We recently spent two days geeking out on Reading and the Common Core at a workshop up here in Albany with 180 of our closest friends from around the country. People left pretty excited about Close Reading and Non-Fiction, but a least a couple of school leaders have followed up with questions about planning, specifically about how tricky their teachers find planning for Close Reading. In response, the amazing Colleen Driggs I put together a “Planning for Reading” Care Package in THREE parts. The first is an excerpt a new section in TLaC 2.0 where I talk specifically about planning for reading and how it’s fundamentally different from planning for almost any other subject. The second post, coming soon, contains a sample lesson plan that Maggie Johnson used during her study of Elie Wiesel’s Night, as well as–double bonus! embarrassment of riches–Colleen’s commentary on and discussion of some of the strengths of Maggie’s lesson. Then Colleen is going to look at a Close Reading lesson specifically and I’ll share a video to go with it. Hope it’s useful!
Excerpt from TLAC 2.0
Begin with the End 2.0: Planning for Reading
Beginning with the end, I’ve come to realize with the help of a lot of really great teachers who’ve pushed me to see it, looks different in Reading and Literature classes than it does in most others.
Content-Based Objectives vs. Skills Based Objectives
In thinking about reading skills we’ve distinguished between two types : portable and non-portable. Portable skills (making inferences about a character, for example) could be practiced often and frequently in regularly occurring situations. They tended to crop up everywhere and were best done in response to a text. There were few enough of them that it was easy to cover them all in the course of a year if you let the novel guide when to practice them. We also realized that these skills weren’t complex to understand; they were complex to execute. They responded more to a fast and simple explanation and repeated practice, time and again, in a variety of settings over the course of several months, rather than a long explanation involving a mnemonic device and discrete practice for a few days in a row. It wasn’t that kids didn’t understand that they should use a character’s words and actions to determine her traits, the problem was that they needed to do it a thousand times in a thousand different settings and with increasingly harder texts for five years running. We realized that being solely skills driven socialized us to be more formalist than perhaps we should have been, and to plan a 90 minute I/We/You lesson on character perspective when a ten minute lesson and a lot of practice might do better. Sometimes with portable skills the more time we spent talking about them the more time we wasted.
There were still Non-Portable skills, by the way, topics that didn’t tend to come up in most texts. Understanding and defining characteristics of specific genres was a good example of that. You still needed a skills or knowledge-based objective for that, but an exclusively skill based approach to objectives had become a bit of a Frankenstein Monster and we found that it made more sense to start our planning by choosing great texts and then develop our objectives around the content of those texts, weaving in other more skill and knowledge-based topics around them as it made sense.
We also realized we had to develop a non-exclusivity arrangement with our objective. Or at least to make that clear to our teachers. That is, even if our primary focus for a day was to explain the development of Simon in chapter 3, we still wanted our teachers to ask students to reflect on other unrelated questions as the novel raised them and we didn’t want them to stop asking character questions after they finished with Lord of the Flies. A significant portion of the day’s questions aligned to the objective in a good reading lesson, but not every single one. The practical solution was to ask character inference questions all year long, embedding them in their packets during lessons—even if those lessons had other objectives. And as students got older and more sophisticated and had been introduced to most of the types of questions we asked, we found that a typical lesson’s balance began to shift, and more and more of what we were doing was deciding which of the skills we knew how to use applied in a given setting. There might still be a single objective, but much of the lesson—probably even the majority—was actually devoted to applying reading skills to interpret the text in a rigorous and intrinsic way.