Saturday, October 8, 2016

Close Reading 101 - the philosophy

As I have been giving professional development at my school site and throughout my district, I have come to the realization that many teachers have not yet grasped the purpose of Close Reading.  I think that ever since Common Core Standards have come out, teachers have been hard pressed to first, learn all the standards for their grade level, and second find fun, meaningful, and engaging ways to teach them.  I think that many teachers have been given so much Professional Development about so many strategies, that they are confused and don't know where to start.  I see this when I give presentations.  I assume they know the basics of Close Reading and so I begin a strategy that they may not be ready for.  They in turn, do not want to say anything for fear of being the only one who doesn't know the strategy.  But as I look around at the staff, I see the same, "What the heck?" look on every face.  That's when I know I am in trouble and am teaching the wrong lesson.

So I'm going to blog about Close Reading to begin with, then I will take a new and improved lesson to my staff members (I learn to teach while blogging).  This will take a few posts.  Close Reading is a fascinating strategy with a lot of research and philosophy behind it.  I believe that if you don't understand the logic that creates something, you will not truly believe in it and you won't internalize it and teach it to your students.

So what is Close Reading?  Close Reading gets its name literally from the idea of reading text up close, like you are examining it.  You look at it over and over again, from different angles and view points, just like a doctor would examine her patient.  Then like a doctor interprets these observation and tells you whats wrong, the reader interprets and analyzes the meaning of the author's words.  Its an interaction between two entities, both reader and text.  I tell my students that it is they are talking on the phone to the author.  The author speaks when the student reads, and the student speaks by responding in writing on the text.  And very importantly Close Reading involves reading, and rereading, and more rereading.

There are a lot of rules for Close Reading.  They are not rules that would stifle your teaching, but rather rules that ensures that the teacher doesn't get carried away with trying to make Close Reading something that it isn't.  I have seen many teachers who don't understand Close Reading but feel pressured to do it by administrators or what have you, give the same reading lesson they gave in 2002, but call it Close Reading because the students had to read the text twice.  I've also seen administrators who don't understand it buy class sets of textbooks just because they have a comprehension section titled "Close Reading".  Publishers are making a fortune on the naivety of educators regarding Close Reading.

Well, let me tell you the guidelines so you don't fall into that category and you can successfully provide Close Reading lessons for your students.  First, Close Reading must create engagement and joy.  If your students groan and don't jump for joy when you say its time to do Close Reading, then you are doing something wrong.  Don't get discouraged if that's happening to you!  Keep reading to find out how to make it fun.

Second, it must be only one part of your reading instruction.  One teacher was visibly upset once when I was teaching how to give Close Reading instruction.  He said, "How are they supposed to learn how to sound out words if all they do is read to themselves?"  Close Reading a strategy meant to get students to observe and interact with text, so they can analyze meaning more closely.   A teacher still needs to do read alouds, choral read, partner read, guided read, explicitly teach phonics, and all the other great strategies teachers are already using.  Close Reading is just one part of the big picture.  There is no rule as to how often it has to be done.  Some teachers do it every day, some twice a week, me, I change it up, but currently, I just do it every Monday.

Third, it must lead to student independence.  Remember what your goal is.  Remember how you want your students to leave your class at the end of the year.  You don't want them to need you, you want them to have the skill and the confidence to read and analyze text on their own.  Now is the time to begin the process of this independence.  You can start off slow, model it, guided practice it, whatever you need to do to get your students moving in the right direction.  But remember to lay off gradually.  Let them struggle with the text, its good for their brain!

Fourth,  you must allow time for them to read independently for extended amounts of time.  Teachers, me included love to hear themselves talk.  And sometimes they feel that they are not teaching if they are not talking.  There is nothing further from the truth!  Teachers need to learn that there is a time to instruct, and there is a time to step back and facilitate.  Now is that time to step back.  Give your students a good 15-20 at least, to read and struggle with this material.  This is time your students need to become independent.  Of course, step in for students obviously struggling but don't do it for them.  Give them some scaffolding tools such as a mini vocabulary or phonics lesson to get them on track, but then let them go so they can read without you talking.

Fifth,  Close Reading should be repeated across themes.  It should be done in language arts, science, social studies, math, and any other subject you are teaching.  Not all at once!  You don't want to burn the students out on it, but one week or month do Close Reading instruction in Social Studies, and the next math, ect.  Students need time to practice these skills across the curriculum.

Lastly, and this is another mistake a lot of teachers make, Close Reading activities should be designed and tailored for your students strengths and weaknesses.  Teachers sometimes think, "Ok, the students will be tested on _____, so I'm going to do a Close Reading activity addressing this ____ standard.  This is when they students start to hate Close Reading.  Learning will not happen if it is not meaningful to the students.  I usually start my lessons with the hook, "Many of you have shown that you know how to _____, so lets give you a challenge and work on becoming experts with this next lesson."  Or if it is addressed to the students' weaknesses,  "A lot of us didn't quite learn this ___, so I've specially designed this next lesson to help you succeed in it."  Tailor the lessons to your students, not to tests, what your neighbor next door is doing, or what the publisher claims you should be doing.  Its all about the students.

So that is the why and the general how of Close Reading.  I'll let you ponder it a bit, and later I'll post what to do on day 1.  Until then, Happy Close Reading!

By the way, I got the majority of this information from a fantastic conference I went to titled Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Here's a picture of the book.  I highly suggest it!
Falling in Love with Close Reading

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