An Exploration of Text Difficulty and Knowledge Support on Adolescents' Comprehension

Sarah M. Lupo, Laura Tortorelli, Marcia Invernizzi, Ji Hoon Ryoo, John Z. Strong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of the study was to determine whether easy or challenging versions of texts, when accompanied by different types of instructional support, improved adolescents' reading comprehension, particularly for students with below-average reading comprehension. The authors examined 293 ninth-grade students' reading comprehension of 24 leveled texts over a 12-week intervention in which teachers were randomly assigned to one of two instructional strategies prior to reading: K-W-L or Listen-Read-Discuss. Students were randomly assigned within classes to read either easy or challenging versions of the texts, and students' text comprehension was assessed after each lesson. General comprehension was assessed before and after the intervention using the Gates–MacGinitie Reading Comprehension subtest. The authors analyzed the texts using Lexile Analyzer, Coh-Metrix Text Easability Assessor, and TextEvaluator to compare aspects of concreteness, formality of language, cohesion, and familiarity across versions. Findings revealed that comprehension of the easy and challenging versions was similar for most students, but students in the K-W-L classrooms outperformed students in the Listen-Read-Discuss classrooms. Only a small subset of students who read significantly below average, many of whom were identified as English learners, benefited from reading the easier versions. The Coh-Metrix and TextEvaluator tools indicated that the easier texts had more familiar vocabulary, greater lexical cohesion, fewer academic vocabulary words, and a more conversational tone, but similar grammatical cohesion and concreteness of words. The results suggest that most students, even if struggling with comprehension, can read challenging versions of texts when accompanied by instructional support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-479
Number of pages23
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 International Literacy Association

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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