Reading and Complex Reasoning

Reading is an interaction between a reader and a text. When students read a text, their understanding is constrained by the relation between the content and complexity of the text and the content and complexity of their reasoning. If the complexity of a student's reasoning is low relative to a given text, that text is more difficult for that student to read and interpret than it is for a student whose reasoning is more complex. Similarly, if a student knows very little about the subject of a given text, he or she is likely to struggle with comprehension relative to a student who knows more. Texts that expose students to ideas and arguments that are just beyond their current reach play a key role in the development of complex reasoning.

Critical thinking and reflective judgment are important aspects of reasoning that increase in complexity over the course of development. Research has provided evidence of growth in the complexity of middle and high school students' (1) understanding of the nature of knowledge and their ability to (2) consider and debate evidence, (3) compare arguments, and (4) synthesize evidence and argument to create a coherent viewpoint, statement, or essay.

In order to promote the development of students' complex reasoning skills, the Word Generation and STARI curricula provide students with many opportunities to evaluate and build arguments to support a position. They do this in writing and through discussion and debate.


This site was originally prepared for districts and teachers who partnered with us throughout the project. While we have updated the text, many of the videos included on this site were prepared during the launch of the study. Although the project has come to a close, we are keeping the site and related videos available for those who are interested to learn more about the project.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100026 to the Strategic Education Research Partnership as part of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

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Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate (CCDD)