I’ve read the books on close reading. I’ve attended informative workshops and participated in Twitter chats that were completely dedicated to the topic. My 6th graders have participated in thought-provoking novel studies and critically analyzed articles and other excerpts of text. I really thought I was doing this whole close reading thing right. After all, I’ve witnessed my students excel like never before since re-framing my instruction to align with the Common Core State Standards.
As I’ve jumped in full force to the new English Language Arts curriculum that my district adopted, I’ve had a close reading epiphany. Yes, I was teaching close reading strategies before, but in reality, my students were only using them when asked. They could close read, but they weren’t true close readers. Below are three key components I have found in helping my students truly embrace what it means to read critically and carefully.
- Close reading strategies are explicitly taught. My students aren’t going to become close reading experts after a single lesson. “Reading closely,” can mean many different things and we’ve taken our time to explore all the strategies that close readers use. At times, my students are reading for the gist; that is, their first initial sense of what each paragraph or so is about. Their job is to jot this gist down in margins or on sticky notes as they read. Other times, I’m asking them to pay close attention to vocabulary; circle words they don’t know or highlight words that impact tone/mood. As a class, we’ve taken time over the past eight weeks of school to learn and practice each of these (and other) specific purposes for close reading high quality text.
- Close reading strategies are posted and referred to regularly. As mentioned above, close readers use a wide variety of strategies to analyze and understand difficult text. We’ve found it beneficial to keep track of “Things Close Readers Do,” on an anchor chart that lives in our classroom. As we learn new close reading strategies, and implement them on our shared texts and novels, we add them to our chart. I refer to this chart each time we begin a close reading session.
- Students are expected to read independent texts closely. This has been one of the bigger mind shifts for both my students and me. In previous years, when I would teach close reading strategies, I expected my students to implement what they learned on the text that I provided them for that particular lesson. However, good readers use effective comprehension strategies each and every time that they read. I see my students writing gist notes (on post-its) in their independent reading books, keeping lists of personal dictionaries of unfamiliar words, and taking time to reread difficult passages.
I love discussing close reading with other teachers; those who teach 6th grade and those who don’t. What strategies have you used to help your students use their close reading skills in settings other than your reading lesson? How else can we help make close reading second nature to our kids?