Blog-a-thon Post 3: #CloseReading is A Habit, And Habits Stink

9 Sep

Welcome to the third post in our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading. We invite YOU to join in! Find more on how-to here. Several selected posts have already been linked to on the Contributors page and we are looking forward to your addition. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

close reading button

Being Cautious and Reflective

Last week in our blog-a-thon many contributors wrote thoughtfully about being careful:

Ultimately, what these points are suggesting is that we must be purposeful in our instructional decisions, deciding what to keep out as much as what to keep in.  It also raises the question: how?

As our blog-a-thon rolls on we will think with you about answers to that very question: how can we teach students these skills while still holding onto what matters?

Habits Are The Most Awesome [Horrible] Things

Close reading is a habit, just like any other. I have written about our students habits before and when I do I am generally reminded that habits are horrible.

Just think of the things you are trying to begin doing or stop doing. I, for one, was on a massive exercise kick for months. I had a trainer, was eating right, even went running regularly. Running of all things! Me. Running. I looked better than normal, felt great. Then about five months ago I just stopped altogether. “From this day forward I shall eat pasta and cake,” I declared, “and not exercise for one second.” Why? You and I know there is no good reason why. Other than good habits take work, it’s  hard to keep up, I got so busy, where do I find the time, and apparently I am a big whiney baby.

So what does help us learn and hold onto new habits?

Structures Can Lead to Habits

While my recent fitness plan has been in the pits, I am surprisingly certain that if I went to a sports club tomorrow I would still know the correct squat stance and because I do I could apply it to doing other things I remember like box jumps, kettlebells, even tire flips. I may need a few visits to get back into the full swing, but those exercises are ingrained habits I can return to when needed.

by sanchom Used under Creative Commons lic

How? Because I learned the “squat” structure as a routine and then learned how to apply it in a variety of ways. My trainer broke down each step, helped me understand the purpose behind those steps, and offered a lot of practice time and coaching to get good at them.

In Kristi Mraz’s contributor post last week (building off of thinking started by Fran McVeigh), she shared her hunch that in primary grades an “emergent close reading” may really be about teaching “stances” to students. As in, how you act while reading something to really adore the illustrations, versus how you act while reading something to be surprised by the words, versus how you act while reading something that you can’t wait to laugh through.  We couldn’t agree more.

One Structure: Finding Patterns

In our new book, Kate and I describe structures we, and teachers we have studied with, have found useful for teaching the habit of close reading.  Just as in the gym I learned a few routines I can use in a variety of combinations, so too do we want students to learn a handful of approaches for looking closely at texts (or media or life) and then allow them to use these interchangeably.

One of these routines we explore is looking for patterns in an author’s choices. In our research we found that too often programs or guides created in the name of close reading often require teachers to ask questions of disjointed pieces of text. “Why did the author use the word, ‘snowstorm’ in paragraph three?” This sort of question can lead to a lot of interesting thinking, but also a lot of blind-inferring: Because she doesn’t like rain? Because she wanted a word that started with an ‘s’? Because she prefers words with nine letters?

If instead you look across a section you have reread, and look for patterns in the choices the author has made, your thinking becomes both more specific and more broadly interpretive.  More specific because you are closer to the text–perhaps in this fictitious story you see the author uses many storm related words indirectly, “overcast eyes,” “her finger tips flowed with electricity,” “a hurricane brewed in her stomach,”–and this closeness leads you to have broader interpretations: Maybe because the author is helping us see that the fears this character had inside are really fears the whole world outside shares.

by julia.chapple Used under Creative Commons Lic

In Chapter Five of What Readers Really Do, Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton explore the role of patterns as helping readers move from basic comprehension to deeper understandings. We found ourselves returning to their thinking again and again. In the classrooms we researched, we found that an essential ingredient, a routine or stance, in finding patterns is having the belief that though the details you collect may not seem to fit together at first, with time and reflection you are often surprised by what you find.  In Chapter Three (see page 56) Dorothy and Vicki point out, “our ability to tolerate confusion and be comfortable with postponing clarity is connected to our sense that not knowing is actually very useful. If we knew everything right from the start, there would be no point in reading on.”

To develop a habit, like close reading or going to the gym, we need to learn the routines, steps, or stances of that habit. This is what we keep in mind as we plan instruction to support readers.

Your Turn

As our 7-week blog-a-thon continues we will share more of our current thinking about the hands-on teaching and learning of close reading. Share your thoughts with the community as well: We spoke about the routine of finding patterns, what others routines or stances do you find support close reading? What else is involved in helping a habit stick that you bring to your classroom? Also consider referencing or responding to Contributor Posts.

To date, there have been more than 7,000 views, comments, or posts in our blog-a-thon. So share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together! To join: add the #closereading button to your post and paste the URL in the comments below.

Look for Kate’s blog-a-thon Post 4  on Thursday!

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10 Responses to “Blog-a-thon Post 3: #CloseReading is A Habit, And Habits Stink”

  1. Tara September 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Each of these posts moves my thinking further, so thank you, Chris and Kate and all the contributors. I think this idea of habit and routine is something I want to focus on with my kiddos this year. Here’s how we began:http://tmsteach.blogspot.com/2013/09/closereading-post-2-practicing-on-day.html

  2. Sarah Picard Taylor September 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    You have me thinking about close reading in k-2, specifically the habits and routines of book selection for independent reading in primary grades and rereading great read alouds too. I shared some thoughts and questions at my blog, http://readwriteandplay.blogspot.com/

  3. Jennifer Priddy September 11, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    I am loving your posts on close reading and your references to many of the books that fill my library (purchased with my own money, so now I feel so validated :) I am learning so much about what close reading actually is, despite what I admittedly did with my students. I wish I could go back in time and engage my students in more dialogic talk. Hopefully I will get a “do-over”. I am about to embark on some action research about the benefits of explicit teaching of close reading on comprehension. I have a mere 4 weeks and a few sessions each week and have no idea how to approach these sessions with these 3rd graders. Any guidance would be appreciated.

  4. jsteltz September 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    In our age, helping students learn how to read closely by modeling the behavior and techniques is imperative for ALL educators…not just all of us who teach ELA. This is great and we have to continue the movement!

  5. franmcveigh September 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Chris,
    After years of seeing lists of strategies being “checked off as taught” and not getting to the level of teaching students to “read strategically,” I am quite reluctant to propose a “routine” for teaching close reading. So here’s my thinking!

    http://franmcveigh.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/fitting-the-puzzle-pieces-of-close-reading-together/
    :-)

  6. Allison Jackson September 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Love that you mentioned What Readers Really Do. I immediately thought of that book when you started talking about noticing patterns. This is what close reading means to me.
    Really enjoying the blog-a-thon and the thoughtful, reflective thinking.

    • franmcveigh September 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Allison,
      I so agree: close reading = What Readers Really Do! That’s such a tremendous book! And Vicki Vinton was s gracious during our chat as well!

  7. Dr. Dea September 9, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    I am enjoying your posts on close reading and the scrutiny being given the fallacious idea that close reading begins with teacher generated text dependent questions (among other misguided indicators and supports for close reading). I have been writing about close reading for sometime in my own blog, Notions and Potions, defending close reading as not a new trend but a reading practice instituted by those who became known as literary critics long before the Common Core was ever considered. Over my twenty++ years in education, I have been having my students conduct close readings and discussions of poetry, drama, novels and yes, informational texts. In my most recent post, I share one idea for supporting students’ attention to patterns in literature, literary motifs. Hope you enjoy it! http://partnerinedu.com/2013/09/06/the-search-for-meaning-in-literary-motifs-supporting-cc-literacy-standards-1-2-4-5/

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blog-a-thon Post 5: #CloseReading Nonfiction (Why? and Oh!) | Christopher Lehman - September 16, 2013

    […] a previous posts we suggested that looking for patterns is one important habit in close reading, and that as readers we actively bring in our prior […]

  2. What my mother taught me about close reading. | indent - September 12, 2013

    […] a bit more confident, in their close reading. My compatriot, Chris, highlights one way to help here, and we outline more in our upcoming book. I remember a guy in my hometown, Utica, who used to say, […]

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