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

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

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The challenges

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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


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!

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

  1. Great post! I’d just like to take issue with one part. You wrote:
    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.
    I’d like to propose something that seems missing in any discussion based on provocative literature and questions: To listen because they might have novel ideas, ideas that suggest new ways of thinking that are a gift to the world, ideas that break the mold of what you expected, and ideas that will expand others’ way of thinking about the text and about the world…
    I’d suggest that that way of listening is the teacher being engaged in a way that will support student engagement – which, as you write, “is the only thing.”
    Or do you think that’s too much?

    • I think you are spot on, and hitting a piece I believe in must have missed. Which is really key reminder for me… in the midst of thinking about instruction I have to remember to not just hold but emphasize the bigger purposes for all of this. I realize I, like I think many of us, was describing what to do to do a piece well, but we should equally remember the bigger whys. Thanks for this.

      • Thanks for replying, Chris. I think one of the dangers we face is in expecting that the preconceived idea we have of what children should say is the only thing we need to listen for – and that we only need to listen long enough to decide if they met, exceeded, or did not meet our expectation.
        It’s awfully hard for adults to fully listen if that’s all we’re listening for – and it’s awfully hard for children to fully listen to each other if that’s the purpose of listening they see modeled – and if they’re not listening to each other, then it’s awfully hard to construct knowledge!
        Again, thanks for your posts and the conversation.

  2. In reading your post, I am reminded of the most interesting Facebook message I’ve ever received, just the other day…from a former student graduating in the class of 1992. Evidently, I came to mind when he read about Alabama’s proposed banning of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. He explained that although he was a voracious reader in high school, he was a reader primarily of science fiction and horror novels. However, his time in my class had provided a foundation for the appreciation of canonic literature. Evidently, over the last twenty years, he has decided to become a writer and has returned to the novels left unread in his teens.

    He continued by reminiscing on my assignments: “One of those was a particular essay assignment…to read Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Philosophy of Composition’ and discuss whether or not he applies this philosophy to his poem ‘The Raven.'” There is no doubt that this was an assignment of close reading based on my study of literary criticism that I then called “active reading.” Had there been a Twitter then, I’m sure he would have posted his disdain. And knowing the power of technologic circulation, I’m sure his tweet would have come back to me. Not having the power omniscience, I may have felt some stabbing pangs in the sharpness of public criticism. We want students to like what we teach and how we teach. Unfortunately, we cannot know the long-term results of our teaching and learning.

    Although I had not heard from my former student since 1992 (he changed his Facebook profile image so my memory would be jogged…and it was!), but over the last three weeks we have shared a ongoing conversation about authors’ writing styles, current educational trends, and educational pedagogy. In his first direct message to my Facebook account, he ended by apologizing for not reading The Scarlet Letter, one of the numerous classic texts assigned in my junior American Lit class: “I couldn’t stand reading it….The 17 year old me could not appreciate it, and I’m not so sure 40 year old me could either” but in our conversations I hear the voice of one who learned a great deal from the close readings of his youth and who continues as a close reader today.

  3. Chris, you dominated this post. I laughed, man. Great work. What you wrote reminds me of something I read the other day: “If you treat a strategy as a list of steps to follow, then the learning you get back will be similarly prosaic” (from The Core Six). I’m not saying that the teachers of all these chipper teens are treating close reading like a simple “insert close reading and run ‘reading_growth.exe'” or anything, but close reading has certainly grown to the point where there’s likely to be an increasing amount of poor or lifeless implementation.

    Keep up the great work, Chris — I gotta get myself to carve out a chunk of time to join the blogathon!

    • Dave,
      Love your “insert close reading and run ‘reading_growth.exe’” as an example of what “not to do.” It is so easy for reading for students to run afoul and give them that “perfect excuse” for avoiding it!

  4. Truly engagement is the only thing! It’s brutal trying to closely read about a topic for which you have zero interest. The tweets are so honest, it hurts.

  5. The great thing about teaching is that kids always tell it like it is…close reading in PE??!! Thanks for reminding us that there is a purpose to our methods – and that whatever we do, we must endeavor to keep our kids engaged in the process of reading, and loving it. Let’s not do to close reading what Billy Collins urged us not to do to poetry (i.e. his “Introduction to Poetry”).

  6. We love this blog-a-thon! We have been closely reading each post. We have made connections, cried, laughed and yelled, “YES!” many times. Your post today convinced us we need to do more than read to be engaged — we need to share our thoughts. So… how do we think we should engage our readers in close reading — assessment – “in the richest and best sense of the word.”

  7. It is funny to see how hash tags can overlap and how key words can be interpreted in different ways! Thanks for this very amusing post about close reading, Chris. Enjoying the blog-a-thon.

  8. Great post Chris! I laughed out loud at those tweets – what a great snapshot. You are so right that engagement is key. To respond to your query – I find that engagement really drops off when kids CAN’T READ the text in front of them. I know that sounds like the most obvious statement in the world. But so often texts are handed to kids that are ten or more levels too difficult. There is no way they can practice any strategies of effective reading, let alone close reading, when this is the case. If someone gave me a text in Russian (I know about two words) and asked me to read it closely, I might enchilada sauce on it as well.


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