Monday, March 17, 2014

IRC Convention – Using Writing and Speaking to Close Read Complex Text with Jennifer Lippert, Stacie Noisey, and Erin Metaxas

At 10:30 we made our way over to the next room at the Hilton to collect information on close reading.  I figure it’s not a reading conference without a session on close reading, right?  And I have a knack for coming to a revelation, even if I have exhausted all ways of looking at things.  This session was no different.

Although Jennifer Lippert, Stacie Noisey, and Erin Metaxas had to move quickly through their information, three main pieces of their presentation jumped out as things I should share with my colleagues.  To avoid rewriting something I have already written, I will simply link my September blog on close reading and move on.  If you're interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of it, you can read it or one written by Jen White, my co-department chair of the language arts department.  Either blog will give you some basic information on the close reading strategy.

Jennifer Lippert, who did most of the talking during the presentation, drew our attention to a fantastic pyramid, about midway through, of text-dependent questions.  Why everything in education has to be pyramid-shaped, I have no idea, but it did make sense.  At the bottom of the pyramid lies general understanding of the media being "read".  As you move your way up the pyramid, your understanding of the media grows deeper.  By the time you reach the top of the pyramid, you have used what the author (or creator, if using media other than written text) has given the "readers" to analyze and deeply understand it, along with other media that is closely related.

I found this pyramid enlightening for a number of reasons.  First off, although I am not a visual learner in any respect, it gives us a clear picture of the vast use of low-level questions that are asked versus the higher level ones.  It also gives the viewer an idea of where one might look in a piece of media to find the answer to the question.  For example, if a question asks how many brothers the main character has, one may have to look into the text in various places to find the answer or maybe even in just one place (these are like Project CRISS's right there questions).  The answer would be short and quick, right or wrong.  However, if a question asks the reader to draw conclusions based upon a photograph and a primary source document, our kiddos are now being asked to analyze each, draw conclusions, provide evidence to support those conclusions, and justify them, based upon their own background knowledge.  Lines are blurred.  Answers are lengthy, and more than one answer is acceptable.  These questions are few and far between.  Project CRISS might call them author-and-you questions.  I call them tough.

After giving the audience some basic information about close reading, Lippert, Noisey and Metaxas clarified that close reading encompassed more than just reading text from a page.  They clearly explained that close reading has expanded what we could consider "text" to include a variety of medias, including visual art, three-dimensional art, written music, audio recordings, videos and other electronic media, etc.  My memory jogged as I remembered a presentation done by Mal Keenan at the Secondary Reading League's 37th Day of Reading Conference last November where she had said the exact same thing!

Giddy with excitement, I began planning an entire lesson in my head for my choral director husband, who would undoubtedly sit politely and listen to me as I explain what I want him to try.  Whether his intent was to use the idea is another story, but he at least feigns his attention.  It also made sense for me to use music to start with my new non-traditional close reading activity, as I am a former music-ed major .  I envisioned a piece of music being distributed for the first time to a group of eighth grade students.  Although I am confident that my husband does a superb job of prepping his students for a first sing-through, I suggested that he have the students close read the piece first.  Here's how it could work (obviously with some guidance and to start them out):
  • After distribution of copies of the piece of music (because the kids are going to mark them up like crazy), ask students to look on the first page and follow along as you "think aloud" the close read.
  • Point out things on the first page, such as the title, arranger, writer, tempo, dynamic markings, time signature, key signature, etc.  "Remember" a lesson where you learned what it was and what it means, and jot down some notes right on the copy.  For example, for time signature, you might say something like, "The time signature is 4/4 time.  I remember that we just sang another song in 4/4 and that it means there are four beats to a measure, but I can't remember what the other four means."  Some of your students may be able to help you out.  Get them involved early on.  Don't forget to read the lyrics out loud and make some comments about them as well.  
  • After the first page, ask students to partner up and do the same things with the second page.  Monitor them and have them share out as a group after they have worked a little bit together.  Continue on  until you think the groups have a handle on it.  You might just do the rest of the music in partners.
  • If you feel like they can handle it independently, give it a shot.  Otherwise, stick with partners, and keep on them about it.  They may start to say that a lot of it is repetitive.  That, in itself, is good close reading.  
Ask them what things mean or why the arranger made that choice.  There are so many GREAT ways to use this strategy!  And it can work with any piece of information-producing media!

Finally, about forty minutes into the session, we got a chance to try out a few of the strategies, and my group was assigned an activity entitled Pass the Annotation.  Here's how it worked:

  • Each participant in our group of four was given a piece of text to read (in this case, we had actual text rather than a different piece of media).  We set a timer for three minutes, and we all began reading the text and annotating, keeping a purpose in mind.
  • At the end of the three minutes, we passed our papers one person to the left and set the timer for another three minutes where we then read the annotations by the previous reader and then continued to read and annotate.
  • We read in this manner until we got our papers back, and by this time we had each read the annotations made by the other members and probably reread the text a few times as well.
I found myself loving this activity because, on the third pass, I was still learning things that I hadn't picked up my first two times.  I had a few "A-ha!" moments even after we got our papers back, and that never would have happened with just one read-through, even with a close read.  What a great activity where all participants are expected to contribute and learn.

At the end of this third session, my brain was full, and my idea-bin was overflowing!  I was pleasantly surprised with the information and ideas I gleaned from this session.  Close reading is such a hot-topic right now, and everybody claims to have the right way to do it.  This group of ladies helped me to think of new ways to adapt the strategy and apply it to a wider range of medias.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your music/choral connection. That said, I would also add that background knowledge is sometimes good and at others times not so much, with regards music. In relation to close reading, background knowledge, and assimilation is important for comprehension. In terms of music that might be a a whole different story. Sometimes when dealing with music that the students don't know they pick it up and perform it better then when working on music the do know. Sometimes, they do know the song and can connect to the message, but never sing the correct pitches or parts and really don't perform it well (this is most of my case). On the other hand, sometimes the students have no idea or connection to a song, and through the presentation of musical elements as you pointed out, story, emotion, and message, they to a better musical performance of a song they never heard/known before. Also, to connect this back to reading and CRISS, this is very similar to as think pair share. Thanks for sharing.