Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Close reading, sure, but how?

There are many ways to do a close reading, but it helps to have the overall routine to make decisions about how best to implement a close reading for a particular lesson.

An offering of a teacher's routine is offered by the Arizona Department of Education. Here's another from Davis School District in Utah. And another from Glencoe McGraw Hill. There are many others, but these offer a reasonably good place to start.

Let me say that the word "routine" is misleading. This isn't something a teacher should do every class period. Do a close reading activity when it makes sense, when it will help students achieve the learning outcomes for the lesson. I saw a unit plan which sported the same exact steps of a close reading every day for five days. The first day might have been interesting, but the other four days would have been deadly.

Now let's look at the framework for doing a close reading. First,select a short but meaningful and reasonably complex passage. How short? It depends on the overall text and your learning objectives. Practice activities use the entire Gettysburg Address. Maybe two paragraphs, maybe five paragraphs. Short is a relative term, so the first time you do this activity, start with something literally short--two or three paragraphs. Get your students and you used to the process. See what works and what seems to be clunky. Then revisit the framework to see what you want to change and why you want to change it.What makes it reasonably complex? It depends on the text and your learning objectives. But think about the elements of text complexity and how the task assigned can contribute to the complexity. You might not be able to finalize your text selection until you make some other decisions.

Second, establish a purpose for reading that text. Does it focus on a particular concept you need students to understand? Does it explain something that is critical to the rest of the work and students' abilities to master the learning objectives for the day? Is it going to provide a bridge from the textbook to another resource, or vice versa? Does it establish some foundational knowledge for your students so you can move to the next part of the lesson? You have to have a purpose for investing significant time in this passage, and your students have to understand that purpose.

Third, plan. Determine how often you want your students to re-read the passage, and why. Do you want them to do a cold read of the text? That's no background knowledge, no vocabulary review, nothing. Kids just read. Do you want to read it aloud or have someone else read it aloud? If so, why? Do you want them to paraphrase some or all of the passage? If so, why? And then what do they do with their paraphrases? If you have them read the text on their own the first time, whether you've prepared them in some way or not, do you want them to annotate? And if they annotate, why do they annotate? What are they supposed to look for, and why?

Fourth, as you plan, write down the text-dependent questions you want them to answer and determine how they will answer. Will they write down their answers and then discuss with a partner? Will they make notes or write down full answers and then participate in an instructor-led discussion? Will you give them some number of text-dependent questions but then ask them to come up with their own? Will the discussion be mostly instructor-led or some student-led? Will you use debate or Socratic discussion or some other strategy? How much will you let them struggle and reason and debate/discuss with other?

Fifth, as you plan, determine how you will manage the discussion. If the discussion starts to get rambunctious but stays on topic, how will you transition? What if you get monosyllabic responses and no one seems to want to participate? What if someone suggests something you hadn't thought of and if you don't know is "right"?

Sixth, as you plan, make note to remind yourself and to remind your students that they must support any opinion or any statement with evidence from the text. And that they must respect the opinions of others, especially when they don't agree.

Seventh, have your students reflect on their learning. Have each student write a summary or a reflection in their learning journal. Have groups of students make notes of things they learned and then do a sort of gallery walk. Have a few prompts prepared and have them respond using exit slips or use the prompts to offer direction for writing that summary or in the learning journal. The possibilities are numerous, but you want them to reflect on what they learned, not how they learned. At some point, the how needs to be transparent.

Finally, as you plan, remember that a few dozen or so things may go wrong, but that's okay. As long as you keep the purpose of this activity in mind, your students will learn.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reading closely, effectively

The title of this blog post is a nod to the fact that today, September 24, is National Punctuation Day, something of which I wasn't aware until recently. For those of you who might be curious to know more, you can check out Scholastic's Making Your Mark! and the National Punctuation Day web site.

Today's actual topic: close reading. Christoper Lehman, a guy worth following posted Most Fun #CloseReading Post Ever Because Students Are Hilarious And Filled With Rage. (You are welcome to find the mechanical errors in that title on your own; this is the unedited title of the post.) To the freakin' point!

Students can hate a close reading activity when it is not done well. That, my friends, is a tragedy.

Let's start with the obvious question of why do a close reading at all. We can talk about how close reading has become all the rage because of Common Core (I almost feel as though that should be written C****n C**e, expletive deleted). But that would be pointless because close reading isn't new.

Way back in 2006, Linda Elder and Richard Paul wrote a book titled Thinker's Guide to How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading. In speaking about that art of close reading, Elder and Paul wrote:
Skilled readers do not read blindly, but purposely. They have an agenda, goal, or objective. Their purpose, together with the nature of what they are reading, determines how they read. They read in different ways in different situations for different purposes. Of course, reading has a nearly universal purpose: to figure out what an author has to say on a given subject.
 The article Closing in on Close Reading reminds us of some fundamentals for an effective and successful close reading. Yes, there are close reading routines and I'll talk about those in a different post, but let's focus on three essentials.

First, use a short text. Trying to do a close read for the entirety of a chapter in a textbook or a novel or anything else is impractical. Select a passage that has a key idea, seems to emphasize your learning outcomes or one of your essential questions for your lesson plan, or that just seems like a cool or pertinent passage. One or two paragraphs tops. Remember that you have to have a purpose for doing a close reading of that particular passage.

Second, ask good questions. Refer to your learning outcomes and essential questions. What is it about this passage that is important or significant? What is it about this structure, this content, this style of writing that will contribute not only to what students need to know, but to their development as skilled readers? Refer to Bloom's Critical Thinking Cue Questions for some prompts of those higher order thinking questions. Remember: ask questions that not only help develop your students' skills as readers, but help them think on deeper and more strategic levels about the text. And if you're worried about them offering an answer you're not sure is "right," then you have a couple of options. Make sure students can support their answers from the text. "Show me the evidence!" Another option is to ask the class what they think about the answer. You have to establish a safe environment that permits dissent and different ideas, and you have to be able to manage the debate that is likely to ensure. But you'll also enable your students to participate in the determination of the "rightness" of the answer--all with evidence from the text--and provide them with opportunity to listen and to speak.

Third, details matter. One possible component of a close reading activity is to have students paraphrase some portion of the passage. As with anything the details you have them observe, find, support, and/or infer must be supported by the text itself or by supplemental texts. Let me complicate things here just a bit by reminding you that "texts" might not be just words on a page, digital or print.

So as you're thinking about the possibility of using a close reading activity in your classroom, do so with purpose. Just as you would any strategy to help your students become more critical, thoughtful, and skilled readers.