Monthly Archives: February, 2013

Close Reading: Not for Every Text

“Prepare for the tsunami!  Prepare for the earthquake!  Prepare . . . .”

“DANGER!  Will Robinson!”


Tweet from Michigan Reading Association (March 9, 2013):  “Close reading takes place 2 or 3 times a week. Not all day every day. –Doug Fisher #MRA13″


Highly skilled teachers are constantly talking with students who are reading books to see if the students are applying the skills that they have been taught. Nothing new there.  Solid core instruction (checking for understanding/application)!

Is there a list of skills that need to be taught?  Well, it depends . . .

  • What skills does the student already have executive control over/with?
  • What skill does the student need for the next genre or text in any content area?
  • How do you know what the student knows?  Or doesn’t know?

There is no “curricula of close reading text” that all students can or should be comprehending. One goal of the Common Core is that students will be “College and Career Ready.”  Specific ranges and genres of text expectations are included in RL.10 and RI.10 and exemplars are also listed in Appendix B. (Nor should there be a curricula of close reading text!)

We do not want students to have a view that  reading is only something that is done “at school.”   “Assigning complex text”  should not be a standard event if the student has not had skilled, scaffolded instruction that will allow him/her to construct the meaning of the text.  Constructing the meaning may involve a bit of a struggle.  It also may allow for multiple understandings to co-exist especially when backed with textual evidence!

I was reminded today that there are many views of “close reading” available because this idea has been around since 1929.  But the feeding frenzy in the publishing world now has a “close reading” for every page of every story in some primary basal texts.  Really?  Why? (refer back to the bulleted questions above)  Is every piece of text “complex enough” to require close reading?  If the answer is no, heed the warning that began this blog.  Ask questions when you are quizzed about how often you are modeling “close reading.”

Need more information?

In 2010, Newkirk said,  “Not all texts demand this level of attention but some texts do!” He added, “We never really ‘comprehend’ these anchoring passages – we’re never done with them; we never consume them.  Like sacred texts, they are inexhaustible, continuing to move us, support us, and even surprise us” (p. 11).

Doug Fisher reminds us often that “Reader Response Theory” is a part of Rosenblatt’s (1978) work.  “The formal elements of the work – style and structure, rhythmic flow – function only as a part of the total literary experience”(p.7).  An individual’s interpretation may change over time. Doug uses the example of The Jungle Book when discussing close reading in his book titled Text Complexity. A child might believe the theme is loyalty and friendship while an adult could see an anti-colonialist message (p.107).

There is always a balance.  .  . A time to learn a new skill.  .  . A time to practice a skill.  But remember the caution from the last blog post.  The “reader response” needs to be based on the text.  Yes, it can include “connections” that are based on the text.  The response should NOT exclude the text and result in “rewrite the ending to include an outcome you would prefer” (Fisher, p. 107).

Choose your close reading text carefully.  Consider your student data.  Consider your knowledge of your students.  Consider your knowledge of the curricula.  Consider the next steps to independent application . . . and your students will be on the road to being College and Career Ready!

How do you know when you need to plan a  “close reading”? Please share your ideas in a comment!

Newkirk,T. (2010) The case for slow reading. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 6-11.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D.(2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


Common Core: Are you allowed to make “connections” in a close reading?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Why do I need to know about close reading?

College and Career Ready Anchor Standard 1 in Reading (K-12) says:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

So I need to know about close reading because it is in the first standard for the Common Core’s  K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and 6-12 ELA for History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.

The kids in my classes do that all the time, so what’s the big deal?

Students are soon going to be tested on pilots for Smarter Balanced Assessments and “someone” needs to know that the students have learned how to do this close reading stuff.


How do I teach this “close reading”? How do I know what I should or should not ask the students? 

The process suggested by Dr. Timothy Shanahan in his July 12, 2012 blog found here: (please do check it out for yourself – verifying the accuracy of a source)

“For a first reading, you want to ask questions that ensure that the students understand and think about the major ideas in the story or article. That means you limit your questions to big ideas or you query information that you think the students might be confused by. 

On the second reading, you want to ask questions that require students to analyze how the text works: why the author made certain choices and what the implications of those decisions would be in terms of meaning or tone.

On the third reading, the issue is how does this text connect to your life and your views, critical analysis of quality and value, and how the text connects to other texts.” 

A power point is included on that blog post that allows you to dig deeper into both the meaning of this standard as well as see a demonstration of a close reading lesson.

Back to the title:  Are you allowed to make “connections” in a close reading?  Dr. Shanahan suggested in his lesson plan format that you begin with the text, what the words say, then move to the structure or specific words, and finally with the third reading of the same text move on to connections.  Specifically, he said, “. . . how does this text connect to your life and your views, critical analysis of quality and value, and how the text connects to other texts.”  Those would be text to self and text to text connections.  (In the third reading of the same story or part of the story!)


First of all, consider the source.  How reliable was that expert?  Not sure?  Then go to Dr. Shanahan’s blog and ask him about “what you heard.”  He is very approachable.  Why Dr. Shanahan?  Dr. Shanahan was one of the authors of the ELA section of the Common Core.

Need a  second opinion?

Check out “Connections Under Fire” posted by Burkins and Yaris on April 6, 20112.  Their video tells us that not all connections lead the reader to higher levels of comprehension.  When connections go awry, students head down the wrong path.  That happens to students when they read a passage about a soccer match and their own background knowledge (not the words in the text) interfere with their understanding.  That video explains that connections beginning in the print of the text that lead to evaluation and synthesis are valued.

What isn’t valued?  Getting ready to read a story about a dog and asking students if they, or their families, have had dogs as pets.  Now the student is focused on “old Shep” and has a hard time paying attention to the dog in the story.  After all, “dogs” and “pets” would both be familiar vocabulary for most school-aged students.

??? Is “close reading” only about teachers asking students questions?  When, where and why are students encouraged to generate their own questions?  ???

Check out the links and make an informed decision. . . for your students!

When, Where, and How should you use “connections” when reading text?

“Common Sense” and the Common Core

Remember the old game of telephone?  A small group would be sitting in a line or circle.  The first person would whisper a sentence to their neighbor.  The sentence would be repeated in whispers one at a time.  The last person would say the sentence out loud and everyone would be “shocked” that the message had completely morphed.  It was unrecognizable and often had zero connection to the original message!

Take a deep breath, exhale slowly!

Now think of the “last thing” that you heard about the Common Core that “riled” you up.  What was your role?

  • Did you ask clarifying questions?
  • Did you repeat what you heard verbatim?
  • Did your listener hear the same message?

Take a second deep breath!  Exhale even more slowly this time!

Think about that “irksome” idea(s) from the Common Core.  Did you fact check it yourself?   Have you read the notes in the sidebars alongside the Common Core Anchor Standards in search of the “truth” about what the Core says?   If you have the Core in a Word document, it is easy to “search” for those specific ideas and phrases that seem to be problematic.

I can easily become embroiled in conspiracy theories about the forces behind the Common Core, but I choose not to even go there with this topic.  For me, “common sense instruction” and the Common Core is about:

  1.  Taking a step back
  2.  Listening to the question, complaint, concern
  3.  Consulting the document for the answer (evidence)
  4. Verifying/clarifying my knowledge with multiple sources
  5. Considering the benefits for increased student learning

This process allows me to move forward on a daily basis as I work to increase my own understanding and help teachers implement the Common Core.  As a “thinking” educator, I believe that the potential for increased student learning is limitless under the Common Core, and I want to be a part of implementation with high expectations and high quality instruction!

Is the Common Core perfect?  Of course not!  However, our students now have the possibility of the same K-12 goals in English Language Arts across the majority of our country.  A child with mobile parents may have some consistency in their education for the first time in the history of our country.  For children of military families, this new possibility may even make it easier for families to travel from base to base as a family unit.

Implementation of the Common Core is not going to be easy.  Some teachers are being asked to “change” the content they are teaching to more closely align with the content of the Core so students are College and Career Ready.  Yet, the “HOW” and the art of teaching is inevitably up to each and every teacher every day in every classroom across our country.

I continue to look for the good and “the gold” in the Common Core (Thank you, Lucy, Mary and Chris for Pathways to Common Core!).  Some days it may be a bit tarnished, but it’s there!  Keep digging!  Use your own close reading and research skills to unearth it!

Choose the positive!  Choose knowledge and common sense!

Guarantee Quality Reading: Every Day, Every Child

In the last week, I have asked

Successful reading  does not happen in a vacuum.  How do you know that each precious moment is spent on the “right things”?  How do you know that you have high-quality reading instruction?  How can you make reading time more effective for “Every Child, Every Day” within your daily schedule?

Today my media specialist colleague, Kristin Steingreaber, reminded me of a March, 2012 ASCD article where Richard Allington and Rachel Gabriel advocated for six elements of reading instruction in this Educational Leadership article  titled, “Every Child, Every Day.”  This was the issue that was labeled as “Reading: The Core Skill.”

They said, . . . “educators often make decisions about instruction that compromise or supplant the kind of experiences all children need to become engaged, successful readers. This is especially true for struggling readers, who are much less likely than their peers to participate in the kinds of high-quality instructional activities that would ensure that they learn to read.”*

What do educators need to do today and every day (11 months later)?

Here are the four items that focus very specifically on reading:

1. “Every child reads something he or she chooses.

2. Every child reads something he or she understands.

3. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.

4. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.” *


Are all four of those elements a part of your reading workshop every day, for every child?

If not, why not?

Remember that all four are research-based strategies that have been proven beneficial for all students!

What are you waiting for?

 Allington, Richard L. and Gabriel, Rachael E.   “Every Child, Every Day.”  March 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 6.  Reading: The Core Skill Pages 10-15

Finding Minutes for Reading


This is the 4th post in a series that began after hearing Lucy Calkins in Chicago on January 25th.  The ideas expressed in this post are not from Lucy’s presentation but instead come from work with teachers in my area.

Recapping the Series:

  • Common Core:  A Promise?  A Failure?
  • Volume of Reading?  How much is “enough”?
  • Are my students reading enough?  This post introduced a course of action to consider the current status of reading in your classroom that included:
  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading” (looking at three readers)
  2.  Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”
  3. Set a goal
  4.  Implement the plan with additional re-purposed time
  5. Set measurement times to collect formative data to determine whether “on course” to achieve the target

And today’s call to action:  2. Review schedule/organizational/instructional framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading.”

In this post, I am asking you as the teacher to reflect on both your efficiency and effectiveness as a teacher.  What is working?  What is not?  How do you know?  should be constant questions circling through your brain as you search through your day for minutes that you can re-purpose for increased student reading.  Do note that not all of these will necessarily apply to you and your classroom.  If you are not interested in change, please go read something else.  This post is specifically designed to make you consider time utilization across the many facets of your day!

Mathematically, why does this matter?  I am going to include a second grade comparison for each item listed below.  I will be assuming an average second grader reading approximately 100 words per minute.  So if “5 minutes are found” that will allow the student to read approximately 500 more words.  There is a possibility that if “20 minutes are found” across the day, the student could read 2000 more words and be more likely to be on target to meet the promise of the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards!

A. Talk less; Watch and listen more. Students read and write more!

You have a relationship with your students so conversations with students are critical.  Greet them at the door for personal messages that the entire class does not need to hear. Establish routines for efficient collection of information  such as lunch choices, changes in after school transportation or receipt of communications from home.  Shifting the focus for “Sharing” after 1st semester in first grade to focus on something that the student has read or written will enable all readers and writers to know that “literacy is the focus” in your classroom!  Who is doing the work in the classroom?  Is the teacher the “main talker”?  If you believe the person talking is doing the learning . . . what are the implications for your classroom? (5 minutes found at beginning of day and 5 minutes after lunch = 10 minutes or 1000 additional words read)

B. Shorten mini-lessons or focus lessons! 

Consider how many times across the day that you provide explicit instruction including modeling.  How long are each of those focus or mini-lessons?  If they are more than 10 minutes for first and second grade, shorten them.  If they are more than 15 minutes for all other grades, shorten them. Multiple shorter focus lessons are typically more effective if students are then immediately applying those actions in their own reading and writing.  Using a gradual release of responsibility model allows for more student reading and writing during a “guided instruction/productive group work” phase.  Consider using visual prompts that keep you on track with only the critical components as you strive for students to become independent readers and writers.   And remember that the mini-lesson or focus lesson does not always have to be “first” in the instruction.  Not sure about the effectiveness of your mini-lesson or focus lesson?  Video record your mini-lessons for one day and review later with a critical friend to discuss the content and length. (shortening 2 mini-lessons each day = 5 minutes found or 500 additional words read)

C.  Consider whole class instructional activities.

How long does whole class instruction last? How often during a day do you use whole class instruction?  By the end of the instruction, are 80% or more of the students successful which would indicate that your core instruction, in this case whole class instruction, is effective?  If not, consider including more partner work where students are reading or writing to/ or with a partner.  With this structure the teacher can check the understanding of even more students, saving precious moments for all. Students will also be able to spend more time reading and writing if they are not waiting for response time in a large group setting. (Students are reading more during instruction so 5 minutes found = 500 additional words read; each time whole class instruction is used!)

D. Reduce the number of worksheets.  Doug Fisher (Gradual Release of Responsibility) calls them “shut-up sheets.” Many worksheets are typically an “assessment” that is completed individually that addresses the question, “Do I know the answer the teacher/publisher wants?” (Honestly, name the last 5 worksheets that you filled out in real life!) If students are reading and writing A LOT, they should have text that invites deep discussion and even argumentation with the author or characters.  Students should have learned some content from the text which would be the ultimate goal from the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards. (Continue for other accountability measures) ( 1 worksheet = 10 found minutes = 1000 additional words read x the number of worksheets across the day)

E. Stop round robin and popcorn reading immediately.  Most students do not follow along.  We know that because students tell us that it is wasted time while they count out their parts.  (Besides, it was not effective for us when we were in school either.)  Do not slow down the whole class to go at the pace of the slowest.  Round robin/popcorn reading is not an example of hearing good models of reading either.  For many students it is a very frustrating, cold read.  Instead, add in more partner work.  Read to someone / partner reading is a better structure that will maximize learning for both students working together, especially when the listener has to summarize the events before he or she begins reading!  Small individual accountability routines could include “pair-share” or “numbered heads together.” (20 minutes found / 2 readers = 10 minutes each student= 1000 additional words read)

F. General classroom management – Consider when all students are waiting in the hall in a line to go to the restroom, get a drink, etc. If you have 25 students and this takes 5 minutes, that is a total of  125 minutes of student time gone.  What would be a better structure?  Don’t forget to ask your students for input!  Involving them in decisions fosters independence.  Other considerations might include responding to some of these questions:  Do students have to wait to ask the teacher for specific tasks like sharpening a pencil or going to the library to get a resource. (Accountability – physical “passes” that are taken with them as the student completes the out of classroom task)  How can these tasks be handled efficiently and maximize both teacher and student time and energy? Consider the “flow” of classroom tasks and activities.  Is there a workshop model in place that allows students to move seamlessly from task to task? (10 minutes found across day = 1000 additional words read)

Pick one and get started.   Removing inefficient time barriers to reading is a critical task that teachers can undertake immediately that will result in increased time for reading for ALL students!

Where will you start?

Are my students reading enough?

A common question from teachers is:  Are my students reading enough?  How much should my students be reading across the school day as we implement the Common Core?

“Volume of Reading” was the subject of my last blog post where I posed a question about how much text a second grader should be reading daily in order to “accelerate learning” to meet the demands of the Common Core.  This question began with information presented by Lucy Calkins in Chicago, January 25, 2013 titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement and sponsored by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

“Real learning requires an honest assessment of current reality.  The best teachers understand this and, consequently, they are never completely satisfied.” This quote comes from High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching by Jim Knight (p. 9), a book I am reading for our Wednesday night (9 pm CST) #educoach Twitter chat.

A simple course of action might be:

  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading”
  2.  Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”
  3. Set a goal
  4.  Implement the plan with additional re-purposed time
  5. Set measurement times to collect formative data to determine whether “on course” to achieve the target

But just how would one go about completing step 1) honestly assessing the current reality of Volume of Reading?  Beginning mid-year in grade 1, teachers could consider using the process outlined below.

Use current assessment data to choose ONE student from each of the following three categories:  a high, medium and struggling reader.  The struggling reader for this data activity should not be a student identified as a student with an IEP or a student who does not have English as their first language.

Pick a day this week that seems to have a fairly normal schedule of activities (without special assemblies, field trips, etc.)  On this one day, collect the text read by those students.

What could that look like?  Give each of the three children their own color of arrow post its.  Tell them you are conducting an experiment and they are going to help you.

When the day begins, meet with those three students and give them their post its.  Ask them to mark their starting and ending points when reading with the post its.  Give them a hand signal as a “special prompt’ to remind them to mark their reading.  Put a special basket or tub next to their desk or work area for them to place their books after tagged with the arrows.

Collect beginning and ending arrows for these students for text “read” during the day. If your students are reading text online, you will have to devise a recording system that is “doable” on your devices, browser, and documents (transferring to Word would be advantageous because “word count” could automatically give you total words read).

At the end of the day, count the words read and add up the totals by the individual students according to the scheduled activity.

Your list / data chart might look something like:

Reading – Student 1 ____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Science – Student 1 _____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Initial questions for your data:

  • How many total words did Students 1, 2, and 3 read?
  • Were there any surprises in the data?
  • When did the big “chunks” of reading occur?
  • Was this honestly a “typical” day of reading for your class?
  • How accurate do you believe that the students were in recording their “start” and “stop” points?
  • (Additional questions will come from your data)

Please note that I did not say this would be easy!  Data collection is often messy and time-consuming. And why three levels?  If you are differentiating instruction and/or using leveled books, it is possible that the number of words read will vary due to different texts or assignments with text over the course of the day. And also note that this is my idea based on previous “counts” encouraged by Richard Allington as we look at students accumulated reading across every day.  I did NOT say or imply that Lucy Calkins said to collect this data.

What’s next?

Move on to step 2. Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”

How could this information guide your instruction? What could / would you do differently after collecting this data?

Volume of Reading? How much is “enough”?

How much reading should a second grader be doing daily? (both in and out of school)

  • a. 1 leveled book
  • b. 1 leveled book and 1 book of choice
  • c. 1 leveled book and content reading across the day
  • d. I don’t know
  • e. None of the above


Second graders are often reading Magic Tree House books.

Do these look familiar?



Amount and Type of Reading

Wide reading will help students grow their vocabulary, develop stamina, increase background knowledge, and improve fluency. One controversial recommendation from the Common Core says that students need to read more informational text. The Common Core State Standards follow the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recommendations for informational text ratios:  50 percent in elementary school, 55 percent in middle school, and 70 percent in high school. (Across the ENTIRE day for ALL students!) Texts can be chosen to align with state social studies and science standards or to address topics that students find interesting.  A wide variety of texts can be found online at sites like:   Text Project, Readworks or Reading A-Z.  You will have to decide how those texts also meet the “text complexity” requirements of CCR Anchor Standard 10.  Your public library,  school, or AEA media specialist will be able to provide information about how to find interesting articles online.  Your district may subscribe to national databases that will allow you to download articles. In many cases, these databases also include a complexity score by grade level (which is one part of “text complexity”).  In Iowa, these databases are available through AEA Online.


How much reading should a second grader be doing daily? (both in and out of school)

  • a. 1 leveled book
  • b. 1 leveled book and 1 book of choice
  • c. 1 leveled book and content reading across the day
  • d. I don’t know
  • e. None of the above

And the answer is, . . . drum roll, please . . .  *

According to Lucy Calkins, a second grader reading approximately 100 words per minute needs to be reading the equivalence of  TWO Magic Tree House books EVERY day in order to be reading enough print and encountering enough vocabulary words to be on track to meet the grade level standards and accelerate learning to meet the promise of the  Common Core at the end of second grade.

The answer is e. None of the above   (2nd grade – TWO Magic Tree House books every day!)

How are your students doing?  Are they on track?  How can you incorporate more reading “across the day” for your students in order to “accelerate” their learning?  What questions do you have about this amount of text for second graders?

(*Presentation titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Student Achievement, Lucy Calkins, 01/25/2013. Chicago, IL: New York Teachers College: TRWP.)


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