#CloseReading: Post #2 – Practicing on day one

close reading button
In Chris Lehman’s latest #CloseReading blog post, he wrote about cultivating the habit of close reading using the analogy of setting up a fitness routine.  Here’s the part that I found myself returning to and mulling over:

While my recent fitness plan has been in the pits, I am surprisingly certain that if I went to a sports club tomorrow I would still know the correct squat stance and because I do I could apply it to doing other things I remember like box jumps, kettlebells, even tire flips. I may need a few visits to get back into the full swing, but those exercises are ingrained habits I can return to when needed.
How? Because I learned the “squat” structure as a routine and then learned how to apply it in a variety of ways. My trainer broke down each step, helped me understand the purpose behind those steps, and offered a lot of practice time and coaching to get good at them.

I would like to see close reading become an ingrained habit for my students, I would  like for them to to know the routines, and to be able to apply them with a variety of texts.  I would like for them to know, deep down know, that there is a purpose to reading closely. And I would like for them to know when this type of reading counts (Chinese food take- out menu=not so much, Mary Oliver poem=now is the time!). 
Some of us have taken close reading to mean graphic organizers and every inch of the text marked up to look like this:

Wrestling with these duelling notions of close reading, I began my opening day with the usual welcome letter – the one where I try to introduce myself, the year, and the classroom rules in a manner that will make my kids settle into their seats with a degree of comfort; their sixth grade year in Mrs. Smith’s block classes may not turn out to be so bad after all.  
As we made our way through the letter, we began to take note of repeating ideas, interesting words, and tone.  And we began marking up the text with our thinking.  Halfway through this exercise, it dawned on me – without really naming it, and in the most natural way, we were Close Reading.  With our very first piece of text, we had taken a stance about the reading process – that, in order to make the most of a text, readers pause, take note, think, synthesize, reflect. 

I realize that it will take the rest of the year to build upon this first step.  Both Chris and Kate have written about the specifics about these routines in their blog posts – noticing patterns, and calling on personal experience, to name a few –  and I hope to learn more though their upcoming book, Falling in Love With Close Reading.  I also LOVED Fran McVeigh’s post which laid out some how-to’s so thoughtfully.  I especially loved the way she closed, making note of the fact that :

It’s complicated! It’s messy! And close reading is definitely a big puzzle with no ONE right way to accomplish it!

My hope is that by beginning this way, we as a class are ready to examine other texts just as carefully. And, as we build a set of routines and practices, I want to work towards making these routines stick. Here are some thoughts I had about how I might do so:

  • Make it a practice to approach a shared text, pencil in hand.
  • Choose a focus or a lens through which to read the text, and start small, as I did with the welcome letter.
  • Make time for discussion and model the process of jotting notes – lots of notes doesn’t necessarily mean better thinking.
  • Vary the type of text, so that my kids learn that close reading is cross curricular – it’s a process that can enrich their readings in science and social studies as well as in reading and writing workshop.
Now, to head over to the contributors page and learn what other teachers have to say about close reading practices in their classrooms.

2 thoughts on “#CloseReading: Post #2 – Practicing on day one

  1. Tara, I so dearly wish that I had been in your class so many years ago…or that my own children had the opportunity to be in your class right now. What a wise and beautiful post. Thank you very much. I will be sharing this. xo, a.

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