Monday, September 9, 2013

Closing In On Close Reading

There is no passion more rewarding than reading itself. . .it remains the best way to dream and to feel the sheer carnal joy of being fully and openly alive.     
Pat Conroy in My Reading Life
Writing, combined with close reading, is among the most valuable, 
but least understood elements of schooling.  Mike Schmoker (2006)
Close reading is a goal, a disposition, a skill outlined in the Common Core State Standards as Reading Standard #1.  Of course, we have always wanted and worked to help our students be discerning, deep thinkers as they read a variety of texts.  With our responsive data-guided literacy instruction, our focus on Thinking Strategies to help students learn why and how to ignite and nurture understanding as readers and writers, and our caring efforts to create an edifying community of learning with our students, close reading is a constant focus in all our classrooms.
As close readers, over the course of their Kindergarten through 12th grade literacy learning journeys, our students are expected to know and do the following as detailed in the CCSS Reading Standard #1 for Literature and Informational Text:
Know (concepts identified by the nouns of this standard)
  • evidence
  • textual evidence
  • details
  • examples
  • question
  • inference
Do (skills identified by the verbs of this standard)
  • CITE (textual evidence)
  • ANALYZE (what the text says explicitly)
  • ASK and ANSWER (questions)
  • INFER/DRAW INFERENCES (drawn from the text)
  • DETERMINE (where the text leaves things uncertain)

Again, these goals fire our work.  Key gifts we help all growing readers discover are the absolute rocket fuel of questions and inferences.  If a reader has no questions and generates no inferences, he/she is very likely to harvest nothing from his/her reading.  With the energy of questions and inferences, even developmentally young or struggling readers can and do work diligently to make sense of what they read.  And, by attending to the text to find answers to their own curiosities and predictions, growing readers naturally return to the text to cull evidence or name insights (especially when they live with someone like YOU who constantly shares your thinking work with them). 
The goal of close reading has also become an instructional strategy which can make having a clear vision of close reading a bit fuzzy if not down right confusing.  There are excellent models of engaging students in intentional reading experiences to help them better see the thoughtful ways proficient readers interact with text as they read all with the goal of understanding.  But there are also some very bizarre methods of close reading being marketed all in the name of the Common core.  It's important to be highly discerning in embracing (and purchasing) close reading rituals and resources. 
Thinking about what your students most need to learn as growing readers.  Offer them well-aligned apprenticeship in why and how you read text closely so that their close reading learning is not artificial to your goals for them.  The Common Core Reading Standard does not define close reading as reading short text exclusively nor does it say that students are expected to read every or even most texts multiple times.  And yet some close reading instructional strategies may give students these false understandings because they limit close reading to short bursts of text and repeated readings.  A few do not even encourage students' independent reading of text but rather rely solely on teachers read alouds.  As Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse (2012) advocate in What Readers Really Do, we must engage students in literacy learning which puts them in the driver's seat.  By actively participating in their own reading, even when it is a struggle (or especially when it is a struggle), students better see, name, and own their thinking work.  Thus, it vital to craft our close reading instruction deftly.
In truth, when we encounter complex texts, we respond to the text with a variety of thinking maneuvers.  It is our habits of close reading that we want to demonstrate and practice with students.  When a text is demanding and I am finding it difficult to understand, I do reread the text.  But that is not all I do.  So, while I will model and collaboratively practice rereading with my students, over time, I will also share multiple ways of negotiating complex texts with my students.  This way, they can be truly strategic - Our students can better respond to the demands of a text if their thinking tool belt is richer and more diverse than just rereading. 
Included below are a few ways thoughtful guidelines as you sculpt and chisel close reading practice for and with your students - with cautions to diversify your close reading apprenticeship with students throughout this year.  Toward that goal, in the upcoming days and weeks, I will profile numerous ways to strengthen your students' close reading habits and detail how to help students be skillful at text dependent questions without being text bound (i.e. only able to read this text vs. very able to read all texts of this genre).  So, please return to the Open Book soon!
Close reading has the following characteristics:

*      It works with a short passage.

*      The focus is intense.

*      It will extend from the passage itself to other parts of the text.

*      It should involve a great deal of exploratory discussion. 

*      It involves rereading. 
*From the excellent Note and Notice: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst (2012)
Phases of a Close Reading Lesson                                                                              Timothy Shanahan (2013), International Reading Association

  • Set the context for the text without revealing too much information and thus denying students the opportunity to think deeply for themselves.
  • Keep it short and to the point. 
First Reading ~ What does the text say?
*       Guide students to consider the most important elements of the text, and clarify confusion. 
*       Ask students to summarize the information or retell the story, including the key ideas and details.

Second Reading ~ How does the text work?
*       Lead the students in considering the author’s craft and the text’s structure as tools for conveying ideas.
*       Develop an awareness of the choices an author and illustrator make to convey ideas.
*       Focus on why and how the author told the story or shared the information.

Third Reading ~ What does the text mean?
*       Consider what the text means to a reader and how it connects to other texts and the reader’s life. 


Suggested Close Reading Steps – Five Readings

  1. Paraphrase the sentences.
  2. State, elaborate, exemplify the author’s claim/thesis.
  3. Identify the author’s purpose, including the most important problem(s), issues, concerns, implications, and/or point of view.
  4. Evaluate or assess the text based on clarity, accuracy, relevance, precision, logic, significance, and fairness.
  5. Role playing – author and questioner.

*From The Thinker’s Guide to How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder (2008).  Their theory is that if you can read a paragraph critically, you can read a chapter and then a book in the same way.

For a wealth of ideas in supporting your students as readers, writers, and thinkers, I highly recommend Gretchen Owocki's (2012; 2013) lighthouse books:
And Sunday Cummins' (2012) compelling and practical book...

Too often, and for very understandable reasons, we want things to be black and white.  The thinking word of understanding readers is not tidy.  Understanding cannot be easily named with one or two descriptors.  It's messy work and we will do better by our students if we do not narrow the definition of close reading too simplistically.  More on all of this soon!  Until then, happy reading, joyful teaching!

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