Day 3 Discussion: Productive Struggle with Complex Text hosted by Anita Kerr!

Hi everyone and welcome to Day 3 of our discussion about "Productive Struggle with Complex Text" hosted by Illinois Professional Development Network Adult Education Language Arts Training Specialist Anita Kerr! 

On Day 1, Anita explained and gave an overview of productive struggle with complex text.. 

Yesterday, Anita described how to teach productive struggle with complex test in leveled and multi-level classes.  In the discussion that followed, she mentioned that our students are "multi-talented, not just multi-level readers. How can we tap into their talents when teaching texts? Offering them multiple ways to respond to a text is one option: let them draw, design a multimedia presentation, or act out a skit about the text topic."  Anita also talked about ways to make complex texts more accessible by doing jigsaws, chunking texts, and providing graphic organizers.  She also described ways to keep students from being frustrated while learning to use this strategy. 

I am looking forward to today's focus on resources we can use while doing productive struggle with complex texts.  Throughout this discussion, I am frequently reminded of the old saying, "Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime."  As students become more comfortable with this strategy, their instructors are giving them the tools to feed themselves for a lifetime while tackling complex language arts texts.  

If you wish to talk with Anita further about this strategy, please contact her at 

Thanks again so much for sharing your expertise Anita!  


During yesterday’s discussion, we mentioned some online resources for teaching complex text. Today I want to talk about a few other free resources that you may not have thought about as tools for teaching complex text.

Resource #1: A timer – Have you ever set a timer to monitor how long students spend reading during one class period? Or timed how long it takes them to get through a particularly complex text? We have to build reading stamina in our students. How long can your students focus on a text and question set without getting distracted or tired? Is it comparable to the time required to take a TABE reading test or a GED® Reasoning through Language Arts test? Talk to them about the need to build up stamina, just as a long distance runner must. Convince them of the importance of reading longer, difficult passages, and make a direct connection between your class activities and their future challenges.

Resource #2: Knowledge of your students – One reason students resist reading complex text is because it is hard, and they don’t like doing things they aren’t good at doing. Think about this: how often do you spend time doing something you are bad at doing? Probably not often! Our students likewise may avoid reading because they aren’t good at it. Therefore, we have to capitalize on other strengths they have instead: their background knowledge and their passions. What does your struggling reader do for a living? What interests her? What does she love to talk about? Find a text on that topic and assign it to her individually. Spark her interest and stimulate her pre-existing knowledge, and the text becomes more accessible to her. Research tells us that knowledge of the content area contributes as much to comprehension of a text as technical reading skills. So put text in front of students that you know will interest them!

Resource #3: Your patience – How often does a quick-processing, quick-talking student shout out the answer to a question, before others in the room have had a chance to think about their own answer? Creating an environment of productive struggle requires teachers to use appropriate wait time when conducting class discussion. If every question is answered quickly by the same outspoken person, students learn that they don’t have to work or think; they just have to wait until that one person speaks out. Let’s level the playing field and make all our students work by enforcing some wait time after asking a question: “Everyone take one minute to think of a response and write down a one sentence answer. Then we’ll discuss.”

Think about your classroom. Which of these “free resources” do you need to apply with your students? Looking forward to the discussion!

Thanks Anita! I'm afraid patience may be the free resource I need to apply!! Thanks for pointing out these valuable free resources! Your point about how infrequently I spend time doing something I am bad at is a great reminder! So true.

In addition to all of your fantastic points, I would like to add in knowing your student's future aspirations - their employment goals in addition your student's passion and background knowledge. Knowing those and relating their hard work to preparing for the future would hopefully be a motivator. We all have days at work that are hard. We are made to stretch and grow when presented with new challenges. Practicing in our classrooms is also good practice for life and for work life. Learning how to approach difficult material and difficult situations will be extremely helpful in life. Hmm...makes me realize when I am doing something hard at work, I want people to be patient with me!  

I love this reminder about students' goals and future aspirations! How often are we making direct connections between what is happening in the classroom with what students will encounter in the future? I think this is one of the most important things we can do to make learning relevant and (as Sarah points out) motivate students even more. Then need to see that the academic and workplace/college/training readiness skills we are teaching them are directly related to what they will encounter in future training, classrooms, and work environments.  Even if the complex text we are using in class is not directly related to a future job or experience, the productive struggle they will go through while they read and work IS practice for the kind of productive struggle they'll do in other contexts. 

Speaking about the future Anita, I understand you have a session about productive struggle with complex text at the COABE Conference in Baltimore, MD in April.  Could you give us some specifics (date and time) so those who would like to get more information about this topic can attend your session and connect with you?  Also, are you doing any other sessions at COABE?  


Steve Schmidt

Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing COP 

Yes, I will be presenting a session titled Productive Struggle With Complex Text at COABE - Wednesday at 11:15am.      
My colleagues and I are also presenting a session titled Mapping the Course for TABE Success on Wednesday at 8:00am. Our pre-conference session on TABE 11&12 implementation will be on Sunday afternoon, April 5.
I’d love to meet fellow LINCS community members at COABE!