I am looking forward to guest-hosting tonight’s #engchat! It is at 7pm EST. Simply follow the hashtag “#engchat” and include it within your tweets in order to participate.
I am excited to facilitate the conversation not only because I love this community that my friend and fellow The Educator Collaborative member, Meenoo Rami, founded, but because we will be chatting about a topic that is critical to the growth of our students and our schools.
Tonight’s chat is titled:
Family Involvement: Go Beyond Lip Service & Build a Strong School Community
I have become so interested in this topic for two reasons:
One, my own children are in school.
When my daughter began Pre-K over three years ago, I suddenly saw schooling in a whole new light. It has led me to reflect a lot on what I did (and did not do) for parents and families while I was in the classroom.
They believe that one of the most powerful ways to support a child’s education and development is by supporting the education and development of the entire family. Yes!
And they have been doing so, and serving as a hub for other organizations large and small, in amazing ways. I have to say, I fell in love with their work instantly and give a lot of time and energy to their work freely.
So, tonight I invite you to join us as we think about ways that we as English or literacy teachers support family involvement. Though, you do not only need to teach English or reading and writing to join, everyone is welcome!
Here are draft questions for tonight’s chat: click this link. Please do take a look and feel free to comment, revise, or add additional suggestions.
New to Tweet Chats? No problem!
If you are new to twitter chats, or have only been a “lurker” (twitter-ease for people who watch chats but don’t tweet responses), you are welcome to this and every #engchat.
For all your end-of-summer blues, “why do I have to set my alarm clock again?” shock, and your endless prepping and planning for this first day of school, know that your efforts matter.
In just our home, you have a soon-to-be second grader and a brand-new kindergartner feeling excited for a new year to begin. They are anxious, yet just can’t wait to get to know their teachers.
When you step into your classroom this year, as some of you already have, you will profoundly and forever impact the lives of children.
You are a hero. Really, truly, we should hold a ticker-tape parade in your honor tomorrow. As the sun rises in the morning we should usher you down your nearest main street in an open top cadillac. We should line the streets, waving signs, celebrating the great gifts you will give this year.
you will be someone’s champion
you will forever change someone’s self-esteem
you will touch a family in a profound way
you will help a colleague more than you will know
you will heal a heart
you will grow a mind
you will change another small part of the world for the better.
Here’s to an amazing school year.
Thank you for the gifts you share, the struggles you surmount, and the belief you hold.
I’m writing to you from the Happiest Place on Earth, Place Where Dreams Come True, Memories To Last a Lifetime’s neighbor: the Double Ear Infection Bed of Sorrows.
You see, one of my greatest strengths is getting sick either just before or just during a vacation. Twice we’ve been in beautiful and sunny Punta Cana and twice I have been locked in a room with a fever. Family water park vacation in Wisconsin Dells? Flu. Hey, here we are in Paris! Hey, here are the chills!
I do think a part of this is that I seem to never stop working. Then, when I do let my guard down, even ever so slightly, the bugs I have willed to stay away begin to creep up.
So, two days before our trip to the Mouse’s House I was, of course, shivering with fever-chills and slowly losing my hearing to a middle ear blockage. It ’twas only one ear at the time.
The plane ride down here was easy and pain-filled as one ear opened and the other closed up with the help of some sort of demonic fire sorcery taking place in my head.
I was determined, however, to keep going. Sinus decongestant. Tylenol. Antihistamine. Moving my head at odd angles. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin this trip for my family. And I firmly and steadfastly do not like to bother others.
I Got This. No Really. It’s Fine.
I come from a long line of do-this-myself-ers. Partially it is pride, for sure. We feel good when we have accomplished something all by our lonesome. A larger part, though, is that we do not want to make anyone else bother over us. I will more often than not do whatever it is that has to be done just to avoid needing to ask someone else.
I’m often inconvenience-phobic.
I assume that asking puts people out. Annoys them. Takes them away from more important things.
Which is why for the past few days, as pressure ebbed and flowed in my ears, as pain came and went, and as Mickey sounded more and more muffled, I simply took care of things myself. More decongestant, more yawning, more tilting.
Until 12:30AM last night.
When I bolted out of bed with the feeling of explosions in my eardrums.
Now. I did still do-it-all-by-myself at first. I did fumble-tip-toe to the bathroom, got water, took more of I don’t remember what. But finally, in intense pain, I woke up my wife and we figured out how to go to emergency room.
Asking And Being Asked
What followed was a reminder that none of us are in any of this alone.
Not with a double-ear-infection at Disney World, not in our homes, not in our schools. Person after person was reassuring and helpful. From the front-desk, to our cab driver, to everyone at Celebration Hospital (yes. It is called that.).
I know this sounds like the obvious statement of the year, but:
people like to be asked.
I mean, on reflecting, I like to be asked. And when you ask someone to help, and then they do, you both feel great about it.
We each take pride in our expertise, in our ability to create or change or fix.
Now, I’m not talking about being volun-told (the identity of the educators who taught me that one will remain private) or micromanaged. Instead, I am suggesting that I, and perhaps you, can take more opportunities for learning from others and sharing in their strengths.
It is good to do things alone. Even better to do them together.
Starting the Year With Questions
For so many educators, our roles are often assessed as singular: your test scores, your lesson plans, your teacher evaluation, your classroom. While, sure, there may be a place for individual accounting of strengths, we need to be cautious that we do not retreat too much.
We retreat from the help of others when we assume we know it all or not enough, when we fear bothering others, when we think no one understands us, when we becoming unwilling to change, or when we assume no one else will. We can do this to each other as well, we can avoid fellow teachers, assume people’s strengths or limits.
We change this when, simply, we ask:
“Could you listen to this…”
“How did you…”
“Can you show me…”
“Can you help me…”
Even though I’m only about 6 hours into my antibiotic treatment and my ears still feel like they are stuffed with cotton — I know my hearing is improving and ready to listen a bit differently during this school year.
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
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 werequestionable 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.
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.
I need not tell you how excited we are, here in the education community, that Carmen will be taking the helm of our vibrant, diverse, challenging, and promising school system.
Her appointment says to many of us that this new administration believes that education policy must be forged at the intersection of ideas and experience.
It says that education, like all vocations, is a unique field with unique levels of knowing and doing. That those who spend their lives in practice–in classrooms and schools–bring a level of insight that no one from outside of the field can possess.
It says that dedicating your life to building expertise in our field–as she has done–is not just commendable but necessary to developing a world class education for every one of our city’s children.
I have been lucky to have worked with Carmen when I was at the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. This, however, is not a relationship anyone can claim as unique. Her decades of service have put her in touch with generations of educators and children. She has been accessible, personable, and in touch with schools because she is always within them.
More recently, as Deputy Chancellor under Joel Klein she continually toured schools, met with educators, and–most important in my eyes–spoke with students. Every interaction I have observed her in, from classrooms, to staff meetings, to intimate conversations with school leaders about the needs of their school, always at the forefront of her thoughts and actions is this: our children.
This is why I am writing to you both today. Our city’s children need you. I am asking for your leadership and your continued partnership with educators, families, and students.
I do not need to numerate the hardships our field is facing, they are in news reports, television advertisements, and the voices of schools. The number of educators, new and veteran, that say to me almost weekly, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep teaching,” is heart-breaking and alarming. Their frustrations are always political,while their reasons for holding on remain the same–they deeply love and believe in the potential of every child.
We need your leadership in a number of specific ways:
Just as great teachers do in classrooms with students, observe the effects of your policies on educators’ practice and lives.Data that takes more time to collect than use is as useless as no data at all. A high teacher “value-added” score coupled with teacher or administrator burn-out does little to bring real long-term value to our classrooms. Losing hope in our system is a hopeless path for our system.
Just as great teachers do in classrooms with students, look at the effects of your policies not simply as a reflections of educator work, but as a reflections of your work. As teachers, we know that if many students fail a quiz, it is the test, not the takers that needs support. The problems that plague our highest need schools are larger than any one solution; no policy will be perfect, no implementation will be without fail. See your policies as works in progress and revise from feedback, versus pressing harder for compliance.
Like the best principals (of which Carmen, you have been one), engage educators in your decision making process. In NYC, as across the United States, the greatest distrust has grown from being disenfranchised within our own profession. The greatest administrators, the most effective leaders, authentically involve their constituents – students, parents, teachers, staff. As Hargreaves and Fullan write, collaboration is one of the keys to leading our profession into the future (2013), we need to trust in you by seeing and feeling your trust in us.
Like the best principals, shield your staff from forces that can disrupt their connection with students. When New York State or the US Department of Education does right by children, guide us in that direction. Equally, when they–or other forces–do not, stand with us as we say no. I have been inspired by the stories of NYC administrators who say no for the sake of their children: saying no to using test scores in high school entrance decisions, saying no to untested textbook adoptions, saying no to initiatives imposed solely for initiatives’ sake. Stand with us when we stand for our students.
So many of us are excited by the possibilities ahead. Thank you for what feels like a new day in our schools. I hope, through your leadership for and with educators and families, we can create a new day for all children of New York City and be an inspiration to other cities and schools. That shared leadership and shared problem solving, with dedicated professionals, can bring about positive results.
Lead with us. The world is watching. Our children need us. We are ready.
Brian set out to capture the voices of our profession through interviewing inspiring educators. Now in the form of a a weekly podcast (ranking continuously in the “Top 5” iTunes K-12 podcasts), Brian’s “Talks with Teachers” interviews a wide range of educators. In an engaging format he digs into educators’ stories of becoming teachers, their professional struggles, and their practical advice for all of us.
This is a podcast series you’ll want to subscribe to (subscribe via iTunes at this link) and a website you’ll want to bookmark. I found myself falling down the internet rabbit hole and listening to every episode!
Hats off to Talks With Teachers for sharing the joy and inspiration of educators for educators. Our profession is full of powerful stories. I’m thankful for the amazing community we all form.
A day or two before leaving for a long stint away from home, speaking at UW-Madison and then on to Boston for NCTE and CEL, it was a typical afternoon. Right around 2:40 my mother-in-law and I were getting ready to leave to go pick up my kids. It is often a two person job–she was heading to our preschooler several blocks to the west and I to the bus stop for our first grader several blocks to the east. Shoes on, coats on. Routine.
She reached for our apartment door and it wouldn’t open.
Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock, lock, unlock. Nothing. I ran over. Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock, lock, unlock.
“Está cerrado!” I said, not able to find the word “broken” in my mental Spanish dictionary.
“Oh no,” she said.
Both children are picked up at 3:00, we had fifteen minutes to get this door open.
So, we did what any reasonable human being would do, we completely freaked out in this order:
Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock
Shake the door handle violently.
Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock–with more conviction.
Imagining how to jump out of a third floor window to the street.
Call my wife’s cell phone, who was teaching and clearly not in ear shot of her phone how dare she HOW DARE SHE.
Both of us call her at same time on different phones.
Jiggle, jiggle, lock, unlock
Butter knife, right? Thieves do that or something.
Call wife’s school in a panic and frighten the secretary.
Call my daughter’s school in a panic. (They were calming, they know how to handle this).
Hammer, pliers, large and small screw drivers.
Dismantle door plate and begin to remove door knob.
Stop, bad idea.
Reassemble door knob and door plate.
By this point my wife had gotten the message, had left school early, was rushing home, by this point it was clear it was too late to get to the bus stop on time and (as her school calmly told me) my daughter was most likely on her way back to school at the end of the route, by this point my son’s teachers knew we were running late.
Everything was arranged on the outside, we were basically not needed.
I wedged the butter knife back inside the little open space on the side of the door, near the latch, and paid attention. While the flat side didn’t grab the latch, the teeth did. The slightest movement! TWO KNIVES! I grabbed a second and like two little hands inch-wormed the latch open. Freedom.
Caution: broken doors
The NCTE and CEL conventions this past weekend in Boston were incredible, as they always are. Joyful, exciting, like a homecoming. There was also, just below the surface, a sadness.
At the end of my session with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts on Saturday, I told the crowd that now, more than ever, at speaking engagements people seem to come up at the end and cry.
They cry because while filled with a deep joy for the art of educating, they are feeling crushed by the state of education. The many people in my life, dear friends or friendly acquaintances who have a gift for teaching that shines through their children’s eye, those people who are pillars in our world are all asking, “how much more of this can I take?”.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m seeing their faces now as I write this and am trying very hard not to cry myself.
I see you, my friend, the Curriculum Coordinator, and you Literacy Coach, you ESL teacher, you Amazing Principal and you brand new Science teacher, and I see you teacher I just met and hugged after that session, a big bear hug as we cried together.
This was not our routine. This was not in our plans.
Know this: there are always butter knives.
For me those butter knives are connecting. At NCTE (as with twitter, conferences, and working in schools), I get to remind myself why I fell in love with teaching in the first place. This weekend I shook Nancie Atwell’s hand (and tried not to embarass myself with gushing), I met Donna Santman… I mean, I have been in rooms listening to her for years and carry Shades of Meaning like it’s a map… but we met each other for real. I had the incredible pleasure of speaking on the same stage as Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. I spoke in hallways, turned and talked in sessions, toured a museum, sat at lunches and dinners, all with old friends and new. I stood back and saw the sea of faces in those sessions, hallways, hotel lobbies, and was reminded that we have the collective power to do amazing things.
Butter knives are different for each of us, but those butter knives are there.
Heather Rocco spent two years organizing the CEL convention, her butter knife was bringing leaders together to refuel their own passions.
The list continues: listening to children, talking with a colleague, taking on a study, joining a twitter chat, writing a blog post, leading an organization, waking up in the morning and deciding to go to work.
You know your butter knives. Use them.
Once we got that door opened it was amazing how all of the stress left. Nothing seemed hard anymore.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
“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.
….read to notice. that. stuff.
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 Capital, Michael 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
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.
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!
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.
“…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.
Share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together!
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!
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.
And the certifiably bizarre
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:
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 Readingone 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.
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!
Welcome to the fifth 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!
Before we jump into the first post for this week, we have two quick announcements (think of these like infomercials, only without the poor acting):
Be sure to click over to the Contributor Page to read posts of other educators. They have pushed our thinking and we know yours, too. If you are considering posting (or even a tad nervous to post or share a link), please do! We firmly believe the most important professional development is conversation and even a post of only ten words will get others thinking. More on how to share your post here. Remember, an essential step is to post your link in the comments section on this blog or Kate’s.
We’re happy to (re)announce 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. More information, registration, and the number to call for lodging information or other questions can be found at Heinemann. We look forward to working with you IN PERSON!
Close Reading Nonfiction (Why? and Oh!)
It seems that a lot of conversation around close reading practices centers around literature, so we wanted to share some of our thinking about close reading nonfiction.
It has been our experience in schools that when the topic of TEACHING NONFICTION READING comes up, a good percentage of us ask the very poised and reflective question: “Whhhhhhhyyyyyyy? Do I have toooooo?”
So, naturally, when you add “close reading” into the mix the question then becomes a dignified: “I don’t wanna. Come on. Whhhhyyyy? Please no. Whhhhyyyyyyyy?”
To be fair, a good deal of you love teaching nonfiction. But, in a number of schools there is an equally large number of you that would be delighted to leave the skills of informational reading up to your science cluster teacher (Poor Ms. Smith, she already has enough on her hands).
Therefore, we want to offer some inspiration for taking up close reading practices with nonfiction texts.
Great nonfiction writers become stars. Within the circle of their readers their names are praised. You probably know people who talk about their favorite columnists as if they were close friends: “That Maureen Dowd, she never holds back.” The world has bought millions of copies of books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. Co-workers trade quotes from Freakonomics, Outliers, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Some teachers say “Seymour Simon” and “Bobbie Kalman” with quiet reverence as if they’re shorthand for, “Of course we all know their books are terrifically written.”
What do all of these writers have in common? It is certainly not just that they know a whole lot about their topics; it’s doubtful that a book full of dense facts alone would be a number-one best-seller (when’s the last time you read a textbook for pleasure?). What great nonfiction writers—best-selling, most-quoted, most highly praised nonfiction writers—have in common is that they do their very best, work their hardest, to be excellent teachers. They work to be engaging, clear, and always with sight of learners in mind. Terrific nonfiction does what all of us educators strive to do every day when we step into a classroom.
The truth is that informational writing, at its best, is as artfully crafted and nuanced as a poem or beloved novel.
In our new book, Kate and I run with the assumption that all types of texts can be loved more carefully as you read more thoughtfully, including nonfiction texts, arguments, and media. Some of the many purposes for reading nonfiction closely can include to:
Understand what the author values (cares about, thinks is important, wants us to focus on)
Have a clearer understanding of a topic (clarify our mental image, see connections between ideas we may have missed)
Define terminology that is unclear at first
Find a topic more interesting
Develop ideas with peers
and so on
Let’s take the opening pages to Seymour Simon‘s Coral Reefs (sample here from the publisher).
Read page 5, then get ready to reread.
In a previous posts we suggested that looking for patterns is one important habit in close reading, and that as readers we actively bring in our prior knowledge including being actively aware of what we don’t know and what piques our interest. We invite you to reread this short section and allow patterns to pop-out to you.
For instance, I am struck by (as always) Seymour Simon’s carefully selected words. I’m noticing a pattern in the kinds of descriptions he includes: strange, brilliant colors, shimmer, vibrant, strange-looking, colorful, ‘like nothing you have ever seen.’ I find myself doing many things with these words. I have a clearer picture of this place he is describing. I notice his relationship to the subject–he seems to be in awe, and his careful language is leaving me more in awe as well. Let’s pretend the word “vibrant” is unfamiliar to me, with the collection of other terms I would be in striking distance of understanding what that one meant.
The collection of words is not only bringing me closer to the page, it is also working in the opposite direction, bringing me out of this page and into life (Kate’s brilliant 3-D “fifth corner”) and leading me to wonder: why are the reefs and fish so colorful? Haven’t I heard many reefs are in danger? I realize I have never been to a coral reef…. hold on, I just need to do a little vacation research…
There is no magic trick here. It’s not just this particular page or the topic or the book. Rereading in this careful way, looking for patterns, can lead you to new ideas about nonfiction in almost any book you read. Or documentary you watch. Or radio commercial you hear. Or editorial you click to.
Whether you are a self-professed nonfiction-avoider or -lover, looking closely at nonfiction can lead you to love the subject, the writing, heck perhaps even the entire text-type more.
How do you feel about the teaching of nonfiction reading? In what ways have you, or could you, included close reading in that study? What nonfiction texts are your go-tos? What experiences beyond text come to mind for you? Add your comments and/or links to your own posts. Several links will be added to the Contributor Page.
Share your insights, we are closely reading close reading together!
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),
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 bothmore 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.
Welcome to the first 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 will be linked to on the Contributors page. Let’s closely read the practice of close reading together!
Close Reading Isn’t Just Anything
Just as I suddenly–and against my will–have now heard hundreds of people use the term “twerking” in near constant use, from the VMAs to news anchors to walking into the grocery store… and I don’t think everyone is using it correctly (if you don’t know the definition, please do not hold me accountable for what you google)…, it seems that once a term comes in vogue everyone uses it to define everything.
The term “close reading” seems to be experiencing a similar misapplied overuse:
What we lose when we place the term just anywhere is the ability to be specific and purposeful in our instruction. Could some of these instances be, or at least include, authentic close reading? Sure. Should all of these automatically be considered the practice of closely reading? Heck, no.
Close Reading Is…
We think it’s time to regroup and be clear on what we are really talking about when we say “close reading.” In the opening chapter of our book we share a brief history of close reading across decades, but here we would like to share our current–and evolving–thinking on the use of the term today:
We find Patricia Kain’s work from the Writing Center at Harvard instructive. That close reading is making careful observations of something and then developing interpretations from those observations. In other words, we stop to look carefully at choices an author (or painter or musician or director or architect) has made, and then develop ideas from what we have noticed.
We agree with Doug Fisher that close reading is an interaction between a reader and a text, an extension of the critical reading theory of Lousie Rosenblatt and others. Implicit in this is that the reader is reading. Actually reading (insert: underline x infinity). Yes, we can teach lessons about close reading, but if our students are not holding their own books and working to apply these skills then we probably are only close teaching, they are not actually close reading.
We do, however, disagree with one point Doug makes in that video interview, a point some others have made about close reading as well. We don’t believe that close reading, historically, had anything to do with “text dependent questions.” Sure, if students learn to analyze texts carefully they might just get better at standardized tests or in-class quizzes, but that would be a result and not a goal of close reading. Frankly, in our experience researching close reading methods in classrooms around the world, we have not found it necessary to rifle students with questions they must search for. Instead we find it more important to help students observe, interact, and find their own questions and interpretations. …they will have to on their own many times anyway!
We also find Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s explanation of the characteristics of close reading from Notice and Note to be instructive (see page 36). Particularly that it often involves rereading of short portions of a text with intensity, and then you bring ideas from those short rereads to longer sections of the book. That is to say, other than Graduate Students of Comparative Literature, we would almost never require students to reread and closely analyze every page of a text. There is just no time for that in a busy classroom. More importantly, rereading page after page after page is an engagement killer and kids who don’t read don’t learn to read well. We have a choice to teach in ways that either raises engagement and joy or smashes it to bits, so we agree it is important to teach students to stop and observe small sections and then jump back into their love affair with the unfolding story or fascination with the ideas of an article.
Finally, we believe that close reading is not simply a way to analyze texts. It is a way to study the things that we love more carefully and appreciate their subtleties more fully. Close reading can be applied to texts, but we also can look to songs, videogames, television shows, art and even our daily lives. We observe the choices a chef made when our meal is presented to us at the table (“wow, this looks so good… are those mushrooms?”) just as we form interpretations off the little things our partner does (“she is either doing this to make me feel special or because she wants to ask me something…”). Our students deserve to have experiences with close reading not only be “task” driven, but instead be life driven.
If we were to write a definition of close reading it would include all of these parts and could sound something like:
Close reading is when a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made. He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understandings that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about.
When we have a clearer focus for what we really mean, we can design our instruction more carefully and study our students learning with more precision. For instance, you could reflect on your plans for close reading instruction considering ideas such as:
Do students have opportunities to practice these skills independently in your classroom or do you find a large portion of time is spent under your direction? What could you adjust?
Are students internalizing habits for observing and reflecting? How do you know?
Do your students think of close reading instruction as being question-answer specific or as observations-understandings interpretive?
Do you see evidence of them applying skills more and more without prompting? How can you strengthen that trend or revise your instruction to see more of this?
Do your students see close reading as only living within the pages of a book and only during your class period? Or do they see this as skill for living a more wide awake life?
As our blog-a-thon party rolls on over the next 7-weeks we will continue to think with you about topics such as: why on earth anyone would ever want to close read nonfiction, instructional methods that tend to support the deepest independent learning, and how close reading does not live only in books. Look for the next post this Thursday on Kate’s blog, she’ll be posting about the “5 corners” of a text.
What are your definitions or what you consider misuses of “close reading”? What have we gotten right in our’s or what would you revise? Have you experienced misapplications of the term? What have you done or are now thinking you could do about these misuses? What new ah-has or questions are you thinking through?
Join us in our blog-a-thon! Add the button to your post and paste the URL in the comments below and boom, you’re along for the ride.
Schools have started hearing preliminary score reporting today and tomorrow is the official release of the results of the latest round of NYS ELA standardized testing. These tests were, as you know, full of controversy (I wrote about some of the fray and one educator’s experience on SmartBlog on Education: “Testing: Are Percentage of Students Crying Valuable Data?”).
So what should you do when you find out your scores?
Don’t plan your year in response to one exam, one score. Anyone with basic statistical skills will remind you that trends are far more important that blips. And blips (and trends) live within a larger system. You are not a one-year island.
Do triangulate scores with your own data. The conversations you study, the student writing and reading you look over, the daily artifacts you collect. As educators we want to know what are kids can do, what their strengths are, what their next steps could be. Seeing a trend in data – all data, not just one test – is useful to reflective practitioners.
Then, in the advice of Michael Fullan – aim to build on strengths, not take on hundreds of initiatives no human could ever fully implement all at once. Between scores and student work you notice great things happening in terms of essay writing? Study it. Build on it. Between scores and student work you notice a positive trend in how students think about literature? Study it. Build on it. Success breeds success.
Feel what you authentically feel. Today I felt shocked. And pissed off. And really, really sad. And angry again. And sad again. And resolute to speak out. And sad again. And angry. For a variety of reasons:
I know many great teachers through this process are becoming disenchanted with our local system.
I know your job could be effected by these results and that is scary.
I know kids often feel defined by numbers and scores.
I know many parents are feeling angry and confused.
I know more and more instructional time is going towards test preparation for tests that are getting harder and harder to see any pay off to this prep. Yet in many schools the prep grows.
I know in many schools budgets are going toward “fix-it” curriculums and textbooks and technology stamped with the claim to “raise scores” or be “common core aligned”, money that would be better spent going to books, and arts, and real technology, and teachers, and and and.