Not everything published for students is really written for students

Reading Time: 2 minutes , CC0, Alexander Dummer

Writing that is too hard is not just a problem for academia. Even materials published for school students are not always written in easy language. Thus, authors of materials for students seem to have similar problems as authors of academic studies.

Examples from geography education

For instance, one of the topics in geography education is catastrophes. That includes e.g. earthquakes, landslides and storms. Lots of different materials to teach that are published. It’s a pretty complex topic.

Tropical storms include cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons.

I looked at several examples that explain how tropical storms form. Here’s the list:

Even a quick reading reveals quite some differences in the language used to explain how tropical storm form. Many texts seem to be fairly difficult. Is it just my impression? No. A check (tool for German) shows a range in Flesch scores from below 20 to a little over 50. That means  none of the five materials has a score that is recommended for  grades 6 to 10 (the tool recommends 61-80).

What about the popular site Wikipedia? The intro section on how tropical storms form is also too difficult for grades 7-9 based on the Flesch score. By the way – this isn’t only a problem of the German Wikipedia or this particular topic1.

Consequences for teacher ed

Tropical storms might be a particularly difficult topic to get a good Flesch score on. After all, some of the needed words (like “Wirbelsturm” or “Corioliskraft”) are long in German. They lower the score. Yet, the examples show a problem.

What does that mean for teacher ed?

Teachers should include tasks that help their pre-service students to rate how hard materials in their subject area are. Teachers could explain and use the Flesch score. One task could be to list difficult words. One could also e.g. look at guides for easy German and discuss which of these apply in school.

Teachers should also include tasks on how to write simple texts. Many topics are complex. To explain them in a simple manner is quite hard. It needs to be practiced.



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