#Close Reading: Continuing with the blog-a-thon

It’s been such a great learning experience to follow along with Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts as they have explored the highways and byways teaching close reading in their 7 week-long blog-a-thon. So many readers have made interesting and informative  contributions through blog posts and comments as well, and although I have followed along obsessively, I haven’t had the chance to do the same as much as I had initially hoped to do.  

But, as we close in on the last week of #CloseReading, I wanted to respond to two questions Chris had posed :
What have been your biggest challenges in close reading instruction?  What have been your biggest moments of learning? 
And a thinking exercise Kate posted about, in which  she catalogued “five moments from my day as a close reader”.

My biggest challenge, I think, is weaving close reading into daily instruction in a seamless, organic way.  If my intention is to, as Chris put it: “support students in learning the habits of close reading so they can carry them beyond that one lesson and into their lives,”  then what would that look like, sound like, and feel like in my classroom day after day, week after week?  And, part of this challenge is to make sure that my kids see this practice as one that is both meaningful and purposeful – that it’s not just another activity we do in order to check the box in Mrs. Smith’s plan book: SWBAT: Close read a text and make copious notes. Check!
And, into this thought process flows something I’d read in Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s marvelous Notice and Note, on the subject of rigor, which is something I also want to ensure is a part of all the learning work we do:
“Rigor is not an attribute of a text but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text….rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text, not the text itself.” 
Energy. Attention.  That is part of the challenge, too.  Which brings me to Kate’s post, and her thoughtful, humorous look at five close reading moments from her day.  What would  such moments look like in our classroom?  Would they be indicative of rich, meaningful close reading. Here they are:

1. In Poetry Study:
A part of every  Thursday is reserved for the study of poetry in our classroom.  Here’s what we made of Bobbi Katz’s “October “:

Our focus in these exercises is trying to decipher the language and techniques a poet uses to create a mood, visualize a scene, convey emotion.  Marking up the text as a joint exercise allows all that thinking we do individually to become a collective experience – a quick sketch of what this poem now means to all of us as a class.
2. In Reading Workshop:
My sixth graders love sticky notes.  To excess.  So, part of our workshop work has focused on answering two questions: when the heck do we tag something with a sticky note?  what the heck so we say?

Knowing when to stop and take careful note of something happening in the text sounds easier than it actually is for the average sixth grader in my classroom.  I model this all year with all sorts of mentor texts, then my students practice with their own reading, and THEN we confer and share.  This is Melinda’s notebook – and I am happy to say that she is learning to use those sticky notes with less reckless abandon.
3. In Writing Workshop:
We are learning craft moves by studying mentor texts, and in this strategy session we were examining Jerry Spinelli’s Knots in My Yo-Yo String – specifically, the way Spinelli wrote about sound:

And here is another mentor text study of thoughts and feelings in Russel Baker’s, “Growing Up”: (what the cow in the margin is supposed to men I am not sure – but that’s the way a sixth grader’s mind often works!):
In both cases, our close reading and talking gave Kaitlyn some ideas about how to revise her memoir piece – truly, as Louise Rosenblatt observed, “reading is part of the writing process.”

4. In Social Studies:
Marking up maps and graphic texts allows us to note events and perspectives, and it allows us to question and clarify.  Just about everyone questioned the use of “northwest” in the map below – isn’t that, like, Oregon and Washington? they asked.  Which led to a long discussion about the nation in its early days – the Great Lakes area was about the extent of our northwest then!  Now, each time we examine a map of the expanding nation in our Social Studies lessons for the rest of the year, my kids will be looking at their maps closely – what else can we learn about the state of the union in those early days?

Through these moments in our week, I think I have my answer to the second part of Chris’ question:

What have been your biggest moments of learning?  I’ve learned that we bring our habits of close reading to every text we meet.  Sometimes, we learn (as my kiddos have with their amazing collection of sticky notes) that we have to sort through and learn how to tag passages worthy of focused close reading.  Sometimes, we learn that we can read a text and zoom in for specific things: figurative language,  sounds, thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes, as in the case of maps , we learn that we need to look beyond what a text explicitly states to ask questions and make inferences.
Yes, we are reading closely in room 202 – and, as Kate suggested it would be, our learning lives are all the richer for it.
(P.S. What will I do once the blog-a-thon ends? Move on to reading Chris and Kate’s, new book, of course, which should be arriving soon!)


One thought on “#Close Reading: Continuing with the blog-a-thon

  1. Tara, thank you for this peek into your classroom. Your students done so much thoughtful work thanks to your thoughtful and purposeful teaching. The last 6 weeks have been such a whirlwind for me, I haven't read as many of Chris and Kate's posts as I wanted to. Hopefully, now that everyone's goals are written, I'll be able to go back and read more of them. I can't wait to get my hands on their book and learn more about close reading.

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