I've written before about how "close reading," presented as a "NEW and IMPROVED" way to teach reading sorta rubs me the wrong way. Like most buzz words and theories in education, I get annoyed when they are touted as the brand new way of doing things that will save education as we know it! Because the thing is... most likely, someone has just polished up and renamed something that great teachers have known and practiced for years!
Close reading is a perfect example. For infinity years, great teachers have known that for kids to really comprehend a piece of text, they have to dig through, connect to, and understand all its complex layers. That's why my sixth grade teacher spent two whole days talking with us about Dally going down in his "blaze of glory" when we read The Outsiders. And it's why in 9th grade we spent almost a month with The Old Man and the Sea.... all 128 whopping pages of it!
Great teachers have been getting kids to close read for a long time. It's not new or improved. It's sound practice and it's something that all ELA teachers... and science and social studies and math teachers... should be working with kids to do!
So, just what do I mean when I say "close reading?" Well, according to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC):
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)For me, there is no better tool in the world for teaching close reading than our Interactive Student Notebooks. I've written before about how I use these and today I am going to talk about why.
Interactive Notebooks, and more specifically, the foldable organizers and literary analysis questions are the best tools I've found for getting kids to read, reread, and reread closely.
Here is a timeline of how we approach a piece of literature:
1.) I introduce our story and provide any relevant background knowledge. I keep this short and sweet... about a 10-15 minute chat.
2.) The students listen to (either I read it or we listen to it on our audio anthology) or independently read our story.
1.) I introduce the skill or device we will discussing within the context of our story and give students the literary analysis question that they will be answering. Typically, I do this by reviewing our notes from earlier in the unit, and then reading and breaking down the question.
3.) We come back together and discuss the places where students put their Post-Its and how those spots are relevant to our question.
4.) I distribute the foldable organizer that we will be using to help us sort our thinking and find evidence that will support our answer to the literary analysis question. Students then reread again, this time focusing on the specific details necessary to complete the organizer.
Here are a just few of my favorite organizers:
1.) Students participate in a Literary Analysis Station designed to zero in on our skill even more! Here they discuss and often, yes... REREAD, the text in detail.
2.) Students answer the literary analysis question.
We take a quiz on our story. I allow students to use the text for their quiz because it is not about how much they've memorized, but rather how well they can make assertions about the story and support it with evidence. So, chances are when they take this quiz they are rereading yet again.
So, that's one piece of literature, read and reread and reread for analysis several times over four days! I can absolutely attest that most of the kids are experts on how the skills and devices we cover are exemplified in the story. And even my most struggling readers can hold their own in complex conversations regarding the story.
If you have never tried Interactive Notebooks, I urge you to give them a go! After winter break is as good of a time as any to start incorporating some of these strategies into your teaching.
If you decide to give them a try, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!