Monthly Archives: November, 2013

Wanted: “Complex, Text-Based Thinking by Students”


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The title of this post comes from a direct quote from Vicki Vinton (coauthor of What Readers Really Do with Dorothy Barnhouse) in the comments section on her blog here.  This is a HUGE shift for many teachers and students.

If we want students to be “doing” the “Complex, Text-Based Thinking” then something else will have to go.  Vicki suggests (and I agree) that this complex student thinking would replace “text-dependent questions for complex text.”

Is this appropriate?  What about text-dependent questions for complex text?  What does the Iowa Core say (100% of Common Core is inside the Iowa Core)?

The picture below is of a “word search” for “text-dependent questions” in the ENTIRE K-12 ELA document including all content area supports for grades 6-12.  Are you surprised by the results?

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The phrase “text-dependent questions” was not found when the entire document was searched.

A second search for “text-dependent” had this result.

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Again, no search items were found that corresponded to “text-dependent.”

Please check your own state standards document.  Does it “REALLY” require “text-dependent questions” or is that “someone’s” interpretation of the standards?  Should close reading result in students who can answer those text-dependent teacher questions? Or do our students deserve something better?
In the entire scheme of life, do you need students who can answer “text-dependent questions?”  
Or do you need “Complex, Text-Based Thinking by Students?”  

I am looking forward to your responses! (freezing rain is in tonight’s weather forecast in Iowa and I am not attending #NCTE13 so I conversations are welcome!)

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In Love with “Close Reading”


Our Twitter chat celebrating Falling in Love with Close Reading on November 11, 2013 was fabulous, and I must thank co-moderators Allison Jackson and Laura Komos (@azajacks @laurakomos) for their question development, organization, tweeting in advance, and storifying the chat afterwords.  Of course, Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts (@ichrislehman  @teachkate) brought a crowd to the chat with their participation.  My sincerest thanks to ALL participants and readers because deep understanding is necessary in order to ensure that ALL of our students can read, do read and YES, love to read!

The last few months have been a personal quest for knowledge about close reading.  I read Tim Shanahan’s blog regularly (although I don’t always agree) and I began with his model for close reading with his “three step process” outlined here. However, I felt this process was stiff, clunky, and was confusing to students who began to say, “Do we really have to read this three times?  Just give me all the questions now!”

I had to admit that process was not working in my own reading.  Sometimes two reads were sufficient while at other times, it seemed like 10 reads was just beginning to scrape the surface for the “right meaning.”

I loved Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s view of close reading in  Text Complexity, Raising Rigor in Reading when they shared that close reading should come in texts of varying lengths and was not a daily diet requirement as referenced here.  And then the signposts from Notice and Note (Kylene Beers and Bob Probst) were next to receive my scrutiny as a book chat and facebook page sprang up!  The language of the signposts made so much sense to students and teachers across the country, and one more entry point into “close reading” was revealed!

In June/July 2013, I attended both the Writing Institute and the Reading Institute at Teachers College in New York City. I learned what I had feared – that I really had not yet understood the impact and the grade level standards for the Common Core State Standards (and, yes, I was a “hick from the sticks”).  The demonstrations at #tcrwp convinced me that I had not yet begun to grasp the possibilities for depth and scope in “close reading.”  Each demonstration was different as the definition of text broadened.  Mary Ehrenworth  brilliantly provided a “mini-PD format” for Close Reading, for use in our own buildings, that included a poem and two song videos.  Kate Roberts passionately used video and text to illustrate the necessity of close reading for point of view in nonfiction text and I was captivated.  When the pending publication of Falling in Love with Close Reading was announced at the June Writing Institute, I immediately pre-ordered it.

And then September arrived and Chris and Kate began the Close Reading Blog-a-thon where Chris unveiled this definition which again stretched my understanding:

“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.”   Sept. 2, 2013

My 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 base” in my thinking.  What was so monumental?  That one word – “independently” was a showstopper!  Up until that point, I had wrestled with how to move to deeper understanding with wisdom from Vicki Vinton and my mates at #WRRDchat (What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton).  The simplicity of “Know / Wonder” charts and looking for patterns has stayed with me as I work with students and teachers to build independence in understanding what readers and writers really do.

And then the book arrived.  From Donalyn Miller’s first words about The Velveteen Rabbit in the Foreword to the closing pages of the Resources, this book is dedicated to “falling in love.” It is not just about “reading at school” but is truly a ritual for reading life.

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I immediately began to tweet out some of my favorite quotes as I quickly discovered that the three part ritual described by Kate in June was at the heart of the entire book.  Close Reading is not about interrogating students with text dependent questions although it is about the “Five Corners of Text.”  That ritual is simply and elegantly:

      1. Read through lenses
      2. Use lenses to find patterns
      3. Use the patterns to develop a new understanding of the text

In love with the book, twitter conversations began.  @laurakomos proposed a chat and we were asking the authors to set a date to chat with their readers. Documents were created and blog posts announced the chat.

Our Twitter Chat was a fun hour + with laughs (jinxed comments), gnashing of teeth (at some policies) and a whole lot of love, passion, respect and celebration of the close reading rituals that Chris and Kate propose in Falling in Love with Close Reading – Lessons for Analyzing Texts –  and Life.  You can check out the archive here.

Nurturing this love of close reading is going to be important if it really is going to be built on student independence.  Teachers will need to consider and balance:  types of texts read by the teacher, types of texts read by the students, complexity of student thinking, complexity of texts students are reading independently, balancing genres, balancing levels of challenge and length of texts.  Careful thought and planning will be required in order to meet this goal from the book:

“Equally, move freely between analyzing texts, media and life.”  (p. 124)  The dream is for student independence and where you lead (especially by modeling), the students will follow for the rest of their lives!

Thanks, Chris and Kate, for such powerful learning and for sharing your ritual with your readers so students may grow in independence as they close read their minutes, hours, days, and lives!

How are you close reading your life?  
How are you nurturing “independence” in student close reading?  
How will you know that students are independently close reading their lives?  
Let’s continue the conversation!
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