptualized the construct, but also will lead to a clearer understanding of the research base as we move forward.