Rigorous Reading: Building Strength and Stamina with Dr. Douglas Fisher

Difficulty versus ComplexityDr. Douglas Fisher, Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, presented in the webinar, “Rigorous Reading: Building Strength and Stamina,” sponsored by Achieve3000. The webinar explored building strength and stamina in students to improve reading at increased difficulty and complexity. Dr. Fisher began by defining the difference between difficulty and complexity, explaining that difficulty is the amount of effort a student must put into a given task, whereas complexity is the kind of thinking students must do for that task. It is fundamental that teachers maintain the balance between difficulty and complexity to foster an effective literacy program. They can do this by assigning their students many tasks that provide varied levels of each.

Dr. Fisher continued on to discuss key points it takes for students to read at increased difficulty and complexity, beginning with purpose and modeling. With purpose and modeling, students should ask more than just, “What have I learned?” but, “Why have I learned this?” and “How will I know I have learned this?” He also highlighted the importance of modeling things like comprehension, text structures, word solving, or text features witBuilding Strength and Staminah students. “Modeling and demonstrating is absolutely essential in my opinion!” said a webinar attendee.

Dr. Fisher noted that although we try to get kids to read more complex text, this is not the only goal. Students read more complex text to build strength, while they read less complex text to build stamina. According to Dr. Fisher, “Assigning hard books will not ensure students learn at high levels.” He recommended a close reading lesson, rereading short passages of complex pieces of text, and changing the task during each rereading to keep students interested. For example, one rereading could be focused on the flow of the text, while the next rereading could be focused on annotating the text.

Creating a Close ReadingA critical component of close reading is collaborative conversation. “If the students aren’t talking to each other about the text, don’t call it a close reading lesson,” he stated. Another important part of close reading is asking the student, “What does the text inspire you to do?” Dr. Fisher concluded this point by recommending students be active in having a choice in how they demonstrate how the text inspired them, whether it be in the form of a presentation, debate, research, or something else.

He finished the webinar noting the importance of formative assessment of students. Teachers can approach what their students still need to be taught by establishing a learning target, checking for understanding and feedback, and using student performance data to develop next steps for student instruction. This method allows teachers to evaluate patterns of error in the classroom and better support students’ needs. With this system, teachers can focus on the students that need extra help in certain areas, rather than reteaching the entire class.


About the Presenter


Dr. Douglas Fisher is the Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College in San Diego, California. An award-winning author, educator, and researcher, his work focuses on school improvement, especially in the areas of quality instruction and raising student achievement.

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Achieve_LgTagDescriptor-cmykAchieve3000 reaches all students, PreK-12+, at their individual reading levels to accelerate their learning, improve high-stakes test performance, and prepare them for college and career success.