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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