A Closer Look at Close Reading

close reading

“Today, class, we’re going to read a wonderful new story. BUT, we’re not just going to read it. We’re going to read it really really REALLY (insert as many emphatic reallys as possible) closely.”

Two groans, five yawns and twenty-five confused faces later, close reading of that story is probably the last thing that’s going to take place during the next period.

Since the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards, close reading has become the ultimate buzz phrase in education. From the Publisher’s Criteria, to Pearson, to the faculty room conversations in my school, everyone has their own take on how this should look in the classroom.

As an elementary educator, I wrestled with what this meant for my students. I read countless blogs and articles, listened in on late night Twitter chats, and furiously took notes during TCRWP workshops. I just knew that if I chased this idea enough, someone, somewhere would tell me the perfect way to get my students reading closely.

Well, there’s never a perfect way, and even when you find a near perfect way, Jimmy at table four likes to buck conventional wisdom and say, “Nope. Don’t care what your research tells you. Not doing it.”

Keeping that in mind, there are several excellent books that are worth every minute of your time if you are interested in looking deeper at close reading. Falling in Love with Close Reading by the amazing Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts, as well as Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst both have practical, try-it-tomorrow-in-your-class strategies that make sense to teachers AND to students. Samples of both books can be read on the Heineman website.

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Whenever I actually have the time to read or attend a workshop, I always find myself:

a. overwhelmed

b. feeling like a bad teacher  AND

c. not knowing where to start with all of my new-found information.

I’ve learned (the hard way) to choose one idea to implement right away, and save the rest for another time, another unit.

So, here’s how I started getting my students to read more closely. Of course, it is an impossible notion that students should read every word and every page of their books with an analytical eye. But, as any teacher will affirm, students don’t seem to understand what parts need closer attention and which are less important. In Notice and Note, the authors lay out six signposts. These signposts are common happenings in most fiction books that signal to the reader that they should stop and read closely. Some of these include a “Tough Question,” “Words of Wisdom,” and a “Memory Moment.” Each signpost is followed with a question that students should stop and ask themselves when one of these moments presents itself in a story.

For example, Beers notes that during most books, the main character will have a “Memory Moment.” This is a flashback that, as teachers, we realize is telling us something about the main character that will be important for development of the story. However, students often gloss right over these pivitol scenes in a book. During my read aloud time, I do a quick (I mean three-minute quick) mini lesson on a signpost. I might say, “Do you remember when I was reading yesterday, and  was getting picked on by the playground bullies? Did you notice how he had a flashback of picking on another boy in the shetl while it was all happening? Why do you think he was having that flashback? What is the author trying to tell us about how Fivel is feeling right now?” This kind of talk leads students to understanding that when an author includes a “Memory Moment” in a story, it is probably to show you something important. Then, when students go off to read independently, they are poised to look for these types of places in their own books. And ultimately, they will slow down and do some deeper thinking when those moments appear.

I am also hopeful that understanding these signposts will elevate the level of the kind of stopping and jotting they do, as well as their reader’s notebook work.

This is one student’s notebook entry based on the “Tough Question” signpost that we had recently discussed.

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A quick overview of all six signposts and the questions that students should be asking themselves can be downloaded here. More to follow in future posts on Lehman and Robert’s book.

What are the ways that your students are reading closely? We’d love to hear from you!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Closer Look at Close Reading

  1. Kim T.

    I too feel overwhelmed after attending a fabulous workshop, so I love your idea of implementing ONE idea RIGHT AWAY! Before you forget it or talk yourself out of it!

  2. Thanks for sharing your work. I think we all get overwhelmed and then beat ourselves up for not doing everything perfectly. The more important point is you are a learner and act on your learning for your students, and you don’t give up on the Jimmys in our world. It is a process, not one thing will work for all. We are so lucky to have such great research and strategies to help our teaching!

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