Saving The Heart of Reading: Why We Should Transplant Close Reading

Awesome ideas to get kids to think about their reading…

: the readiness is all

Close reading and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) lurk like shady hit men in the alleyway of the English building. Wiseguys waiting to whack someone. That someone is reading. They don’t realize the consequence of job. They don’t realize the  true nature of their victim and there’s not much time left to save reading before it’s spread upon the table waiting for its final autopsy.


So what is close reading? Close reading is digging through the text, it’s unearthing meaning that at first glance passes by us, it’s work. It’s kinda like this.


Now, I’m not above doing a little digging myself. Whether it’s my intense close-reading activity The BRAWL or asking my students to practice using movie reviews to discern the difference between summary and analysis.

When I attended UC Irvine I LOVED my Critical Theory classes. I’m a fan of sleuthing through a text. One example…

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I’ve moved…

I am now blogging under the CCESC new and improved website… check us out!  Search my name or ELA to find all my posts.

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So what is Close Reading anyway?

With the implementation of the CCSS for ELA, “close reading” has become a popular buzz word in educational circles.  But what exactly is it?  What does it look like?  How do we develop close reading skills in our students?  First, I will begin by saying that I am currently boycotting the term.  It has become so overused, and often misused, that it no longer has meaning.  I prefer careful reading, or reading with intent. The term itself is not as important as the skill – simply put, pay attention to what you are reading!

When we ask students to practice their deep reading skills, there are a few practices we should keep in mind.  Ask students to focus on a short text or passage.  Deep reading requires time and effort, not a realistic goal for long text or novel. The focus of reading and responses should remain on the text itself.  Though we cannot separate the reader’s emotional or experiential responses, the goal is to examine the given text. Passages are selected because they have significant connections to other texts, or if an excerpt, to the text as a whole. Students are encouraged to talk and think about the text, coming to conclusions that are confirmed or refuted by reading and re-reading of the given or additional texts. (reference to read like detectives or interrogate text)

In a literature class, students may be directed to read on different levels such as linguistic (descriptive), semantic (cognitive), structural (analytic), or cultural (interpretive). Students will examine vocabulary, grammar, and literary devices as well as tone and author’s style.  The purpose of this style of reading is not to label elements for the sake of identification, but rather to enhance the understanding and enjoyment of a text by appreciating the work that went into creating it.

In the opening chapter of Notice and Note, Kylene Beers says that “close reading is what the kids do – not what the teacher leads them to do.  So though there are protocols, strategies, and activities teachers can use to support students’ careful reading, what the teacher is doing is NOT evidence that students are reading with intent.  The evidence of a thoughtful read is in the student response. What you should SEE student a doing if they are reading attentively: taking notes or sketching on paper or annotating directly in the text, re-reading the text, maybe jumping ahead or backing up to a previous section of text to help understand a specific section. You may even see a student consult another text or reference to help him or her understand the text. What you should HEAR when a student is reading deeply: questions about the text – from the students not just from teachers; responses to questions that cite specific evidence from the text; exploratory conversations among students.  You should not hear a teacher explaining what they are about to read or what they just read. The teacher will provide focus and guidance, but the students must do the hard work of comprehension.

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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

Wow! This really made me think. I know there are things I would do differently if I were in the classroom now, but seeing school through the students’ perspective is enlightening.

Granted, and...

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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Grading Smarter Not Harder

114003bFrom the what I’ve been reading files… Grading Smarter not Harder by Myron Dueck shares the research and realities of grading student work.  I haven’t finished the book yet, but already it is changing my way of thinking, and I’m quickly littering the pages with sticky notes and annotations – so much to think about.

As a new school year begins, it may be a good time to rethink your grading policies as an individual teacher, department, or even building.  Dueck’s focus in the book is to guide teachers to creating grading systems that make sense and that reflect academic growth. He speaks strongly against the practice of using grades as a punitive measure – thereby grading compliance and behavior instead of academics.

He does not make hollow pronouncements however – most of the book is dedicated to sharing solutions and offering practical advice on grading, homework, unit plans to support learning, and more.  The ideas are based on solid research and a reminder that “but that is the way we have always done it”  is a really bad reason to continue a practice that is not working.  As I was reading the first sections and confronting the ideas of not grading homework, or not deducting points for late work,  I found myself thinking that many of my past students wouldn’t do anything if it “didn’t count.”  In reality – the research shows that this isn’t true.  We have trained students into that mentality by often requiring busy work that is not important – so, we can retrain them in a new system that is more meaningful.   If my puppy can learn to come each time he is called – without me luring him with a treat – surely students will do classwork and homework without relying on the false reward of a completion grade.

When he discussed late and missing work, I had to agree that what he was saying made sense.  He describes how “behavior-based grading contributes to statistical sabotage,” gives teachers a false sense that compliant students are learning, and actually “perpetuates the disadvantages” faced by many students, causing them to give up and do nothing at all in our classes.

While some of Dueck’s suggestions may seem difficult or even controversial (your principal or parents may not share these philosophies) the outcome is certainly worth some initial discomfort.  By implementing the ideas in the book teachers can improve student learning and ownership, have data that really means something, and my favorite part, spend less time grading!  Better learning for kids – less torture for teachers… that’s a win-win!


Grading Smarter not Harder is an ASCD book – also available on Amazon.  There are also some short YouTube videos with the author you can check out here.

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More Professional Reading – from the Teaching Channel

Most of you know I am a big fan of the Teaching Channel and follow Sarah Wessling Brown’s blog too.  Enjoy this post from last week on the Ideal Bookshelf– I would love to hear what would be on your shelf.  I am still thinking about mine! This reminded me of an interesting site I haven’t visited in a while called Shelfari – community powered virtual bookshelves.  I think I will head over there right now!

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Nerdy Book Club

So, this is one of the reasons I love Twitter.  By following @frankisibberson (if you don’t know her yet, you want to!) I discovered a great blog call The Nerdy Book Club.  I love books and I am proud to be a nerd, so I had to check it out.  If you love books too – especially if you are teaching elementary – you should check it out too!

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