Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 27 Crumble - Close Reading

The 2013 educational buzz word seems to be close reading, and, unless you're a language arts teacher, you may not completely understand this term.  In fact, some language arts teachers still struggle with it because it's complex and has no concrete rules.  I, myself, become impatient with the practice because I'm a slow reader, naturally, and close reading just makes me read more slowly.

So what is close reading, why should I care, and how could I use it?

Close reading is very much what the term says - it's a close reading of a piece of text for a particular purpose, looking for clues to help you determine what is important for your purpose.  It blends Project CRISS's purpose setting principle and the free-write into one strategy.  When you give your students an activity or a piece of writing, you do it because there is a standard or target that you're trying to hit.  Consider that target when you give your students the assignment, and either communicate it to them or allow them to identify that purpose on their own (checking to be certain they are on the right track). 

To illustrate, take a piece of reading from a book selection on climate change (one of my current collaborative projects).  Your objective may be that students identify causes of climate change.  You communicate that to students and give them the passage.  Modeling the close read is always important, so on the projector or on the board with colored markers (our low-budget interactive white board), show your students what you expect.  A close read is not simply highlighting the causes of climate change, however - but that's a good start.  It requires multiple read-throughs, stopping after EVERY sentence and processing what the sentence is really saying.  The picture to the left shows what this might look like on the white board (thanks to my most amazing colleague for takings pics during one of her lessons!  You can check out her super cute and informative blog right here!).  Notice that she color-coded the annotations here and even made a key. 

This next picture to the right shows how it might look without the color coding.  Notice that she labeled a lot of what she underlined.  The idea here is to have students converse with the author of the selection - to stimulate the internal conversation that is missing so often when students read.  Our kiddos are being asked to perform more and more complex tasks while learning and reading, and many of them become so overwhelmed with the daunting requests that they freeze and forget to be metacognitive while they read.  The close read requires metacognition because students must record their thoughts about the text as they read.  This ultimately gives them a closer understanding of what they are expected to read and allows them to process and ask for help with difficult text.

What can they highlight, underline, or annotate? you ask.  Below is a list of ideas that you can give your students as they practice their annotation and close reading.
  • Main characters or the "who" of the selection and evidence of traits of those characters (this can include the narrator).  Traits can be inferred, but the evidence to prove that inference should be marked and noted.
  • Setting or the time and place of the selection as it pertains to the purpose of the reading
  • Problems/Conflicts and solutions as they pertain to the purpose of the selection
  • Unknown vocabulary
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Chronological events that pertain to the purpose of the reading and notes as to how they relate to each other
  • Questions that you have for the author (that may or may not be addressed later in the selection)
  • Answers to previous questions asked
  • Reactions to surprising points
  • Details that support a conclusion that you have drawn
  • Connections to previous learning or real-life situations
The options are really limitless, but remember - your students will get lost in the text if they don't have a focus.  To simply tell them to perform a close read will require them to set their own purpose, but unless you guide them, some of them will, undoubtedly, miss the entire point of the lesson and spend a lot more time processing useless facts than necessary. 

If you're interested in taking a stab at this truly valuable strategy, pick the brain of a language arts teacher this week!  All of our students should have been practicing their close reading the first part of quarter one, and some of them are ready to take their show on the road to other subject areas.

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