Fitting the Puzzle Pieces of Close Reading Together


   (Photo: 123RF    #21054105)

The Blog-A-Thon for Close Reading hosted by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts has resulted in thoughtful conversations around two words in CCSS Reading Anchor Standard #1.  We are all eagerly awaiting elaboration from Chris and Kate’s book ‘Falling in Love With Close Readingthat will add to our knowledge  Blog posts have discussed close reading as a noun, a verb and with very specific cautions about being very careful to not destroy “the love of reading.”

So, a quick review that close reading is:

  • Not every story
  • Not dragging a two page story out to a week’s worth of lessons
  • Not 999 text dependent questions
  • Not the teacher scaffolding the work all the time
  • Not the students being ‘assigned’ text to read and reread and reread
  • Not a scripted procedure
  • Not surface learning
  • Not limited by the four corners of the page
  • Not worksheets
  • Not independent reading
  • Not scripted lesson plans
  • Not just a “school activity “
  • Not isolated work with the CCSS reading standards one at a time
  • Not always rereading three times
  • Not . . .

In the first post for the Blog-A-Thon, Chris told us last week that:

“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.”

Which words or phrases caused you to stop, pause, or reread as you read that definition?

Or (gasp!), did you tell yourself that you had already read that definition last week so you just kinda, sorta glossed over it?  Did you notice any “patterns?”

Inherent in this definition is the belief that the reader will read like an author while observing the author’s choices within text, media or life.  That means that the reader will probably “know and wonder” (Barnhouse & Vinton, What Readers Really Do) or “notice and note” (Beers & Probst, Notice and Note:  Strategies for Close Reading) as he/she traces patterns from the text.  Pattern tracing may evolve through the use of post-its, reading notebook entries or even on chart paper or interactive white boards.  Student reflection on the meaning of the pattern would seem to be essential for “new understandings” to be constructed!

What routine(s) should be used?

The routine that the reader uses will be based on teacher instruction explicitly designed for independent application by the reader.  The instructional format may include conversations about the “stance” or lens that the student is using to view the text:  text evidence, word choice, structure, or figurative language.  But it could also involve the lens of “character development and change over time.” (CCSS Reading Anchor #3 – Scroll down to the chart about “lonely characters and then go back to read the blog for the chart context.“)  In the search for a theme (CCSS Reading Anchor #2), the lens could be the signpost “Again and Again” (Beers & Probst) or  “Searching for Meaning”in Dea Conrad-Curry’s post.

Desired outcome =  students independently and capably engaged in close reading of text, media and life 

The path for instruction may be varied but it has to include authentic reading experiences.  At times instruction may be inquiry with the teacher carefully observing students and the patterns they discover in their reading.  At other points a more direct instructional framework may be Fisher and Frey’s  gradual release of responsibility that includes:  productive group work, guided instruction, focus lesson (including modeling), and independent work until the ultimate goal of close reading and “constructing new understanding” is TOTALLY dependent on the text and the student!

So how do we get to our final destination?

Observe the current status of our students.  Provide explicit instruction that will “nudge” students to reach new understanding.  Continue to “construct” meaning – not just identify it.  Use the phrase, “Tell me more” instead of a barrage of questions.  Sometimes the learning path will be whole class, small group or 1:1, but the journey needs to begin now.  It’s 2013 and we can improve instruction and student learning as we work and learn together with a sense of urgency that will propel student thinking beyond current levels!

We read forward and think backward, making within-text connections to notice patterns” (Barnhouse & Vinton, p.113) as we “trust student talk around texts to support our thinking goals” (p. 122).  Reading, observing, talking, thinking about text, media, and life will help construct meaning and fit the puzzle pieces together!

It’s complicated!  It’s messy! And close reading is definitely a big puzzle with no ONE right way to accomplish it!

10 responses

  1. Hi Fran–Thank you for linking to my post, Searching for Meaning! The Close Reading Challenge seems to be bringing out the writers!

    1. Thanks, Dea!
      I always appreciate your posts as they help me keep a “Weather Eye” on the end goal for high school students as you so clearly articulate that “college and career ready” stance in all your work! I enjoy the fact that writing does help me clarify my thinking; but sometimes I have no clue how muddled my thinking really is!

      Good to hear from you!

      1. I feel the same about writing…I’m never really sure what I think until I can frame it with words that convey meaning to others. And though I love to write, it takes so much time! I am amazed at those who can put out daily blog posts. I typically write my posts in one sitting, but a long sitting!!! Best to you as always!

  2. Great post Fran. Love the NOTs… I also love how you point out that we can read closely by looking through the lenses of the standards. Right now, I’m finding so much power in just asking students to look for patterns. They own this, they are doing the work. That’s authentic, and it’s assessment. Now I’m looking for transference to independent work. Not there YET…BUT… we’re getting closer.

    1. Julieanne,

      Thanks for your comments. As a member of my #wrrdchat PLN, I value and respect your opinions. I think there are so many different lenses that we could spin forever if we thought we needed to identify them. Instead, let’s focus on moving to independence.

      The chart on page 193 of WWRD has been part of my recent study and the fourth point says, “We keep our modeling to a minimum, except during evaluation when we model in order to demonstrate how we draft and revise our understanding of ourselves, not just of a text.” So to push independence, we are asking students to be watching for patterns as they read and recording them in their reader’s notebook. Then they will meet with a partner at mid-workshop teaching point to discuss their patterns. More time for the teacher to quickly eyeball the partners and see who has writing in their notebook as well as listen for who is stuck! Independence is tough! By nature, we teachers like to “help” long, long before our students really need help!

      Love our conversations! 🙂

      1. OH yeah…that mid-workshop teaching point. Confession: I sometimes forget that powerful piece. Thanks for the reminder. I’m so glad there is tomorrow. Love the feedback, learning and conversations!

      2. Tomorrow is great! Always an opportunity for students and us to begin again! And it’s also easier to think of ideas after the fact/when the students are not in the classroom needing attention! You are SO on the right track!

  3. […] learning journey continued as I read brilliant posts that added to the collective blog-a-thon and my understanding and I did sigh in relief a couple of times when I discovered that I was not “way off […]

  4. […] 8. Fitting the Puzzle Pieces of Close Reading Together […]

  5. […] Fitting the Puzzle Pieces of Close Reading Together […]

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