Blog Posts

23 September, 2013

Why Should Close Reading Be Advantaged?

  When writing about close reading, I have often mentioned that there are multiple approaches to reading. Most elementary teachers and many secondary English teachers don’t know much about these different approaches or why they have been controversial. Thus, when someone takes pot shots at close reading they are surprised and wonder what may be going on. Towards trying to clarify such disagreements, and to expose the limitations of close reading (and why we wouldn’t want to embrace it too tightly), I have sketched out three major approaches to reading touted by English Departments over the past century. I conclude with my ...

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14 September, 2013

Staying Warm During Close Reads

Teacher Letter: I've heard you speak and think I know your position on Background Knowledge and Common Core "New Yorker" style book introductions. But was wondering if you could dedicate a post about the term "Cold Reads" as referred to in the Common Core and address the arguments made by the teacher author of this article on the topic.      Shanahan Response: Thanks. I hadn’t seen this post by Jeremiah Chaffee, an English teacher. I've only  focused on his “cold reading” remarks.   First, Common Core doesn’t use the term, “cold read.” It appears to be meant as a pejorative for close reading, though it only characterizes ...

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04 September, 2013

How Many Standards Should a Lesson Address?

This question came in from a reader asking specifically about some units proposed by the Education Department in Louisiana. I'm sharing my response with everyone because I think the confusion in Louisiana is general across the nation. Question: The Education Department in Louisiana (Louisiana Believes) has a scope and sequence that teachers can use to teach the CCSS in ELA. Teachers have informed me there are too many standards in each ELA unit to teach in order to effectively teach them. Of the 10 standards in each of the following: reading literature, reading information, and writing, most of them are listed in each ELA ...

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01 September, 2013

To Theme or Not to Theme, That is the Question

Dear Dr. Shanahan, My colleagues have been debating the use of thematic units in the Common Core. Several of them argue that this practice does not fit a "standards based curriculum." They argue that essential questions and enduring understandings need to be specific to the ELA standards. So, for example, a unit with an essential question for a 3rd grade should look something like this: Unit Topic:  Ask and Answer Questions Essential Question: How do readers ask and answers questions from the text? Why is it important to use evidence from the text to support your answer?     The other side on this debate argues that there must be a ...

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22 August, 2013

To Multi-Text or Not to Multi-Text in Close Reading

Teacher question: You say close reading requires students to rely solely on the text during reading. But many of the Common Core Standards (and the PARCC and Smarter Balanced prototypes) require that students compare texts. This seems contradictory. What’s up?  Shanahan response: This is a bit confusing. The basic idea of close reading is, just as you say, that interpretation is to be based entirely on the text itself. Readers aren’t to turn to author biographies or other works in that author’s oeuvre. No Cliff’s Notes either. Even prefaces, blurbs, statements of context, and explanatory notes provided by the publisher are verboten.   These interpretive ...

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11 August, 2013

Text Dependency is Too Low a Standard

Common Core advocates make a big deal out of the idea that questions should be text dependent. This means you shouldn’t be able to answer a question without reading the text. By all means ask questions that require reading.   However, this is a very low standard. Many text dependent questions simply aren’t worth asking.   Last week I met a teacher who was trying to generate every literal question she could—long lists of questions. She was interpreting close reading as “thorough reading” and she was making sure that her first-graders missed nothing; no detail was too trivial for her text dependent questions.   However, close ...

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04 August, 2013

Coordinating PARCC Frameworks and Common Core Standards

Teacher question: I, and many of my fellow high school English educators, need some (more) clarification on the 70/30 split. Our state has adopted the PARCC model and our district is implementing the model for the English classes. Under the section "Extended Texts" on the model it reads as follows: 11th A - Literature B - US foundational text (Is this a full-length book taught in the English class?  If 'yes' please specify an example.  If no, please indicated what course/subject would teach this text.) C - American Literature D - Informational (Is this a full-length book taught in the English class?  If 'yes' please specify ...

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30 July, 2013

More on the Lindsay Lohan Award: Or Why Some Days I Should Stay in Bed

Not surprisingly my entry about the PARCC decision to read the reading test to some students received a big response from readers. Some notes from parents of special education students were wonderfully supportive (though they struggled to be because they are torn by the issue--both wanting their kids to forego these tests and wanting them to experience full inclusion including taking these tests). Those letters were not posted to my site and given their personal nature I'm not putting them up here either. Other responses weren't as supportive. In fact some respondents were pretty heated up at my view. I usually ...

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21 July, 2013

The Lindsay Lohan Award for Poor Judgment or Dopey Doings in the Annals of Testing

Lindsay Lohan is a model of bad choices and poor judgments. Her crazy decisions have undermined her talent, wealth, and most important relationships. She is the epitome of bad decision making (type “ridiculous behavior” or “dopey decisions” into Google and see how fast her name comes up). Given that, it is fitting to name an award for bad judgment after her.   Who is the recipient of the Lindsay? I think the most obvious choice would be PARCC, one of the multi-state consortium test developers. According to Education Week, PARCC will allow its reading test to be read to struggling readers. I assume if ...

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16 July, 2013

Close Reading for Beginning Readers? Probably Not

Teacher question: I am a first grade teacher. My principal has mandated that all classes K-5 do Close Reading. Is it appropriate for all ages? It seems to me that the texts at K/1 are not likely to be complex enough and that the students at this age are too concrete in their thinking.  Shanahan response:  Good question. I share your concerns. There are very few articles or stories appropriate for K/1 that would make any sense for close reading. The content usually just isn’t deep enough to bear such close study (and, frankly, if you look at the comprehension standards themselves, specifically ...

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