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