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!
Being Cautious and Reflective
Last week in our blog-a-thon many contributors wrote thoughtfully about being careful:
- Careful to ensure students are transferring these skills to their independent work (wrote Vicki Vinton),
- Careful that we make sure we are not just near students reading, but explicitly teaching skills (wrote Gwen Flaskamp),
- Careful to think about what we as adult readers really do (wrote Mindi Rench),
- Careful that we do not limit our goals nor instruction to the time of one class period or solely within the corner of the text (wrote Colette Bennett and wrote Kate Roberts in Post #2 of this series).
- And in our recently posted podcast for Choice Literacy, Franki Sibberson asked our advice on how to be careful to not allow close reading instruction to kill books or ruin the love of reading.
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.
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.
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.
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!