“We’ve already read this!” my students yammered in unison. I mean the type of yammering that feels assaulting along with the type of unison you expect out of synchronized swimmers. The message was clear! My students were telling me, in their fourth grade way, “There is no point to re-read something. Ugh, what a waste of time.”
This is what the fall looked like in my classroom. Every time I passed out a passage as part of a lesson that had been viewed previously, I thought I had committed the ultimate sin. I rarely doubt my classroom management, but asking my students to read something again resulted, on several occasions, in upheaval.
I realized that none of us want to waste time. When I say ‘none of us,’ I mean adults NOR kids. My students saw my request to re-read a text as busy work. They’d been told since kindergarten that good readers re-read for meaning, but I’m not sure that this practice was ever actually instilled in them to the level Common Core State Standards (CCSS) requires. I know I used to be guilty of the question, “Did you read it closely?” followed with, “Well, check your work. Read it again.” I hated those comments as a child and my students didn’t find much guidance in them either. Close reading is required as part of CCSS, but not just as an act of rereading text. Close reading is about accessing rigorous material for a variety of purposes.
I had read through the standards and found clear guidelines in Brown and Kappes’ A Primer on Close Reading of Text. I spent a lot of time looking at my text selection and determining what lenses my students would benefit from reading through. I was excited about my reading lessons. I had found texts that really lent themselves to close reading in many subjects. The kids, on the other hand, were not excited.
I tried to explain to them, in more ways than one, exactly why we were going to reread. A few students started to understand, but I didn’t have the whole class on board yet. The kids would participate in rereading for different purposes, but many of them were still complaining.
I tried engagement strategies. We made lenses. Literally. I know, I know – the cheesy-factor just went up! But it worked. A paper template of a monocle, scissors, markers, and about 10 minutes was all it took for my students to create their own “reading lens.” I’d have the kids get out their ‘reading lenses’ and I’d explain to them that today’s lens was looking for vocabulary or literary devices. A few more kids got on board. But it wasn’t enough; I needed ALL of them to join me on my train to close reading.
Then, I figured it out. Don’t tell them – SHOW THEM! Of course! I would not teach any lesson in my class without students DOING the work. So I stopped pep talking them. I just let the lessons go as planned. We read Because of Winn-Dixie for a novel study and did character analysis. Then we took an expert and examined it for vocabulary. We looked at the same selection and did work surrounding word choice. We studied the same material and looked at imagery. And part way through my series of lessons, I realized they weren’t complaining anymore! Understanding the learning that could take place had happened by actually learning (not being told what would be learned).
Last week, Lindsey blogged about how her use of word walls has changed in high school with the demands of Common Core. You can find her thoughts here. I, too, have found Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts’ book Falling in Love with Close Reading powerful aligning my lessons to CCSS. I, myself, cannot look at text I plan to use with kids without thinking about all of the ways it can be used. That’s the key – find high quality text worthy of being read again and again, for different purposes.
Six months later my students expect to participate in close reading. Not one student complains when we reread something. In fact students can often determine what future purposes a piece of text might serve. I’ve heard, “I see some similies in this passage, so I think we’re going to read it later and talk about literary devices.” Just last week a student told me, “This text is hard! I know I’ll have to read it a few times to really think about each sentence.” I love these comments because I know my students see the power in spending time with text. They trust that I will not waste their time. They know that I have a purpose for every lesson we do. However, I know I’m making gains in the area of close reading because when it was time to go to lunch one day last week, my most unorganized child raised their hand and asked, “Should I save this paper? You never give us something worth reading once.” Success!
* If you’re looking for more information about close reading, ASCD hosts some good resources here.*
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.