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When There’s No White Horse: Being our Best Advocates

25 Jun

A few days ago several people forwarded a blog post to me titled “An Obituary for Close Reading.” They sent it along not because they thought talk of the death of close reading would worry me (life will go on), but because there are some less than glowing comments made about Kate and my book in both that post and a follow up one.

Some close friends felt badly for me, some others wondered if I should respond, still others said to brush it off.  I’ve had my share of good and bad reviews for all sorts of stuff, so it’s nothing new.

I did feel compelled to write a post today because, bruises aside, I actually agree with the author.

Well, okay, I’m human I don’t completely agree. I, like all parents, think my babies are the sweetest, brightest, most beautiful ones on the block.

I more specifically agree with the conceit that we need to be careful of buzz words and advocate for our own learning and practice.

To go a step farther, I think advocating needs to go well beyond shunning buzz words. Once something has become edubabble it is almost too late.

We, as a profession, need to advocate earlier and often for the policies that come our way. We need to shape the decisions that are made in our districts. We need to be active with our administrators. We need to offer our professional expertise so by the time something gets to the babble stage, it’s actually worth babbling about.

That was our hope with our tongue-in-cheek titled, Falling in Love With Close Reading, that we could restore best practices to a term which, at the time, was buzzing with nonsense.

 

We Can’t Wait for Advocates, We Need to BE Advocates

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that while the teaching profession can hold onto hope that an advocate in government or the public will arrive, we must instead become our own best advocates right now.

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The reality is, when questionable things intended to “help education” trickle down to us — either from the federal, state, or district level — they are questionable to us now because they truly were questionable when they were decided.  Or more accurately, they were questioned during the process of decision making.

I was watching a documentary on the Cold War recently and I was struck by one meeting in particular.  Russian ships were on their way to Cuba and no one in the US military was certain why. Could they be carrying missiles? Were they empty and only coming to posture? Around the table, most of Kennedy’s advisors were pushing for a preemptive attack against Russia. Striking first, before the ships arrived, could scare them away. There was much debate, a lot of uncertainty, and for whatever reason Kennedy continued to say no, we should wait. Wait to see what they do first. No one knew the “right” move, it was all discussion, it was all conversation.

History revealed that choosing to wait was the right choice. Of course it could have not been.

Watching that documentary, I was so struck by my naiveté regarding history. For me, it always seemed so linear: pilgrims came, then colonies, then the Revolutionary War, and so on. Seeing the people, hearing their perspectives, I was shaken to realize (and embarrassed this had not clicked for me until now) that every decision that has been made and will continue to be is, quite literally, a room full of people talking about possibilities.

The same holds true for decisions that come our way in education. Though textbooks can seem to rain from the sky and standards are zapped into being through bolts of lightening, those initiatives were made by people and their best guesses.

So first, it’s important to realize that in all cases, decisions are drawn from experience and information (or lack thereof). When your district says “this textbook will help our students succeed.” You can be certain that no one who made that decision is 100% sure of that statement.

Which is where we, as professionals, come in. Before edubabble ever gets to the point of edubabble, we can advocate in small and big ways. We can help bring our expertise, experience, and knowledge to the table.

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Small Steps to Advocate

There are small step ways to advocate for our students, our work, and the right improvements to education:

  • Take back edubabble: In some cases the babble may come with a good intentions that may have become muddle in practice or the telephone line of implementation. If what you are hearing doesn’t match what you know to be best practices, change the word or revise the definition.
  • Don’t malign district decisions, get in there are help to make them: Decisions that are made are almost always made to help kids. It is just that often people making those decisions do not read research and work with kids enough to really know what works best. You are the expertise they need. Volunteer for curriculum review committees (even if they don’t exist yet, volunteer yourself!).
  • Connect with other passionate educators: Around your district and across the world there are people as engaged, active, and inspiring as you. Find them. Start a book club or lesson planning circle in your community, join a twitter chat, or sign-up for a summer course.

Dorothy Barnhouse‘s introduction to her new book, Readers Front and Center, is a master class in advocating. Written with passion and practicality, she helps us to rethink some of the edubabble in the Common Core reading standards and the constellation of “aligned” (and often not) initiatives. One highlight is the way she reframes the “Text Complexity Triangle” that every CCSS states’ educators have seen one-thousand-and-one-times (see my tweet for the visual, color added). That graphic, stunning in it’s simplicity, is a whole new way to talk about the same work described in the standards. I can picture school board members having those concentric circles in their hands and school leadership teams posting it on the wall of their meeting room, all saying “did we start with students with this decision?” and consulting the image again.

 

Big Steps to Advocate

The big step ways involve supporting our colleagues in having the vision, passion, and guts to bring classroom experience to leadership and policy levels:

  • More career educators need to move into policy and government roles: school boards, local, state and federal governments
  • More career educators need to move into school leadership roles: administration and central offices
  • More career educators need to move into research and teacher training roles: higher education, authors, consultants
  • More career educators need to remain in the classroom and also become more politically and socially active: writing, voting, speaking

A piece of this is reflecting on our own careers. Have you ever entertained the thought of an education life beyond your classroom or school building? You do not need to have one, but it’s a question worth considering. Your gifts may be able to impact many students and educators in more positive and purposeful ways then we are often experiencing now.

A larger key is being inspiration for others, for our fellow educators. When I began as a teacher I assumed I would always be in the classroom, I loved my students and found the job both impossibly difficult and incredibly fulfilling. It was a high school literacy coach who said, “maybe you should consider coaching. I think you’d be good at it.” It was my first step out of full time classroom teaching. The rest is history.  You can help shape the future of our profession by inviting a talented colleague to dream: “I think your passion and voice could help a lot of teachers and kids, have you ever thought of applying to policy program? We need more educators out there.”

 

We Are Our Profession

You are already an advocate. Every day you walk into your school, every child you believe in, every family you connect with, you are advocating.

We need your voice and talents even more. There are many improvements ahead for our profession, if you are not a part of making them then someone else will.

Your voice matters.

Thanks for all you do.

 

#FILWCloseReading is in its 4th Printing!

11 Jun

Kate Roberts and I are so grateful for all of our readers. Falling in Love with Close Reading is in its fourth printing!

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Related Resources

We love learning with all of you and from all of you.  Here are a few ways to connect, study, and share:

  • Kate and I will be leading another 3-session webinar in October on Close Reading, click the image below to be taken to the registration page:

Falling in love w close reading october webinar

  • We wrote a study guide for Falling in Love With Close Reading which you can find here.
  • Join others on twitter using #FILWCloseReading
  • Heinemann designed this beautiful graphic (click to be taken to the main page to download a larger copy for yourself):

 

  • (And word on the street says we just may be coming to a few cities this next school year… we’ll keep you posted….!)

Thanks for all you do.

My interview at Two Writing Teachers

19 May

I’m excited to share my interview at Two Writing Teachers: “An Interview with Educator and Author Chris Lehman.”

I was interviewed by TWTs’ Beth Moore, my friend, former colleague at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and TWT regular contributor.

We talked my passion-ish for writing and reading, tips for helping reluctant student writers, standards, heroes and so much more.  It was a blast to do and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed having it!

Here’s the post. Thanks #TWTblog!

 

Happy V-Day treats from Falling in Love with Close Reading

13 Feb

Kate and I have been so touched, honored, energized, (a little overwhelmed, in a good way), by all of the generous comments and cool experiences many of you have been sharing about your work with our book.

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We love your love and love you back.

So. We talked with our friends at Heinemann and brainstormed two special things.

One has been going on for about two weeks for those of you on twitter who follow @HeinemannPub and/or Kate, I and ends at midnight tonight, a chance to win a book bundle of 5 selected books from Heinemann:

  • Falling in Love with Close Reading
  • Book Love, by Penny Kittle
  • Energize Research Reading and Writing, by me
  • Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, by Georgia Heard and
  • Children Want to Write, a collection of Don Grave’s essays and archival footage edited by Tom Newkirk and Penny Kittle

More on that twitter contest here. Winners are chosen tomorrow and announced by @HeinemannPub on twitter (woo!).

The other is that Falling in Love With Close Reading will have a special (and very cute) price tomorrow: $14.14  February 14, 2014. Aww.

All day tomorrow through Heinemann.com use the promo code “FiLwCR” for this offer.  Only good on Valentine’s Day.

Public domain, photo by Chordboard used under Creative Commons lic

Thanks for the love everyone! We love your compassion, courage, and belief in our amazing profession.

Upcoming Learning Love

I’ll be talking about close reading during a full day pre-conference session at Write To Learn 2014 in MO. Info/register here.

Kate and I are presenting ideas from our book in the Seattle and Portland areas in April. Info/register here.

My 3-session webinar series on Energizing Research Instruction (it should be called “love, not plagiarism”) begins in March. Info/register here.

Visit my events page for many more of my 2014 speaking engagements.

Falling in Love with #CloseReading Study Guide, Events, Open Video Call

7 Jan

Kate Roberts and I have been so honored that many of you have made Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Life a part of your classrooms and study groups with colleagues.

We hope our ideas spark engagement and interest in looking at close reading not through the lens of a mandate or prescribed program, but instead as one of many methods that can support our students (and ourselves) in looking at texts, media, and even our lives in new ways.

Falling in Love with Close Reading Study Guide!

In honor of your work, Kate and I wrote a Study Guide to accompany the book and support you in your conversations with colleagues.  More than just discussion questions, the free guide is written with the same spirit Kate and I bring to our in-school staff development: one part inspiration, one part conversation, one part hands-on practical… and all parts collaboration.

You can find the study guide housed on Heinemann’s page or click the image below:

Falling in Love With Close Reading cover

STUDY GUIDE

Falling in Love with Close Reading Events – Live and Online

ONLINE! Kate and I are leading a 3-part interactive webinar. Three, 75 minute webinar sessions from 4:00pm–5:15pm ESTWednesdays, January 22, 29, February 5. Information and registration for the webinar series is at this link.

LIVE! In addition to our regular work speaking and consulting in schools, Kate and I are presenting on the West Coast in April (yay!). Seattle on April 3 and Portland on April 4.  Seats are limited (our two fall dates sold out early).  Information and registration for the One-Day Workshops are at this link.

Call for Videos!

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Many of you have been tweeting or telling us in person about the amazing work you and your students are doing around close reading while using strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading.  We would like to celebrate your work and share it with the world.

We are having an open call for 4-minutes or less classroom video clips of you and your students in action.

All submissions require appropriate consent forms, find them and how to submit at the video landing page: Vimeo.com/FILWCloseReading (click links on the left sidebar).  Selected videos will be posted with your name and state (unless you request otherwise).

#engchat Archive

We enjoyed guest hosting #engchat last night, the weekly chat for teachers of literacy and English.  You can find the archive here. While there, consider donating to help #engchat‘s founder, Meenoo Rami, defray the cost of web-hosting the chat archives and announcements.

Thanks for all you do for your students and this profession!

See you this week in WI, WI, WI, and NY

30 Nov

I am looking forward to a week of fun events as we roll into December. (I’m also sharing with you some super-new west coast dates coming up in Spring, you’re the first to know!)

Thursday, December 5. Madison, WI. Madison Area Reading Council is hosting a dinner and talk at the Maple Bluff Country Club. Yummy food and an intimate setting. Dinner at 5:30 and I’ll be talking close reading starting at 6:30.  Register here.

Friday, December 6. Brookfield, WI. Event Sold-Out. Heinemann One-Day workshop, Fall in Love With Close Reading from 8:30-3:30. Seats went quickly, if you weren’t able to attend in person we will be tweeting live all day long using #FILWCloseReading. Join us!

Waukesha County Reading Council

Saturday, December 7. Pewaukee, WI. Waukesha County Reading Council is holding their next meeting at the Country Springs Conference Center where I will be speaking, “Kids Want to Write!: Develop a Powerful Culture of Writing, Growth, and Community.” 8:30-11:00AM. Session is already packed, visit their facebook page for last minute info.

Monday, December 9. Amherst, NY. with special guest Kate Roberts(!!) Heinemann One-Day workshop, Fall in Love With Close Reading.  Day starts at 8:30-3:30. We will be tweeting live all day long using #FILWCloseReading. Join us! A few seats are remaining, register here.

Other Events Online and Across the Country

I’m traveling the country across 2014, visit my events page to see when I will be in your area.

In January, Kate Roberts and I are leading a 3-session Heinemann webinar adapted from our book Falling in Love with Close Reading from 4:00-5:15 PM EST. Register here.

In March, I am leading a 3-session Heinemann webinar adapted from my book Energize Research Reading and Writing from 3:30-4:45 PM EST. Register here.

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Psst.

As members of my blog community I’d like to share with you the first word on two newly added west coast events (the exact location hasn’t even been decided yet!), but registration is now open and seats are expected to go quickly.

Thursday, April 3. Seattle, WA area. Heinemann One-Day workshop, Fall in Love With Close Reading from 8:30-3:30 (there may just be a special guest…). Register here.

Friday, April 4. Portland, OR area. Heinemann One-Day workshop, Fall in Love With Close Reading from 8:30-3:30 (there may just be a special guest…). Register here.

Your Work, Your Kids, Your Ideas: Beyond Falling in Love with #CloseReading

13 Nov

A quick note today to say that I sometimes have to pinch myself when I think of how lucky I am to be a part of our education community. My heart and mind grows with every interaction, in person or through twitter and blogs.

I’ve been having a blast hearing some of the ideas and stories coming from studies of my newest book with Kate Roberts, Falling in Love with Close Reading.  It’s Kate and my hope that you find our book inspirational and practical. Equally, it is our hope that you grow well beyond it’s pages while you collaborate, talk, revise, and bridge our ideas to your own next studies and steps.  We don’t see the book as a strict regiment, but instead as one path from which we hope many more will grow.

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Here are a few examples of recent posts and tweets of educators, like you, developing new ideas, making your own exciting connections.  We love hearing these and hope you will share more.

Ongoing Twitter Community #FILWCloseReading

The hashtag #FILWCloseReading is alive and well.  Fran, Alison, and Laura are hosting a follow up chat, on December 9, to continue the conversation (unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Kate and I are presenting together on Close Reading in Upstate NY, with only a few seats left, on that day and will most likely be in the air and miss it! We’ll read the archives and connect after, we promise.)

Many of you are also continuing to tweet using the hashtag. We love following your thinking and answering your questions or responding to comments.

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Posts and Tweets on Next Steps and Growing Ideas after Reading FILWCR

Tara Smith, one of the new contributors to the dynamic Two Writing Teachers blog write about how Close Reading can support Close Writing. It’s a gorgeous post full of practical inspiration.

Fran McVeigh shares the development of her personal quest to study close reading in this post.

Then, follow the link below to Laura Komos’ Storify archive of Monday night’s #FILWCloseReading chat.

It’s so wonderful to learn along with all of you.  Thanks for all you do, everyday, on behalf of your students.[View the story "#FILWCloseReading chat" on Storify]

11/11 #FILWCloseReading Twitter Chat

11 Nov

SEE UPDATED ARCHIVE FROM CHAT AT END OF THIS POST.

A few twitter friends organized a chat about our new book, Falling in Love With Close Reading, taking place tonight from 6-7pmET.  The chat is about the book, but if you have not read it (or have just started) you are still welcome to join in.

Fran McVeigh, Allison Jackson, and Laura Komos made this google drive document with questions and links for tonight’s chat.

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If you are new to twitter chats you can check out my how-to post: So You Think You Want to TweetChat: From Lurker to Chatter 101 for tips.

Be sure to include the hashtag #FILWCloseReading in all of your tweets to join in.

See you tonight!

 

UPDATE: Archive from tonight’s chat!

http://storify.com/LauraKomos/filwclosereading-chat

Falling in Love With Close Reading cover

11/6 #LeadAndLearn chat “What’s Next for #CCSS & Our Schools?”

4 Nov

(time correction): November 6 at 11:15 CST join me as guest host of the #LeadAndLearn chat live from The Leadership and Learning Center’s “Common Core State Standards Summit 2.0: Getting Ready for the Next Generation Assessments” in New Orleans.

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The summit is on the Math and ELA CCSS and assessments, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.  I’m excited to give the keynote on the first day and attend several sessions.

Topic: What’s Next for #CCSS and Our Schools?”

Draft questions are posted here and open to revisions, comments, and additions.

Use your twitter account and apps or websites like twitter app, tweetchat.com, or twubs.com to follow the hashtag #LeadAndLearn from 11:15 to 12:15 CST to participate.  Be sure to include that hashtag in every tweet you send so the entire group can see it.

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On the Road

My blog has been a bit quieter than I like these past few weeks because I’ve been on the road.  I enjoyed working with a school district in Michigan, keynoting the Annual Reading Conference at Cleveland State University in Ohio.  I just got back from a weekend keynoting and presenting in Dubai at the MENA Common Core conference, and in a few hours I head to the airport again for The Leadership and Learning Center summit.

Join me in person or online at UW-Madison

I’d especially love to extend an invitation to you to join me in person or virtually for my evening talk on the Common Core State Standards at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s School of Education (go badgers!) on Wednesday, November 20 from 6-7:30PM CST.  The event is free in person or online, but both do require advanced registration which you can find here.

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I’m talking Common Core sanity. Hoping to balance out the extreme views on both sides and offer research based, practical advice to educators, parents, and leaders for moving forward.  There are also a few surprises in store that I’m very excited about.

#HappyBookday Falling In Love With #CloseReading!

17 Oct

Kate and I continue to be inspired by all of your wisdom, kindness, and belief in children and educators.

Thanks for making this a special day for us as our book joins your classrooms and conversations.

In the coming weeks look for some more fun:

  • Secret is out! A free, one hour webinar with Penny Kittle, Kate Roberts, and me will take place 10/23! We’ll be talking together and taking your questions and comments about the readers you teach – talking Close Reading, Independence, and most of all building reading Joy. 10/23 from 3-4 pm ET.  Registration is live until all seats are filled: http://heinemann.com/PD/livewebinars/default.aspx.  Groups are encouraged to register with just one seat to allow more educators to join.
    • UPDATE: In less than 24 hours the webinar filled up!  Wow.  Heinemann is collecting a wait list here as cancellations sometimes occur.  

      Also, a little bird *tweet tweet* told me that everyone registered (live or waitlist) will have access to a recording of the webinar aaaand perhaps something else very cool.  It’s a thank you to all of you for the amazing ways you give back to education.

  • Kate and I are busy putting finishing touches on a study guide for the book. Many of you have shared that you are planning to have study groups at your school, so we’re working to support you in those conversations.
  • In November, Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts (of KateAndMaggie.com) and I will be presenting on Close Reading at NCTE and then at the CEL convention, both in Boston.
  • Heinemann One-Day Workshops “Fall in Love With Close Reading”: My Dec 6 date in WI has sold out, on Dec 9 Kate and I will be presenting together and there are seats left but going quickly.  A few more dates and locations for spring will be announced soon!
  • Kate and I will be hosting a 3-session webinar on Close Reading in Jan/Feb. Information and the link to register will be announced soon.

Thanks for all you do, everyday, for students and each another.

Falling in Love With Close Reading cover

(Psst, registration for a special, free, interactive webinar goes live tomorrow)

16 Oct

UPDATE: In less than 24 hours the webinar filled up!  Wow.  Heinemann is collecting a wait list here as cancellations sometimes occur.  

Also, a little bird *tweet tweet* told me that everyone registered (live or waitlist) will have access to a recording of the webinar aaaand perhaps something else very cool.  It’s a thank you to all of you for the amazing ways you give back to education.

 

 

I’ve got a secret:

Tomorrow, Thursday October 17, Heinemann is posting registration for a free, live, webinar conversation between you and some familiar faces (hint: think love… book love… falling in love…).

The live webinar will take place October 23rd from 3-4PM.

More info and the registration link will go live tomorrow morning at approximately 9:30AM ET here: http://www.heinemann.com/PD/livewebinars/default.aspx  Seats are expected to go quickly!

Groups are encouraged to register with just one seat to allow more educators to attend.

(Having a secret is totally fun by the way.)

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Blog-a-thon Post 13: #CloseReading is not THAT Important

14 Oct

Welcome to the last week of our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading! Each week educators joined in with comments and links to their own posts, you can visit the Contributors page for a record of the highlights of this inspiring experience.  We are still collecting links throughout this final week. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

Also, we look forward to working with many of you in person! My Brookfield, WI workshop “Fall in Love with Close Reading” on December 6 has sold out, however there are still seats available in Amherst, NY on December 9 when Kate and I will be presenting together! Registration can be found here.

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Close Reading is Not the Answer…

This Thursday our new book, Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Lifeis officially released. So Kate and I thought it important to start off this final week of our blog-a-thon letting you know that we think close reading is actually not that important… …at least not in the way some are describing it to be.

  • We disagree that close reading is a magic equalizer. We find little evidence that students at a “wide range of reading levels” can read and analyze “demanding text” simply because they are doing so while close reading. Yes, close reading is one way to dig further into texts, but one cannot analyze texts independently that they cannot actually read on their own. Sure, we can do some close teaching, but the goal should be students learn to independently apply close reading skills. (link to Publisher’s Criteria, page 4)
  • We do not believe that text dependent questions are teaching. These types of questions may make for good assessment, and we certainly use text-dependent questions at times in our demonstration lessons–after all, we all want students who talk and think through the text. However, lessons built almost entirely around text-dependent questions, without explicit demonstration, do little to pass skills to our students. Especially the students who need it most. Teaching through osmosis is built on chance, not purpose. (link to EngageNY module by Student Achievement Partners)
  • We do not believe that curriculum should be built solely around close reading of complex texts. The diversity of our learners’ interests, needs, and strengths is too great to be put all into one practice. Without time for independent practice, for example, there is little opportunity for the practice, data collection and responsive instruction needed to support the growth of readers. (link to EngageNY module by Expeditionary Learning)

…You are the Answer

We think close reading IS important. We think it is as important as any other piece of student-centered, responsive, soul-filling, reading instruction.

Mary Ann Colbert, a master of primary reading instruction and former colleague, once said something that has stuck with me for years: “it’s important that we not only choose our teaching points to match our students, but that we also choose our methods carefully. It’s not just what we teach that makes a difference to kids, its how we choose to teach it.”

I think this idea is at the core of what Kate and I believe about close reading:

  • It is a method, a set of skills, for digging deeper into texts, into media, and into our daily lives.
  • It is a method, a set of skills, that readers can learn to choose (or not choose) to match their purpose–just as a baker will choose a gentle hand whisk over a powerful electronic mixer at times.
  • It is a method, a set of skills, that a teacher can choose (or not choose) to employ to match the needs and strengths of their students.

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As Lucy Calkins wrote in The Art of Teaching Writing and echoed in The Art of Teaching Reading:

If  our teaching is to be an art, we must draw from all we know, feel, and believe in order to create something beautiful. To teacher well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential. It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, and design of those ideas.

We believe close reading is not the sole answer to every need of your students.  Instead, we believe your knowledge of all the multi-facets of expert reading instruction, used in response to your students, is what matters.

You–educator, leader, literacy coach, administrator, library/media specialist, parent–are the answer. You are the answer when you continue to grow your kit of tools, when you continue to connect and dream with other educators, when you make decisions because your students’ new horizons.

Beyond Close Reading

As I’m finishing this post I am leafing through the pages of the “References” section in our book. The references are compiled at the end of writing, during production, just as the book is getting ready for it’s final proofread and off to the presses. They appear at the physical end of the book as a list of citations.

Rereading them, now, I am reminded that these texts, these voices, were very much the beginning.  Our thinking grew from these educators and authors, their ideas about teaching, learning, and life influenced our own.

…Richard Allington, Katherine Applegate, Nancie Atwell, Dorthothy Barnhouse, Kylene Beers, Katherine and Randy Bomer, Lucy Calkins and the Reading and Writing Project, Eric Carle, Sharon Draper, Doug Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Stephanie Harvey, John Hattie, Karin Hess, James Howe, Patricia Kain, Ellin Keene, Penny Kittle, Lois Lowry, Donalyn Miller, Tom Newkirk, R.J. Palacio, P. David Pearson, Katie Wood Ray, Louise Rosenblatt, Donna Santman, Jen Serravallo, Jon Steinbeck, Alfred Tatum, Cris Tovani, Lev Vygotsky… I’ve condensed the list here, there are so many others in between and beyond these names. So, many others who are also not directly cited in those final pages.

We hope that when and if you get to those final pages, when you hit that “References” section, that you not turn close the cover too quickly. Instead, let the end become your next beginning.

Continue to study and grow as you always have. Your students need you. We need you.

by geodesic used under Creative Commons lic

Your Turn

Which educators, authors, artists, people, have influenced your thinking about teaching, learning and life?  When do you find close reading to be necessary and supportive in your instruction and when do you know to bring in another method or skill?  This blog-a-thon is about the sharing ideas, we invite you to read the Contributor Page for more posts and information out how to add your own link.

Look for the final official post of this series on Thursday!

Blog-a-thon Post 11: #CloseReading Structure OR When You Stop Making Sense

7 Oct

Only two weeks left in our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading!  It has been an exciting, inspiring conversation. Be sure to read the Contributors page and consider linking to your own post. 

Also, heads up that my “Fall in Love with Close Reading” workshop in Brookfield, WI on December 6 is nearly sold out.  Seats are also going quickly for the date Kate and I will be together in Amherst, NY on December 9. We look forward to learning with you in person!

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When You Stop Making Sense

Katie Wood Ray and Lester Laminack have one of the greatest titles for a professional education book: “The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They’re All Hard Parts)” (2001 NCTE). It feels as if you could swap out “the writing workshop” for nearly anything in education and the title still holds: Social Studies: … And They’re All Hard Parts. Parent Involvement: … And They’re All Hard Parts. Grading…. And They’re All Hard Parts.  And for our purposes here: Close Reading… And They’re All Hard Parts!

The good news is, as their title suggests, there are challenges in everything and yet you can work through them.

Case in point: teaching students to read closely to consider structure.

Now, perhaps you have long since mastered this instructional skill set. If you have, we would love you to link to a post about it. But let me tell you, Kate and I found this probably one of the biggest challenges in our study of close reading. It snuck up on us. Because on the outset it seems so simple, just stand in front of a class of students and begin your lesson with a crystal clear analogy:

by compujeramey used under Creative Commons lic

“Structure in books is a lot like the frame of a house or like the beams in a building. With that structure in place an architect can then attach everything else to it. It is what makes that building solid and whole. It is what gives that building it’s shape. Without structure, the building would fall apart.

…so.

….um.

….read to notice. that. stuff.

…now.”

It was not as simple as we thought.

Now, while many of our early attempts did not sound this pathetic, they often times felt pretty close. In one triumphant instance I was working with a class of sixth graders while the entire sixth grade team of teachers sat in. I modeled with a simple picture book (you know, so it would be quick and clear) and ended up taking nearly 30 minutes of talking and scribbling all over the board to demonstrate considering the structural choices the author made in the text.

At the very end I felt somewhat okay with myself, despite the absurdly long time. I mean, the board was full of lines and arrows and bullets. Clearly it was thought-provoking. Then, one teacher said, “Wait, so we’re just trying to make a timeline of all of the scenes?” I stepped back and realized that was exactly what I did. Only in a dramatic, overly complicated, way.

I felt ridiculous.

Instruction Is Not About “Perfect,” It’s About “Responsive”

If not for seeing what didn’t work, we never would have gotten to what worked (or, at least, what worked a lot better). What matters in close reading instruction, all instruction for that matter, is that we are willing to make an attempt and even more willing to look for parts of our instruction to revise.

Several actions helped us during this process of revising our teaching:

  • Always returning to student work to look for evidence of (or lack of) independence. If we didn’t see it, we knew our teaching wasn’t clear enough or transferable.
  • Looking for approximation and then building on that strength, both in student attempts and our own.  A “are we there yet?” way of looking at our teaching choices helped us keep moving forward.
  • Lots of professional, reflective conversation. In their book, Professional CapitalMichael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves argue that a large piece of improving education revolves around making more time for collaboration. They point out that great schools do not have stellar teaching in random classrooms, but instead teams that grow, think, and plan together. We found each conversation, with whomever was willing to talk and reflect with us, to be hugely instructive.

Each attempt got better. Each time we were surprised by what we learned.

For instance,  we began to see that structure didn’t just fall into one category but several. That sometimes structural choices are the major parts of a text–like scenes in a novel or video game, or sections in an article. That sometimes authors structured where and how techniques were used–like repeating a particular line in a poem, the appearance and reappearance of a certain color in a movie.

We found that for some students rereading to consider structural choices was naturally more of a two-step process: first they would locate the parts, then they would return to consider the purposes for that organization.

Then, of course, were times students blew our minds. In the chapter on structure in our book we include a few images from a high school class in which students not just thought about the purposes of structure in the text, but then experimented with ways of diagraming them.

Each new avenue started with a not-so-hot attempt.

It Will Be Challenging And You’ll Love It

by I See Modern Britain, used under Creative Commons lic

There will be times when your work with close reading goes amazingly well. Then, there will be times went it flops. When things fall apart we first send a heartfelt hug from across the miles–we’ve been there, friend–and we also want to say how exciting moments like those become.

Think of each interaction with your students as a chance to learn, a chance to follow the lead of your students, to study alongside your colleagues. With that mindset, there are no failures, only new understandings.

Your Turn

What have been your biggest challenges in close reading instruction?  What have been your biggest moments of learning? Comment on this post, or better yet add a link to your own blog post. See the Contributor Page for more ideas and inspiration from fellow educators.

Share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together! 

Look for Kate’s blog-a-thon Post 12  on Thursday!

Blog-a-thon Post 9: Complex Texts or Complex Kids: Which Texts Are “Worth” #CloseReading

30 Sep

Welcome to the fifth week of our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading. Each week posts are added to the Contributors page and we are looking forward to your addition. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

Also a reminder that we have two workshops coming up this December called “Fall in Love with Close Reading.”  I will be in Brookfield, WI on December 6.  Kate and I will be together in Amherst, NY on December 9. Registration as well as the number to call for lodging information or other questions can be found here. We look forward to working with you in person!

close reading button

Complex What Now?

If you are a Common Core State Standards state, the standards your state adopted have only one thing to say about the complexity of texts students should be able to read by themselves: In Reading Standard 10, across grade levels, the standard reads: “By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature/informational texts in the grades X-Y text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed…”

One phrase that I find important: “by the end of the year.” What is clear here is that a standard is a standard, an expectation. One educators have always wanted, I argue.  As page 6 of the standards further clarifies, you can decide how to get there, which research to follow or avoid, which path to take.

by basibanget used under Creative Commons lic

The message of  students must read complex texts all the time, then, does not come from the standards themselves.

Instead, that message comes from documents your state did not directly adopt (though in the case of states like New York, it’s as if they had).  Documents like the “publisher’s criteria” and the “tri-state rubric” offer interpretation of the standards–often based on theory more than research or knowledge of practice.  These documents make broader reaches into suggesting that lessons should include texts that are “similar to CCSS grade-level text exemplars” or one of my least favorite phrases, include complex texts that are “worth reading” (insert a condescending, “pshaw”). The documents were intended to impact textbook companies, and it is evident that in many cases they have.

The good news is that if you agree with these or any other documents, you are free to follow their lead. If you disagree, the standards say that should be up to you to decide.

I Choose Complex Kids, First

What has felt so joyful about this blog-a-thon is that many of our fellow contributors struggle, dream, plan, and reflect on the love we hope for our children and young adults to have with reading and thinking.  We aim to not just “do” close reading as an initiative, but instead to invite our students (and ourselves) to see this skill as a way of looking at the world in an eyes-open way.

In the opening to our book (sample here), we write:

“…teaching readers to look at texts closely—by showing them how one word, one scene, or one idea matters—is an opportunity to extend a love affair with reading. It is also a chance to carry close reading habits beyond the page, to remind students that their lives are rich with significance, ready to be examined, reflected upon, and appreciated.” 

Close reading is not the only way, but instead one of many ways to invite our students to admire text and more importantly bask in their own deep, imaginative thinking.

Love is In the Eyes of the Book-Holder

Love is a fickle and uniquely personal thing. Along our lives we fall for the wrong people at times, we don’t make our friends happy with our choices, our love goes unrequited.  When our hearts start beating fast and our palms sweat it’s often hard to know how or why. It just is.  Who you fall for is unique to you.  (It’s why those blind dates your friends set you up on don’t always pan out.)

by CarbonNYC used under Creative Commons lic.

Herein lies the perennial challenge of all reading instruction, close reading related or not: Just because you love and adore Text X with all of your heart and soul, does not mean your students will.  Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Soto, Myers, Woodson, Dahl, DiCamillo–it doesn’t matter if you are “CANON” (boom!) minded or a young adult “fangirl/boy,” what you love will assuredly not be what all of your students do.

Sure, they may love YOU. May even love the experiences you have shared with them around a book. I argue, that still does not mean they would or could read Text X on their own and think within its pages.  Heck, I will always remember James and The Giant Peach for the young, female teacher that read it aloud to us… I think there was a boy in it and maybe some bugs…

Learning to Love

Does this mean you should never choose texts?  No. Exactly to opposite.

We learn about love and relationships through example. We watched our parents, television, movies, and our friends. Then, with those examples of what to do (and not to do) in mind, we let our hearts lead us.

Across this blog-a-thon, in our book, and in all of our work, we aim to support students in learning the habits of close reading so they can carry them beyond that one lesson and into their lives. A portion of this is how we are teaching these skills, another portion is the texts we use to demonstrate and inspire.

When choosing texts for close reading instruction we suggest you consider several actions:

  • Model your own joy of reading, often. Not just the texts you are using for instruction, but also talk about  texts from outside of the classroom. The question, “So what are you reading right now…?” or the statement, “I just started an amazing book…,” are important across the school day and beyond.
  • Choose demonstration texts you love. Choose texts that you are authentically excited about, that is rule numero uno. If some curriculum guide you were handed says “This Text Was Deemed To Be Close Reading Worthy” but you find your soul wilting as you read it, then it is not worth reading. Your enthusiasm and wonder matters.

    by Jack Mallon used under Creative Commons lic

  • Choose demonstration texts that will speak to students. The second step is to ask yourself if the texts you will model with will be compelling to (at least some of) your class. Does it strike an emotional nerve, engage them intellectually, speak to them? Learning happens with wide awake minds (versus sleeping with your eyes open in class).
  • Vary Your Texts Often: In Tone, Complexity, Topic. The more variety in your text choices, the more students’ minds you will ignite. If you spend time with a particularly dense text that felt like an uphill climb–both exhilarating at the top and exhausting–, then next read a text you can sprint through. If you just read a tear-jerker, don’t forget the kids with the infectious sense of humor. Recall, as well, that texts need not be only literature. Nonfiction, movies, songs, video games, primary source documents, overheard conversations–close reading is not only academic, it is a way to think through the stuff of life.
  • Readers Choose (And Choosey Readers Read Tons). Ultimately, allow your readers plenty of opportunity to choose the texts they will read independently. With choice come volume, engagement, and opportunity for developed thinking. (See Penny Kittle‘s brief video interview of her high school students talking about their lack-of-turned-growth-in reading, link here.) As we mentioned in a previous post, we have to be careful that we are not simply close teaching, but offering our students many opportunities to practice becoming close readers.

All of this is to say, we believe you do not choose your text, first, and then decide out how to bring it to your students. Instead you choose your students, first, and decide how to bring them to texts.

Your Turn

What do you think about when choosing texts? Do you agree with our points? Do you challenge some? Share your ah-has, hmms, and huhs with the community. This blog-a-thon is about all of us sharing ideas! See the Contributor Page for more posts and information out how to add yours.

Share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together! 

Look for Kate’s blog-a-thon Post 10  on Thursday!

Blog-a-thon Post 7: Most Fun #CloseReading Post Ever Because Students Are Hilarious And Filled With Rage

23 Sep

Welcome to the seventh post in our 7-week blog-a-thon on #closereading. Each week posts are added to the Contributors page and we are looking forward to your addition. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!

Also a reminder that we have two workshops coming up this December called “Fall in Love with Close Reading.”  I will be in Brookfield, WI on December 6.  Kate and I will be together in Amherst, NY on December 9. Registration as well as the number to call for lodging information or other questions can be found here. We look forward to working with you IN PERSON!

close reading button

No, Really, They Are Not Happy.

I stumbled upon writing this post completely by accident.  Last week, while updating the contributor page, I got on twitter and searched for the term “close reading.”  I know many of you are using the hashtag and I was curious to see what other ideas were circulating.  What I found–with some delight and horror–was not only are educators tweeting about close reading, but so are students.  And so a post was born!

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a small sampling of 48 hours of “close reading” student tweets. *Note: While tweets are in the public domain, I have chosen to black out specific twitter handles.

The dread

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 11.44.51 AM

The rage

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 11.45.49 AM

The challenges

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 11.47.52 AM

And the certifiably bizarre

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 11.48.45 AM

You are correct.

That does sound so dumb.

Now, you could be thinking, “well students like to complain, they get on twitter and just share their angst.” To that claim, I submit this counter-evidence:

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 12.03.00 PM

THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF ALL CAPS TWEETS PROFESSING LOVE TO ONE DIRECTION. EVERY. MINUTE.

Engagement Isn’t a Thing, It’s the Only Thing

Across the blog-a-thon many posts have been keenly aware that it’s critical that close reading instruction is student-centered, empowering, and engaging.

Mindi Rench‘s post during week one, “Close Reading: Please don’t let it be a return to ‘Read to answer the three questions at the end of the chapter,’” Scott McLeod‘s post during week three, “Will an emphasis on ‘close reading’ kill the joy of reading?” (both linked to on the contributor page), and our podcast with Franki Sibberson for Choice Literacy are all examples.

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey noted in an IRA brief that if close reading instruction is not carefully crafted it could detract, instead of enhance, engagement and learning (see page 8).

I am reminded of a statement Donna Santman made in a workshop a few years ago: “As teachers, we first get good at reading to our students, but then we need to get good at reading our students.”

Every decision we make can raise or lower interest, belief, and learning.

Keep Close Reading Close to Them

In our work for Falling In Love with Close Reading one element that became critical to effective close reading instruction was conversation.  Authors talk with authors, doctors talk with doctors, educators talk with educators–so too should readers talk with readers.  We found that if you plan to have students voices within your instruction not only do you have more engaged learners, but you benefit from students developing more sophisticated ideas together and you are able to do much more assessment of their developing skills. The more students have opportunities to think out loud together, the more you truly can “read” your students.

Down to its most simple parts, lessons could progress like this:

  • Teach a habit of close reading. Perhaps, zooming in on particular kinds of details like Kate emphasized in her last post.
  • Demonstrate this habit with a small bit of text.
  • Then, read a bit more of that text and invite students to now practice together.
  • While students talk, listen!
  • After the lesson, invite students to return to their own independent reading or book clubs. Offering more opportunities for engagement, conversation, and assessment.

The listening we do as educators, we argue, is not in a “are they getting the right answer?” kind of a way. Instead, you are listening for how their thinking is developing, if your instruction was clear, and–yes, my twitter friends–if they are engaged.

When you feel heard, you tend to say more.  When you say more, you tend to feel more.

Your Turn

What are ways you already see engagement (or a lack there of)?  In what ways do you engage your learners intellectually and emotionally? What are your reactions to the twitter comments?  Add your comments and/or links to your own posts. This blog-a-thon is about all of us sharing ideas, see the Contributor Page for more posts and for information out how to share yours.

Share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together! 

Look for Kate’s blog-a-thon Post 8  on Thursday!

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