Summer Reading, Writing is a Habit (and No One Likes Habits)

by puuikibeach used under Creative Commons Lic

The end of the school year is fast approaching and as educators our minds turn to the obvious celebration of this glorious time of year, the end of a year of hard work, students growth, and this amazing sunny season: assigning summer homework.


Assigned book lists for the in-coming grade. Essay prompts to write. Sometimes even packets to complete. A lot of which many of us secretly reveal we barely read or do anything with in September.

It’s all well meaning. We know that students over summer can drop reading levels if they don’t read. We know that September can feels like the September of the year before, not the continuation since June if students are not actively thinking. We want our students to carry with them the work of a year so we can hit the ground running. We do this out of love.

What we are really asking students to do is to take on new habits, to make the work of the year part of their daily lives.

Here is the problem. Most of us hate new habits.

New Habits are Horrible

by kevin dooley used under Creative Commons lic

My self-directed summer assignments include: eat better, exercise more. Could you think of anything more terrible? This will, as it always is, be hard to maintain and tough to make time for. Enjoyable and amazing when it goes well and frustrating when I skip the gym for two weeks and just eat everything.

New habits are not made from book lists handed out on the last day of school. New habits do not come from assignments.

New habits come from self-drive and from a community of others. Think how you will use these last weeks of school to continue to build both.

Habits Helpers: Drive and Community

  • Summer reading club or reading partner lists, instead of simply book lists: Have students begin to organize now who they will be reading alongside, who they will talk with about their reading. As simple as phone numbers or email address, as complex as setting up book club meet-up dates.
  • Begin writing for self now, instead of just relying on a prompt: Have students begin exploding with writing, any genre, any purpose, any technology. Then just as with reading clubs, help them think about who they will share writing with. When will they check in?  Or even who could they be writing with? A google docs epic sci-fi adventure written by three classmates could fill an entire summer with writing.
  • Find a writer or reader you want to be: When we want a habit of better health we often look to people we admire: celebrities, family, friends. We learn about their routines and try to emulate them. Have your students write about the readers and writers they plan to admire over the summer. It could be you, classmates, professional writers (You could even draw connections beyond literacy, like in my guest post What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real).

Think beyond summer assignments to engaging students in the real, tricky, exciting work of developing new habits.

Happy summer! Happy growing!



Christopher Lehman blog sticker-01Follow Chris on Twitter and his Blog. Learn how to have him work with your school or organization.


#CloseReading Institute at Penn State York this June

I’m looking forward to being a part of this amazing week of learning at Penn State York next month!

Dr. Aileen P. Hower has put together a terrific line-up for immersive study of this topic. Speakers include Dorothy Barnhouse, Kristin Ziemke, Meenoo Rami, and many others leading keynotes and sessions.

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I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, June 24th and talking about bringing sense to the sea of “initiatives” swirling around us. I’ll then lead breakout sessions on both supporting old and young readers.

The institute is open to all educators and includes the option of receiving Penn State Graduate School credit.

For more information and to register see the brochure, here (registration form, here), or visit the institute website, here.

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

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!

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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.

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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!

Upcoming Event: “Write to the Core: Energize Research Reading and Writing” Wisconsin

I’m pleased to be speaking at a one-day institute this summer, hosted by the Wisconsin State Reading Association. Click for the full WSRA Flyer. Registration is available here.

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I’m looking forward to a fun day!

Summer Book Club Twitter Chat!

Mark your calendars and set your automatic reminders to July 10, 2013 at 8:00pm ET.

Join @donalynbooks, me (@iChrislehman), and we’re excited to be joined by friend and collections’ co-editor @pennykittle! Use and follow the hashtag #DonGraves.

At IRA’s convention in San Antonio I attended Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk‘s session on writing instruction pioneer Don Graves. In the session they shared excerpts from their newly edited collection of his writings and archival videos, Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing.

Sitting in the audience with friends Jen Serravallo and Kate Roberts, we couldn’t help but be moved by the clip of Don sitting at a large rectangular table with a group of children as he facilitated their conversation about their own ideas, their own writing.

It was hard to believe that there was ever a time when this was atypical. That there was a time when few believed children could do much more than brief prompted writing and sentence diagraming. That there was a time when the larger world of education believed that children weren’t mature enough to have their own ideas worth writing about.

Jen, Kate, and I got to talking about the pacing, the wait time, the careful listening. The session felt like a reminder of what matters most in education: valuing student voices.

Summer Book Twitter Chat

It felt natural, then, that during a #titletalk chat on summer reading plans, Donalyn Miller and I struck up the idea of organizing a chat about this new book. It felt like an opportunity to not just look back on the legacy of a pioneer, but a point of inspiration as we look ahead to the future of our field.

At a time when forces outside of our classrooms seems to be saying that students should write less and less from their hearts and more and more to assigned prompts, we can chat together about the vision we want for our writing instruction.

We will chat about the entire book and DVD, our classrooms, and our instruction.

Hope you can join us!

#Educon Session Archive on Close Reading Text, Media, Lives

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend Educon 2.5 at Science Leadership Academy.

First. Let’s clarify. There are indeed two Chris Lehman(n)s:

On Left – TWO Ns, principal of SLA, great educator, writer, speaker, blogger.

On Right – Me. One N.

In our hands: Pastries. Yummy, yummy pastries.


(It may disturb you too much to know there are many, many more. I’ll keep that a secret.)

It was a great conference.  Even greater, is all the session are archived!  You can watch them all from the Educon 2.5 website.

Here is my session with Kate Roberts (@teachkate, her blog), where we share the hows, whats, whys, and how do we engage students in close reading, from our ongoing research and classroom practice on the subject. 

All of our work is leading to a new book out from Heinemann (expected in summer 2013).

 (Sorry for the trouble seeing the board, it was best with the set-up.)


Happy reading, thinking, teaching, being.

The #BookGap

If you are a parent aiming to support your child’s growth in school, an educator rallying students to reach toward and beyond standards, a business owner considering a donation to your local school (and please, we need them, in truckloads). There is no more essential, life-altering, test-score-improving, learning-loving, ultimate-jump-starter, back to school item then: books. Lots of them.


Books matter. A lot.

Look at your classroom and school library, or those of your children’s school, or the ones in the school down the block, and ask yourself if there are enough books to provide enough access to the children in those walls. And if not, there is no more essential back to school supply then filling those shelves.

Consider this:

  • A child’s reading level has a direct correlation to test scores. This chart summarizes several years of data we gathered at the Reading and Writing Project, comparing tens of thousands of students reading levels across years and their 3-8 test scores. These scores prove over and over to be dramatic ceilings for students: If you read on grade level, there is an extremely high percent chance you will score on grade level. Below, good chance you will score below.
  • You get better at reading, by reading. Not listening to adults talk about it. Not thinking about. Not staring out the window. Eyes on print matters. Allignton remarks that the most effective rooms have at least a 50/50 split across the whole school day, 50% real reading and writing, aside from 50% of other “stuff” (his not-so-loving term for anything not real reading and writing). He and others find most schools have, at best, only 10-15 minutes of real reading in an entire day – a 10/90 split!
  • When students don’t read, their reading levels drop – they don’t just remain stagnant. In schools that track reading level development three times during the school year predictable drops occur in student reading levels: during the summer (summer reading loss: google it), during test prep (if students are mostly doing drills and not really reading), and during a nonfiction study (if students are mostly skimming and not really reading). Not reading doesn’t just freeze your development, instead it puts it in reverse course.

To provide this access educators, like you, often create and build classroom library and school library collections. My suggestion is that you do not assemble a library, then step back and say, “phew. done,” and check it off the list. But instead consider if your classroom or school has a book gap that needs to be filled.

And if you are lucky to have an abundant collection, as many do, I think it’s our moral imperative to make sure the school down the block and the one across town has an overflowing collection as well.

Do You Have a Book Gap?

Let’s do a little math.

Take second grade. Average words per minute reading is around 100 (could be bit more or bit less, but let’s stick with a round number). The “on grade level” second grader starts the year reading books of approximately 1000 words (from TCRWP’s research).

100 words per minute, divided by 1000 words = 10 minutes of reading.

Boom. One book. 10 minutes. Done.

The average reading time for most schools providing sustained reading is approximately 30-40 minutes. So that’s 3-4 reads. In one class sitting.

4 books per class, times 5 days in a week, (assuming same books are read home and school) = 20 reads.

Now, many second graders are encouraged to reread titles, so let’s be conservative and say they need 5-8 new books each week, rereading several of them to get up to that 20 reads count.

Multiply a very conservative 6 books, by 35 weeks of school = 210 books per child for the year.

Multiply that by each child in an average 2nd grade, say 28 kids =

5,880 books. (That says thousand). Book available per class of second graders, per year.

A fourth grade works out to between 2,000 books (about 2 books per week, 35 weeks, 35 kids) if you have a class of exactly the same level all on grade level, or more likely also around to 5,000 books considering you probably have a range of readers, range of genres.

On up the grades the numbers may shrink a tad as the size of books and length of time to finish them extends a bit (though, an average eighth grade book should be finished within the week considering the wpm and number of words). However, add in the fact that most 6-12 teachers have multiple classes to sustain and you are still back up around 5,000 books.

Now could my numbers be a bit off? Of course they could. But the point here is that to sustain tons of reading, we need to support our students in having access to tons of books. And as I teach alongside educators in classrooms around the world, it is clear to me that there is a large book gap from classroom to classroom, school library to school library, neighborhood to neighborhood and it needs to be remedied.

The good news is, we can do it:

  • Read this inspiring article (one of the most clicked SmartBrief articles in June) about a teacher taking on a “1,000 books project.”
  • Have a vision, do anything for it. Here is just one portion, of one wall, of a public middle school school classroom, which receives very little funding for books, in which this teacher and her colleagues made it their mission to fill their rooms with books (the main motivator was kids, but it became trying to outdo one another). They went to garage sales, warehouse sales, asked for donations, nearly everything just shy of stealing. In fact, the shelves in this picture are set-up for their historical fiction unit. When that’s done, these books go away and new ones take their place! A vision, with focus, can pull off anything.
  • Donate, donate, donate, donate to your local school. Books, cash, shelves, design tips, anything. If you are lucky and your school has stacks and stacks of books, then check to see that the one down the street does, too. Then the one across town. Then the one two towns over.
  • Have conversations with your (or your child’s school) about the book gap. Send them a link to this post, or perhaps to Scholastic’s classroom library “evaluator.” (Seeing as Scholastic donated a ton of books to kids in that first article in this list, I don’t feel bad about directing you to them. You don’t have to buy books from them.)
  • @thereadingzone, Sarah Mulhern Gross started the “ARC Floats On” initiative at this website. Connecting teachers who need books with reviewers and bloggers looking to clean their shelves of ARCs (advance review copies). Sign-up your classroom there. Amazing work!
  • If you are an educator, I cannot say enough good things about: Join it, ask for books.
  • If you are not an educator, go to and give towards book wishlists.
  • @principaldunlop, Sue Dunlop, principal of a JK-8 school in Ontario, suggests administrators save at least 10% of their budget for books–every year.

Any problem takes two things: recognizing there is a problem and then finding creative solutions to it. I would love to hear your reflections, solutions, and commitments in the comments section — but more importantly, continue this discussion with others in social media and in person.

Turn the conversation into action. Empty wall space into shelves and shelves of books. The #bookgap can be filled.

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

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.


#TeacherPoets – Assignment Week 1

teacher-poets Hi TeacherPoets. We’re gearing up for our first live session, this Saturday (4/12) from 11:00-noon EST. Join our community page to join in the conversation that has already started, to catch the live stream from that page (or the direct stream below), and to catch weekly “writing assignments.”


Each week on Wednesday, I’ll post a reading and writing “assignment” for the week.  These are invitations to engaging with poetry and our work together.  Take on as much or as little as you’re able.

Assignment for Week 1: Slivers Are Big

During our first live streaming session we will talk about the power of taking on manageable bites.

Our lives often interact with huge emotions (joy, fear) or giant topics (love, death) but trying to take them on can be not only an overwhelming task as a writer, but can also lead to writing that is too broad for a reader.

The smaller the piece – almost like finding focus in a research topic – the more specific our writing becomes. Then, the more specific our writing becomes, the more universal the feelings and ideas can come across to readers of our poems.

 A Writing Invitation:

  • Starting next week these invitations will be specifically about writing poems. For this week your invitation is to respond to this question: “Why Poetry?”  A few sentences, a poem maybe, or a quick comment. Please leave your response on our TeacherPoets Community page.

Mentor poems to read:

  1. The Summer I Was Sixteen by Geraldine Connolly, for the one moment in time she uses to reflect on the huge topic of adolescence and growing older
  2. Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye, who takes a universal fear and packages it in a tiny scene and an even smaller movement of the body
  3. You’re invited to post on our TeacherPoets Community page links to other poems that take on a large topic through a small, specific time or action

Workshopping This Week:

Starting next week, original poem’s from our Live Group educators (the folks on camera with me) will be posted in this section. As practice, this Saturday we will “workshop” this poem by a professional poet.

  • Please follow the link and print out this poem (or download a mark-up-able copy to your device):
  • Read and write all over it, prepare comments as if you were talking to this poet:
    • Compliments: Which parts were particularly strong to you? Why? How did it effect you as a reader? Where were you delighted? Happily surprised? Moved? And so on.
    • Questions: Where did you find yourself confused? Lost? Where did your reading become choppy or confused? Which points did you want a little bit more? A little less?
    • ConsiderationsWe can’t write the poem, that is the poet’s task, however we can raise considerations: I wonder if there are actually two poems here…  I wonder if we could hear more from… I wonder if the second stanza could… I wonder…
  • On Saturday we will then practice “workshopping” this poem, so bring your written-all-over copy.

If you would like to read an example of responding to a poem through “workshopping,” then read (or listen to) Workshop by Billy Collins (in which he workshops his own poem as he’s writing/reading it… it’s pretty funny stuff.).

Happy reading, writing, reflecting, and rejuvenating!

National and International Speaking Engagements

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Interested in having Chris speak at your event? See the “Services” page for more.

Upcoming Events Open to the Public

Online Events

Archived sessions!:

The-Educator-Collaborative-Gathering-logo#TheEdCollabGathering – day of online workshops: now archived!

See sessions at


Application Deadline October 1st!:

Yearlong study group for Literacy/English Coaches, Coordinators, and Leaders, online, led by Chris: “Close Reading with Young Readers: Studying Joyful (Not Dreadful) Emergent Practices, K-2”.  Learn more about The Educator Collaborative’s Coaching Think Tanks here.

Online in October!: 

Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts Present “Falling In Love With Close Reading” 3-part Heinemann Webinar: 1:00-2:15PM EST (STARTS OCT. 16, 2014). Register here.


Events Fall/Winter 2014

October 8, Cedar Falls, IA, Jacobson Center and Reading Recovery Literacy Academy, Lunch Keynote and Sessions: Register here.

November 9, Liverpool, NY, NYS Reading Association Conference, Invited Sessions: Register here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 6.21.35 PMNovember 20-23, Washington, D.C., NCTE Annual Convention: Register here.

  • C.02 (Friday, 12:30) “How Stories Come to Be,”
  • K.08 (Saturday, 4:15) “Close Reading and the Little Ones: How It’s Different (And Incredibly Fun and Effective) In early Elementary Grades
  • NCTE Middle Level Steering Committee Meetings

December 2, Wisconsin Dells, WI, CESA 2 Conference Day, “Fall In Love With Close Reading.” Register here.

December 9, Westminster, CO (near Denver): Heinemann Workshop: Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, “Fall in Love with Close Reading.” Register here.

December 10, Arlington, TX, (near Dallas): Heinemann Workshop: Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, “Fall in Love with Close Reading.” Register here.


Winter/Spring 2015

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February 4, Indianapolis area, announced soon

February 5, Chicago area, announced soon

February 6, Milwaukee, WI, Wisconsin State Reading Association, Invited Sessions. Register here.

February 21, Dublin, OH, Dublin Literacy Conference, Keynote speaker. Register here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.46.54 PMFebruary 27, Osage Beach, MO, Write to Learn Conference. Keynote speaker and Sessions. Register here.

April, Hartford, CT area, announced soon


Summer 2015


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.47.45 PMJune 12, Hurst, TX, North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Conference, Invited Sessions. Register here.

June 19, Warsaw, IN, All Write Conference, Invited Sessions.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.44.52 PMJune 24, York, PA, Penn State University Summer Institute, Keynote Speaker. Register here.

July 2015, announced soon.


Past Events

Events Fall/Winter 2013

September 17, Greenville, SC. “Pathways to the ELA Common Core.” Invited Speaker. Upstate Schools Consortium.

October 15, Albany, NY (web visit). Albany Area Reading Council. Invited web session. “Energize Your Research Reading and Writing.” 

 October 25, Cleveland, OH. Invited Keynote. Cleveland State University’s Annual Reading Conference: “Growing Literacy from the Core.” 

November 1-2, Dubai, UAE. “MENA Common Core Conference.” Invited Keynote and Session Speaker. 

Screen Shot 2013-10-12 at 7.49.15 AMNovember 5-6, New Orleans, LA. The Leadership and Learning Center’s “Common Core State Standards Summit 2.0: Getting Ready for the Next Generation Assessments,” Invited Keynote and Panelist. 

November 20, Madison, WI. Evening Invited Keynote during the University Wisconsin-Madison’s American Educators Week. 


November 21-24, Boston, MA. NCTE Annual Convention. Session G.43 Closer Reading: Close Reading Texts, Close ReadingScreen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.20.43 PM Lives (with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts). 

November 25-26, Boston, MA. NCTE CEL (Conference on English Leadership) Convention. Session D.5 “Falling in Love With Close  Reading: Support Your Colleagues (And Their Students) in Practical Strategies for Analyzing Texts, the Media, and Life” 

December 5, Madison, WI. Madison Area Reading Council. Evening Invited Keynote. “Falling in Love with Close Reading.” 

SOLD OUT – December 6, Milwaukee, WI. Heinemann One-Day Workshop, “Fall In Love With Close Reading.” 

December 7, Waukesha, WI. Waukesha Reading Council. Invited Speaker. “Kids Want to Write!: Develop a Powerful Culture of Writing, Growth, and Community.” 

SOLD OUT – December 9, Buffalo, NY. Heinemann One-Day Workshop, “Fall In Love With Close Reading” with Kate Roberts. 


Events Spring/Summer 2014

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.19.41 PMJan 27, 2014, Reading, PA. Berks County IU Leadership Series. Invited Speaker.”Students Want to Write: Develop Instruction that Accelerates Achievement and Supports a Student’s Natural Desire to Be Heard”. Reading, PA. 

January 28 Delaware County, PA. Delaware County IU. Invited Speaker. “Close Reading.” Event is full and taking a wait list

February 12, Online. Wisconsin State Reading Association Wired Wednesday Webinar: “Supporting Disengaged Writers in Finding Their Voice and Developing Their Skills.” 8-9pm CST. 

February 17, Washington, DC. The 23rd National Conference on Family Literacy, National Center for Families Learning. Invited speaker. 

February 20-22,  Myrtle Beach, SC. 39th Annual South Carolina International Reading Association Conference. Invited Keynote and Speaker. 

February 27, Tan-Tar-A, MO. Write to Learn Conference,  Invited Speaker for Day-Long Pre-Conference Workshop

March 7, Rochester, NY. Invited Speaker. Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES.

March 17, Greensboro, NC. North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education Conference. Invited Speaker. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 9.41.54 AMMarch 18, Raleigh, NC. North Carolina Reading Association State Reading Conference. Invited Keynote and Session Speaker. 


March 21, Roanoke, VA. Virginia State Reading Association Conference. Invited Keynote and Session Speaker. 

April 1, Hartford, CT. Invited Speaker, Capitol Region Education Council. “Energize Research Reading and Writing: Fresh Strategies to Spark Interest, Develop Independence, and Meet Key Common Core Standards, Grades 4-8 .” 

April 3, Seattle, WA. – SOLD OUT – Heinemann One-Day Workshop, “Fall In Love With Close Reading.” 

April 4, Portland, OR. – SOLD OUT – Heinemann One-Day Workshop, “Fall In Love With Close Reading.” 

May 7, Madison, WI. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Invited Panelist. More info on this event and the the Pathways to the Common Core online book study group hosted by UW-Madison School of Education can be found here.

May 10-12, New Orleans, LA. International Reading Association 59th Annual Conference. Session, “Close Reading Without Tears: Support a Love of Reading and Thinking” co-presenting with Kate Roberts and Mary Ehrenworth

May 16, Mt. Holly, NJ. – High School Educators’ Pathways to the Common Core and PARCC. Keynote and Session presenter. Rancocas Valley High School. 


Blog-a-thon Contributors Page

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Close Reading Blog-a-thon Contributing Educators

September 2 through October 17, 2013, Kate Roberts and I were joined by many of you in our Close Reading Blog-a-thon.  The 7-week event was more special then we could have imagined.  It led to interesting conversation, ideas, and connections.  What an honor to have you take a little time out of your day to think along with us.  Here is the archive of posts from the journey. Enjoy! While we won’t be updating this page, feel free to continue the conversation with more comments, links to your posts, and tweets.  (Yay connected educators!)

Week One Contributors

Post #1 from Chris, “What Close Reading Is Not (Or At Least Shouldn’t Be),” attempts to clarify the definition of close reading and offers our view that close reading is independent, personal, and a tool for more than simply texts

Post #2 from Kate, “The Five Corners of the Text: Personal Experience and Text-Based Close Reading,” is on the essential–even unavoidable–“fifth corner” of a page: you.

Kevin Hodgson does a beautiful job of synthesizing and responding to many Contributor posts from this week as he shares his challenges with bringing close reading to his practice, both as a classroom teacher and NWP consultant.

Posts about close reading in primary grades

Fran McVeigh wonders if close reading can happen in Kindergarten and if it’s appropriate.

Kristi Mraz describes her view of “emergent close reading” in primary grades as being teaching stances.

Posts about being cautious with our instruction to engage thinking

Mindi Rench is worried that, if thought of in the wrong way, close reading could be a return to textbook style questions (we agree!) Mindi helps us think, “would I ever do that myself?”

Gwen Flaskamp cautions that we are teachers “of literacy, not just with literacy” and need to be sure we teach close reading skills explicitly and not simply assign students to complete graphic organizers.

Vicki Vinton shares a cautionary tale, suggesting we must always look at transference of our teaching to students’ own independent work, not simply kids “doing” close reading in a wrote way that they cannot apply.

Colette Bennett describes a close reading of a six-word story and her reflection that “the ideas that started in text cannot be limited by clocks or ‘four corners’.”

Posts helping to define or describe close reading for ourselves

Anita Ferreri has powerful ways of describing reasons for reading.

Rhonda Sutton shares this new post and a link to a previous where she thinks through a definition of close reading.

Tara Smith writes a post reflecting on her professional learning and reading the summer and shares her goals for close reading instruction that she sees as both personal and for the wider profession. (We echo her closing thoughts about this blog-a-thon: “I’m looking forward to going back and reading what everyone else has had to share – how marvelous that we can learn from each other!” We think so, too!)

Posts about opportunities for close reading beyond a written text

Kim Corbidge thinks about using picture books to support students in reading between the lines.

Peter Pappas shares his work with close reading and history in “Think Like a Historian: Close Reading at the Museum

Week Two Contributors

Post #3 from Chris, “Close Reading is a Habit, And Habits Stink,” is on some of the “how-tos” of close reading instruction.

Post #4 from Kate, “What My Mother Taught Me About Close Reading,” looks at the balance of direct instruction and freedom, how crucial both are to lead to independence.

Posts helping to illustrate classroom practices

Sarah Picard Taylor shares smart ideas about ways to rethink book shopping, organization and read aloud in primary classrooms to support emergent close reading habits.

Dea Conrad-Curry uses the example of teaching her students the importance of looking for motifs as an example of the power of explicit teaching of skills.

Colette Bennett offers another glimpse into her classroom and one approach to supporting students in carefully reading a text.

Tara Smith writes brilliantly about stumbling upon close reading her first day of school letter with her sixth graders and her hopes for building habits that last.

Posts digging farther into defining this practice for ourselves

Through twitter, Angela Schroden directed our attention to this white paper released from IRA this week, by Catherine Snow and Catherine O’Conner: “Close Reading and Far-Reaching  Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection.” A brilliant and carefully researched response to the Close Reading conversation, we think it’s an important read for all of us.

Fran McVeigh beautifully points out that the habits of close reading are also ways we as teachers should read our students closely and carefully.

Deb writes about being careful to not get distracted when paying attention to the “wrong” details in her fun post about watching a Red Sox game.

Week Three Contributors

Post #5 from Chris, “Close Reading Nonfiction (Why? and Oh!)” describes many educators aversion to nonfiction reading instruction and a way to release yourself from that feeling (ha!), even with close reading methods.

Post #6 from Kate, “So Much Depends on the Bean Salad: Writing About the Details of a Text,” is a deeply personal look at how small details are worth examining, reflecting on, and often hold much larger meaning then we first realize.

Posts raising ah-has and supporting all of us in having our own

In a popular post this week, Scott McLeod asks the important question, “Will an emphasis on ‘close reading’ kill the joy of reading?

Brenda Krupp (of Richard, Judy, and Brenda) highlights the essential practice of reflecting after reading closely.

Fran McVeigh makes an argument for the use of nonfiction texts in close reading and offers some beginning thinking about just when that might happen and what sorts of texts could be involved.

Posts on resources for studying more about close reading

Jerry Blumengarten (the ever popular @Cybraryman) shares his internet-librarian page on Close Reading. (This resource is amaz-o!) .

Tara Smith recommended nonfiction (or fiction and nonfiction) book clubs as a way of engaging readers with informational texts, she also highly recommended this book to support student thinking and discussion

Posts from leaders studying ways to share these practices with colleagues

Kathy Perret (a co-founder of #educoach chats) shares with us her obsession with understanding close reading (you’re among family, Kathy!) and slides of instruction tools she has been developing for educators she works alongside.

Kevin Hodgson shares a nonsense-word story that he has used to support educators in looking more closely at reading comprehension, in this post he begins to consider ways of bring this to close reading.

Week Four Contributors

Post #7 from Chris, “Most Fun Close Reading Post Ever Because Students Are Hilarious And Filled With Rage” shared some hilarious-awful tweets from students and their uncensored views of close reading instruction, he also argued for conversation as an essential element in our more engaging instruction.

Post #8 from Kate, “Take a Peek at ‘Falling in Love with Close Reading!’,” Kate shares sample chapters from our new book as well as several contributor posts from this page.

Katherine Sokolowski shares her initial skepticism and burgeoning new thinking on  the skills of close reading–noting that the method could be dangerous if it brings us away from reading, but when seen as a life skill it can feel at home. (We agree on all counts!)

Clare and Tammy think about formative assessment throughout teaching, as opposed to simply “prepping” for “the test,” as an important engine for making our teaching responsive and important to students.

Dave Stuart referenced a book he had been reading and quoted, “If you treat a strategy as a list of steps to follow, then the learning you get back will be similarly prosaic,” reminding us to keep our teaching full of life.

Amy reflects on the many purposes for reading (from broadly to closely) she has in her own life and suggests we help students make decisions based on purpose as well.

Fran McVeigh brings us a slice of life: attending an EdCamp and seeing “close reading” as a skill for living throughout the day. Love it!

Week Five Contributors

Post #9 from Chris, “Complex Texts or Complex Kids: Which Texts Are ‘Worth’ Close Reading,” looks at how we choose texts to close read and takes on the current obsession with ‘complex texts.’

Post #10 from Kate, “Losing Facebook Friends and Other Tragedies: Close Reading Nonfiction for Point of View,” looks at point of view not just in texts, but in media and our lives, and offers sentence frames to support students.

Posts on reflecting on purposes for close reading

Anna Gratz Cockerille thinks about close reading in the workforce, interviewing people in different careers to consider what these practices may look like beyond schooling.

Deb considers the differences between students who are creating a full, elaborate movie in their minds versus those that have one simplified cartoon strip panel and how close reading could move those thinkers along.

Patrick Klocek (“one of the most gifted administrators I know,” says Chris), launches his blog this week, where he will share his journey as a school leader in studying close reading practices with his staff.

Susan Scripsema argues that “’close reading’ must be purposeful, part of a coherent experience, rich with [students’] own observations and interpretation” in her post about a student versus grade level benchmarks.

Posts on tools for supporting students (and educators) with close reading

Colette Bennett takes us into a lesson with High School students, where they close read paintings before turning to reading (including the awesome suggestion to digitally crop the image at first!).

Kathy Perret links to some “answer frames” and asks for your thoughts on their use for close reading.

Kevin Hodgson shares a Prezi overview of close reading he has used, and welcomes you to “steal it, adapt it, remix it and re-use it” (thanks Kevin!).

Posts on applying close reading skills to our own decision making

Nearing the end of our blog-a-thon, Tammy and Clare remind us of Kate’s post #2, and reflect on the “fifth corner” not just being for children, but for educators while we “closely read” information on close reading.

Vicki Vinton takes the image of those student tweets from Chris’ post #7 and makes the inspired distinction between teachers and packaged programs (this is truly a post to forward to the decision makers in your district).

Fran McVeigh continues from Vicki’s post, asking how carefully schools select programs (if/when they do) and she offers extremely helpful questions for that process.

Posts on choosing texts

Fran McVeigh commented on the reasons educators sometimes choose texts, offering us a way to think about our approaches.

Dave Stuart wonders if a text’s worth comes from the reader or the text itself and invites readers of his blog to debate.

Stephanie Hardinger tweeted about using Kate’s post #10 sentence frames to analyze history texts.

JoEllen McCarthy brings us back to the essential need for love: love for texts, our teaching, our mentors (and she shares some of her favorite nonfiction authors).

Week Six Contributors

Post #11 from Chris, “#CloseReading Structure OR When You Stop Making Sense,” is on being okay with lessons not going well (as they often don’t) and some thinking about analyzing structure.

Post #12 from Kate, “A Day in the Life of a Close Reader,” explores close reading as a skill for living a more engaged life (and guest starring Hutch).

Jennifer Serravallo joins us in her post about teaching reading “like a scientist,” how so much of close reading, or any reading, instruction is about seeing kids clearly and “expecting revision.”

Judy Jester shares some work using transmediation (capturing meaning from one medium in another), including some practical–and inspiring–examples.

Fran McVeigh reflected on her own learning and highlights the role of conversation, both with oneself, with others through writing, and in speaking as a key ingredient in close reading.

Tara Smith takes us across the school day, sharing ways close reading is popping up in different subject areas (as well as raising more important questions about this practice along the way), also including a shout out to Notice and Note.

Kevin Hodgson knocks our socks off with a poem about the moment a piece of text “clicks.”

Greg McVerry writes a compelling post about why he won’t help schools write “close reading rubrics.”

Week Seven Contributors

Post #13 from Chris, “Blog-a-thon Post 13: #CloseReading is not THAT Important,”

The final post from Kate is “Thank You” thanking everyone involved in the blog-a-thon and the release of our book, and  Chris posts “#HappyBookday Falling In Love With #CloseReading!” about the book and other ways of staying connected.

Anna Gratz Cockerille uses Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl to reflect on learning from the blog-a-thon.

Melanie Holtsman BRAVELY (go you!) shares a video of herself as a coach teaching a Close Reading lesson in Kindergarten (for the first time ever!).

A few people tweeted this link, but we first caught Angie Spann‘s tweet about a NYT Learning Network post from Jonathan Olsen on using storyboards to inspire close reading.

Gwen Flaskamp suggests that we stay mindful of teaching students the how as well as then why of reading skills and strategies we teach.

Thanks for all of the great thinking! We’ve learned so much with all of you!

Archive from tonight’s #DonGraves chat

What a moving conversation tonight for the #DonGraves chat. Thanks to Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk for this project.  It was fun hosting with Donalyn Miller and Penny and seeing so many of you come out to talk about Don’s legacy, his vision, and to share inspiration.

The archive is below, I plan to look back between that, the book and DVD for new insights.

Listening matters, conversation matters, and it’s great to have both with all of you and this vibrant education community we are within!

Chat Archives

Storify version of the archive

Google Docs version of archive (thanks Sarah Mulhern Gross for your help with this!)


#DonGraves trending on twitter…

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Middle/High School Teachers Apply for a Book Love Foundation Library

Penny Kittle has been announcing on twitter that applications are now open for her organization, Book Love Foundation‘s classroom library grant.  Applications are due very soon, July 1st!

Open to Middle and High School teachers, it is an amazing opportunity to give access to books to your students and–quite literally–change their lives.

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Access the application (due July 1st!) from the Book Love Foundation website or here.

Give the Gift of Reading

Penny  tells me that soon Book Love Foundation will be accepting donations and fundraising will take place later this year. This way even more classrooms can be supported. Be on the lookout for these updates!

What About Income Inequality?

I haven’t often devoted a post to reactions from one article I’ve read – that’s usually more my twitter style to (re)tweet something I am drawn to.  But this article, and this topic, is cause to do so.

I wrote about income inequality and it’s effects on education in my post Education’s Own 47%, about how the education reform movement is focusing so much attention on improving the “failing” US education system, that they spend time on the fact that if our upper and middle class students were their own country, they outperform top ranking countries, included famed Finland. Poverty is an issue we cannot afford to ignore any longer… yet we continue to do so.


The article you must read and share is Stanford professor of education and sociology Sean F. Reardon’s New York Times piece on income inequality and its effects on student achievement, “The Great Divide: No Rich Child Left Behind.”   Read it, then pair it with this info graphic from another article he co-wrote last summer.

What Next?

“There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important.” – Sean F. Reardon

Regardless of the current narrative about school reform/deform, there are an awful lot of schools working as hard as they can to support the development of their students. The wheels I have turning after reading this article is what role I, and the schools I work with, can play in being a part of developing both in school and out of school life.

  • Nearly every school has “Parent-Teacher” nights, but a smaller set (that could be larger) have “parent academies” to provide courses and support for parents throughout the year.
  • I was talking to a school recently that was lamenting how hard it is to get parents into school for events, though they recognized their parent population is a busy one. We talked about perhaps making “youtube”-esque videos that parents could watch at their convenience – short, catchy, meaningful.
  • Volunteering at neighborhood organizations, especially ones in areas you know you could most impact.
  • Thinking of our schools not as islands, but as a community, and brainstorming ways your school’s PTA can support a sister-school’s PTA.
  • Continue to make your voice heard about these issues of income inequality and their effects on student learning – write to congressman, write to your local news outlets, write blog posts, talk a lot.

I am not suggesting that schools shouldn’t continue to improve for our children (most schools want just that and are actively trying to do so), I am also not suggesting–nor do I think this article is–that parents should be the new scapegoat or early-childhood be the main focus.  Instead, I believe that creative and caring educators seek out as many avenues as possible to reach their students and these areas can be another way to do just that. I am also suggesting that educators need their voices to stay within the reform discussion, making certain that government and private funding and resources go to all areas of need, not just a few.

Thank you for working on behalf of all children.