Railroad Cat Story
Sunday, February 1, 2015
As a principal, I want my teachers to teach student how to read a text closely. After going through your Powerpoint, reading the questions you suggest and the responses, I think professional development in developing questions would be required to ensure they were actually asking the right kind of questions.
One of the biggest implementation problems with Common Core that I see is that teachers (and curriculum designers) don’t understand close reading well enough to ask appropriate questions. The point of the questions is to guide students’ to think about the text in effective ways.
To help this principal (and others) to provide the professional development noted above, I have provided what I hope will be a useful example. But let’s start off with a bit of explanation.
First, the questions should be about important issues raised by the text. Some people are taking close reading to mean “precise” reading or “thorough” reading. If you are asking about a story, you should ask about details that would be important in a summary of the story (e.g., character motivation, key plot details, theme). “Close” is not a synonym for “trivial.”
Second, the questions should be text dependent. That just means that it shouldn’t be possible to answer the question without reading the text. The focus of close reading should be on what the author presents, and not on anything else. That’s the reason why it’s a good idea for students to explain or support their answers with text evidence (proof—from the text).
Third, the questions should help the readers to accomplish three interpretive goals. Specifically, they should help the reader to think about what the text said (key ideas and details), how the text worked (craft and structure), and what it means (integration of knowledge and meaning). Unlike in other questioning schemes, these questions do not try to get kids to exercise particular thinking skills (e.g., inference, higher order reasoning, comparison); they focus on interpreting the text rather than on exercising particular cognitive muscles.
I have attached an old basal reader story (from the 1955-1965 period), and below I have listed questions that I might ask a group of second- or third-graders about this story. I have separated my questions out into three sets—one set for each major interpretive goal, but they don’t have to be asked in that way; they can be interspersed with each other.
I do think that it is a good idea to ask your questions in an order that helps students to follow through the text in an “orderly manner,” particularly with regard to a first read or the key ideas and details questions. It is not enough that kids get practice reading texts, but they should come away knowing more about their world. If the questions/discussion/task takes you through the content in a well-organized way, students will be more likely to come away with content knowledge. Thus, you could have the students read this story three times, and each time use a different set of questions; or you could simply intersperse the second two sets of questions into the first wherever you think they fit best. In each list here, I have gone through the story in the same order that the author presented the pertinent information.
Of the three sets of questions, the “craft and structure” questions are the most characteristic of close reading (the other interpretive goals are important too, but they are not unique to close reading). That means that most of us need more practice with “craft and structure”—something largely or entirely neglected in the video that I recently critiqued in this space.
You may notice that I did not go through and try to have a balance of “right there” and “think and search questions” or that I didn’t fool with Bloom’s taxonomy. The reason is quite simple: my focus is on—and should be on—the text during close reading. If a text is very explicit, then I’ll ask a lot more comprehension or “right there” questions. If the text is more oblique, then we’ll end up with more inferencing practice. The point isn’t the inferencing practice, however, it is to get students to think closely about the meaning of the particular text we are reading now (that's one of the reasons close reading questions are hard--because they follow each text, not some questioning scheme).
Questions about key ideas and details—What did the text say?
What was special about Tom?
What did Tom do when the men were loading the train?
Why did he pretend to sleep?
What did Tom do that got his picture in the newspaper?
How did his life change after he got in the newspaper?
What happened when the chipmunk showed up?
Why did Tom follow the chipmunk?
When he was in the railroad car what was Tom’s problem?
When Tom got out of the car where was he?
Who found Tom?
How did the engineer know that Tom wanted to go with him?
Why did the engineer take him?
When the engineer and Tom left what was their problem?
When Tom yowled, what did the engineer think he wanted?
What changed the engineer’s mind?
What did the fireman think Tom meant?
So what did the engineer do?
According to the engineer, why was it so important Tom yowled?
How did Tom know the bridge was out?
What happened after Tom saved the train?
Questions about craft and structure—How did the text work?
What does the author mean when he writes that Tom “had never seen a kitchen nor climbed a back yard fence”?
What is a “conveyor belt”?
On page 1, the story says that Tom was a "hero." What does that mean? (What made him a hero?)
On page 2, the author puts some words in quotation marks (“Oh, boy!,” “Fish at last!” “thank you”). What is he trying to show by doing that? Can Tom talk?
What kind of story is this (fantasy or realistic fiction)?
On page 4, it again calls Tom a “hero.” How is the meaning of “hero” different here than on page 1?
Why does the author tell us about the chipmunk again at the end?
Questions about integration of knowledge and meaning—What did the text mean?
The author used the word “hero” in two different ways. Which meaning is the right one?
What’s the difference between being a hero and being famous?
Is it better to be a hero or to be famous?
What was the point of the story? What did the author want you to learn from Tom?
Railroad Cat Story
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Last week, I provided a link to a video that a reader sent me Close Reading Video The link purported to present a model “close reading” lesson.
Although, there was much to like about the lesson, I complained that it wasn't close reading. Close reading is not a synonym for reading comprehension (or even "really good reading comprehension").
This is happening a lot. A company says their anthologies include “complex text,” but it isn’t clear what teachers are supposed to do with it, or why it's there at all since the instructional procedures still seem to favor the idea of protecting kids from complex text.
Last week I dinged that video for claiming that close reading is a teaching technique (it's an approach to reading). I was critical of the idea that close reading helps students “conquer complex text,” if that includes language complexity as measured by Lexiles. I didn’t like the idea of reading the book to the kids; I’m a fan of reading texts to kids (see recent NewYork Times article on this), but not the texts the kids are supposed to be reading. Finally, I didn’t like how rereading was being approached.
Here is the rest of my thinking about this lesson. Hope it’s useful to you.
1. Confusion of story and exposition.
A big issue with the standards is the shift to informational text. Unfortunately, teachers lack experience teaching informational text, and they haven’t developed a language for it yet. In the video the teacher repeatedly refers to the “story” that the students are reading. Better choices: “informational text,” “book,” “article,” “science selection,” and so on.
Our language cues kids as to which strategies to use and what text features to rely on. Stories have different characteristics than science articles do. They are organized differently and use language in different ways.
1 2. The terrific teaching strategies are irrelevant to close reading.
Many teachers who watch the video are going to be impressed with the clever way the teacher had kids sharing information (the back-to-back arrangement, the whip around). Those are clever techniques and I’m all for them. They're the kind of thing that allows effective teachers to reap the benefits of small group instruction even when teaching a whole class. As a teacher educator, I’d be very pleased if my students walked away from this viewing with those techniques.
However, those techniques have nothing to do with close reading. A lesson will involve students in close reading whether or not those techniques are used. (That's why this can be a "good lesson"--because of the high engagement level of the students--but a poor lesson, if the goal was to engage them in close reading.
2 3. Close reading focuses on the text, not the reading strategies.
A major purpose of close reading was to shift readers' attention from authors’ biographies, the historical period from which the text emerged, or from past critical response. It aimed to shift this attention to the text itself.
One of the biggest problems with the presentation is its heavy emphasis on main idea and key detail detection, annotation techniques, rereading procedures. What the author had to say and how the author said it is getting lost here. That’s why I see this lesson as no different from what was common in schools in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the Oughts. This isn’t an advance; it is just a new set of labels for what we were doing before.
I do believe that, as teachers, we need to teach the reading process to kids, and having some lessons that focus on how to summarize or question a text makes great sense. Similarly, I’m all for explicitly teaching kids some of the common ways that texts are organized and to have them practice reading texts to use those strategies or to figure out a text’s structure. But, as useful as such lessons can be, they are different than the lessons in which the emphasis should be entirely upon the content and approach of a particular text.
One can’t really tell from the video when certain things happened (is this what the teacher started with or did she tell the kids this after they had read the text once or twice?). One example is purpose. She stresses that the purpose is to get the main idea and details and then tells students to look for the main ideas (she even helps this along by asking them what they know about adaptation). The problem is that her purposes are more about the reading process than the text.
A model lesson on close reading should stress the text, not the reading strategies. And, it should focus attention on not just what the text said, but how the author expressed, reinforced, or extended the meaning through his/her choices of language and structure. This lesson ignored tone, the role of illustrations, why the author chose particular words, or why information was sequenced in particular ways. Kids will likely come away with some of the facts (and that is good), but there is more to it.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
My daughters are Erin and Meagan. When they were little, Meagan would get upset because we always “ran Erins,” but never “ran Meagans.”
That’s cute when a little one doesn’t know the meaning of a word. But such miscommunication can be a real problem in Common Core State Standards implementation.
It’s getting so that I hate to hear the term “close reading” because it is misused so often these days.
A comment from a reader of last week’s blog entry challenged me to evaluate an online video of a close reading lesson. I gave it a quick review and replied.
It’s been bugging me ever since, and I decided to give this 8-minute video a close read of my own. I’m going to be pretty critical, but please don’t take that as an attack on this teacher (these video minutes are all I know or her). She looks to be pretty good teacher. But the close reading espoused here is not especially well connected to the concepts of close reading or Common Core.
Because of length of my critique, I'll spread the analysis over two blog entries. Here's the first:
1 1. The video says close reading is an “instructional strategy.”
It is not. More properly, it is a way of reading text. Viewers should not watch this with the idea that this is how you teach close reading. There are some great teaching techniques here, but a teacher who followed these steps scrupulously would not be teaching kids to be close readers.
2. The video indicates close reading helps students “conquer complex text.”
That’s sort of true, but not as demonstrated in this video. Texts are complex in multiple ways, and all approaches to reading can be expected to address some of that complexity. For example, I don’t know of any reading approach that doesn’t require readers to come away with a text’s main points and key details. All past reading standards in the U.S. trumpeted those particular skills already, so a shift to close reading would change nothing in that regard. No wonder some teachers tell me that they have always taught “close reading.”
The teacher in the video is correct that close reading is useful for dealing with texts that have “layers of meaning.” But she doesn’t demonstrate that in any way in the video (main ideas and key details are not layers of meaning).
In this kind of text, “layers of meaning” might require a consideration of the effects of how the text conveyed the information (how the telling extended or reinforced those main ideas and key details). For example, in his explanation of natural selection, Darwin writes: “The tail of the giraffe looks like a fly-trapper; and it seems at first incredible that this could have been adapted by successive modifications for so trifling an object as to drive away flies.” A close reader should wonder why Darwin focuses on such a “trifling object” in this magnificent argument.
But that, of course, was Darwin’s point. He wanted to show that even the tiniest organs of little apparent importance were affected by natural selection in ways that we could only guess at. Asking students what the giraffe does with its tail or toward what end the adaptation of the tail progressed are fair questions, but they aren’t close reading questions, per se because they don’t include an analysis of those rhetorical considerations.
3 3. The teacher reads the text to the students.
If this is the “close reading instructional strategy” and its purpose is to teach students to “conquer complex text,” then reading the complex text to the students is going to be many teachers’ takeaway. And it would be a bad one. The kids need to do the reading if they are going to become better readers.
Close reading has nothing to do with whether a text is read aloud to students or whether they read it themselves. Doing the reading for kids will not make them stronger readers. The point of having kids read texts with higher Lexiles estimates is not so teachers can practice their reading skills, it is so kids can do so. I think this teacher makes a big mistake reading the text to the kids instead of giving them a chance to make sense of what it says.
This is not an issue of close reading, but of complex text. Those are two separate, but overlapping, issues in Common Core. Students need to learn to deal with text complexity, including learning to read complex language and dealing with the complex ideas. The teacher here seems to recognize that close reading won’t help the kids to read the challenging language of this text, so she does that part of the work for them (she takes challenging language out of the equation by making sure that no one actually has to deal with it).
4 4. Close reading requires multiple readings of a text.
This idea is correct. Going through a complex text more than once is often necessary to figure out what the text says and how it works, or to develop a deeper understanding of it. But, again, there are two ideas operating here. One of them is that reading and rereading is a kind of “try and try again” or “practice makes perfect” idea; if you didn’t get it the first time, maybe you will on a second read. Repeated reading in fluency is kind of like that: a student reads a text aloud making fewer miscues on each rereading.
That’s not a bad thing, and I have no doubt these third-graders will benefit from this kind of thorough attention to the content of this book. This teacher definitely is not just rushing through the text to get it done; it looks to me like these students will come away knowing something about adaptation and that’s a real plus.
However, the rereading that is inherent in close reading requires a bit more than that. It isn’t about doing a better job each time. It’s about doing a different one. Yes, it might take 8-year-olds two or three readings just to come to terms with what a text has to say. But that isn’t the rereading that is central to close reading.
In close reading, now that you understand what a text has to say, you can reread it to determine how it works. For example, how did the illustrations help you to understand what the author meant by adaptation? Or, why do scientists use the term “adaptation” instead of “change”?
The video shows kids rereading to figure out what the main idea and key details of the text were. That’s terrific and this teacher did that well. But that isn’t what we mean by close reading alone isn’t what is meant by close reading, and kids who can only do that with a text will not accomplish the standards.
Disclaimer: Publicly critiquing a video lesson is inherently risky. It's possible that the instructional segment is just part of a lesson, and that had the viewer seen the whole thing, the analysis would be quite different. Or, perhaps it is one lesson in a developmental sequence, and in future lessons the teacher would move the reading over to the kids, and would have them dealing with the more analytical and evaluative aspects of close reading as they read additional texts. The point of this critique is not that this is a bad teacher, or even that this is a bad lesson (neither of those conclusions are mine), but that this is not a particularly apt illustration of close reading or close reading preparation.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Today I had a marvelous time presenting to Arizona teachers at the OELAS conference. I made a presentation on scaffolding complex texts for English language learners and one on teaching close reading with informational text. I think I have posted the latter before, but since I always change these a bit here is the most recent version. The text complexity presentation overlaps with past presentations on teaching with challenging text, but this version includes lots of examples of scaffolding for Spanish language students. Hope these are useful to you: Powerpoints
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Monday, September 15, 2014
While I understand the purpose of close-reading I don't understand why you should take the time to read deeper into a document. Some things were written simply and what we now interpret as a symbol, may not have been intended to be a symbol. How can we as readers determine what is meant to be read into and what is to be left alone?
Another thing that was mentioned in several of the comments was annotating being a strategy for close-reading. it is a great strategy I am not sure how to annotate, most of my annotations are personal reactions and summaries. How can I branch out and include more analysis annotations? I am never certain of what to read into and what to accept as it is. Another comment that was made was in regards to close-reading giving you the ability to question the text, but I am never sure what questions to ask and how to ask them. I had a lot of thoughts about this article, and while it was very insightful it left me with more questions about close-reading than I had in the beginning.
When you commented "these strategy's will engage them in thinking in particular ways" my only thought was "why put your mind in a box" by saying you can only think a 'particular' way you close yourself of from looking at things in a different light, an alternate angle.
The idea that readers should be able to understand not only what a text says, but what the subtext may be communicating seems self evident. With regard to literature, those abilities allow one to more fully appreciate the unity of the author’s work; how the word- and structure-choices the author makes amplify or reinforce his/her message is an important part of the aesthetic experience. Those same skills can help readers to decompose other kinds of texts to, in order to understand their rhetorical power and how they might be operating on us as readers.
You are absolutely correct that readers might interpret something symbolically that the author never intended. Historically, the close reading position on that is that you are reading the text and not the author. In fact, in some versions of close reading you are not even supposed to think about the author’s intentions. See E.D. Hirsch’s article (in the Atlantic) on the distinction between close reading and more author-centered reads.
If you didn’t have rules for interpretation, how would you know when you were done? You could try to engage students in uncovering historical information about every text they read, complete with biographical information about each author. That kind of reading is valuable, but frankly, I don’t do that every time I read. It can also be useful to shut out all the information that other readers can tell you (including the teacher), to focus entirely on the information the author has provided in the text itself (that’s the idea of close reading). In typical classroom reading lessons, one often walks away wondering if the kids could make sense of the text without all of the additional information provided by the teacher.
Finally, annotating a text can be a useful tool for close reading (and other kinds of reading), but it is not an approach that is central to close reading. In other words, you can engage in close reading without annotating at all.
As authors have tripped over themselves trying to convince readers that they have some inside notions of close reading or common core, they have been proposing more and more elaborate annotation schemes—proving that they know little about close reading or CCSS. The standards don’t require any kind annotation and such annotations are at best irrelevant to close reading. (In the worst cases, these schemes distract students from the texts, which is very un-close reading.)
Of course, if you are going to read a text multiple times, being able to find particular information quickly can be really helpful. Having students leaving some kind of bread crumbs along the way can speed the process up a bit. When I notate a text in that way, the big thing that I try to mark are word choices, patterns of information, or connections between ideas that I want to revisit to examine further. If you want to teach kids to do this, go with a very simple system (Doug Fisher’s (et als.) book on Reading Complex Text (International Reading Association) proposes a system that isn’t overly elaborate.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
This has been a busy time. But here are some links, suggestions, and updates:
Pat Wingert has an article on Common Core in Atlantic this month that I figure in:
Atlantic Magazine: When English Proficiency Isn't Enough
Here are my recent powerpoints as promised: Recent Powerpoints
Pat Wingert has an article on Common Core in Atlantic this month that I figure in:
Atlantic Magazine: When English Proficiency Isn't Enough
Here are my recent powerpoints as promised: Recent Powerpoints
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I've been looking for online and workshop information on close reading and everything I've seen and heard has recommended doing close reading on material that is well above kids independent reading level. Your post talks about the futility of doing a close read on preprimer material, which I completely agree with. What do you think about using higher text, say second grade, with second semester first graders in a teacher-supported group lesson?
I recently tried a bit of close reading with my first graders (see the second section of this post if you have time to read: http://firstgradecommoncore.freeforums.net/thread/4/close-reading - if not I completely understand) While I found it valuable, I'm struggling with there being not enough hours in the day and prioritizing the needs of my students.
The reason why I challenged close reading with young children is because of the lack of depth of appropriate texts for them to read. Close reading requires a deep or analytical reading that considers not just what a text says, but how it works as a text (e.g., examining layers of meaning, recognizing the effectiveness of literary devices, interpreting symbolism). Beginning reading texts simply lack this depth of meaning (or are usually too hard for kids to read).
Your email and the youtube link that is included in that imply that the idea of close reading is simply to read a challenging text with comprehension (challenging in this case meaning hard rather than complex—a very important distinction). For example, the video shows students interpreting word meanings in a hard text. A good lesson, yes indeed, but not really a close read.
I definitely would not assign second-grade texts to second-semester first-graders unless they were reading at a second-grade level (that is not uncommon, so if your kids are reading that well, go for it). For more typical first-graders (and those who are struggling), I would not do this. You can definitely engage kids in close listening activities with richer texts read by the teacher (a lot of the reading, by the way, seemed to be done by the teacher in the video that was included here), but that should not take the place of the children’s reading.
I agree with the idea that phonological awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, writing, and reading comprehension (not close reading) should be the real priorities in grade one… so should oral language, of course, and close listening fits that idea nicely. You’ll have plenty of time to ramp this up when students are reading at a second-grade level.