Lots of teachers out there are struggling with the idea of Close Reading. We’ve heard as much from folks after our reading workshops sometimes. They get that it’s important; they’re in favor of the idea; they’re eager to try it, but they find the planning and execution challenging. Two of the most frequently mentioned issues are 1) the difficulty of maintaining pacing and engagement while working through text above the comfort level of students and 2) managing the rest of the lesson. If you really take the time to let students wrestle with a line by line reading of a challenging piece of text, you might find yourself struggling to finish one novel, let alone five or six throughout the course of a year.
In the case of a challenge like that, my usual trick is to ask a teacher, preferably one who’s a lot smarter than me. Enter Colleen Driggs, stage left. Fresh off her own Close Reading of Maggie Johnson’s Lesson Packet in a previous post and a reflection on planning for reading, Driggs here bravely enters the Valley of Close Reading, and offers these thoughts:
Maggie Johnson’s lesson illustrates some ways that we can start to overcome the challenges of Close Reading. Maggie’s students Close Read daily—and not just once in a lesson but multiple times throughout a lesson through the re-reading and analysis of very short excerpts (i.e. one sentence at a time) that Maggie’s lifted from the text. Maggie chooses portions of the text for students to read closely in every text that they encounter-not just in texts specifically selected for Close Reading.
Aside from Doug:Colleen and I agree that longer, richer, deeper Close Reading lesson are important. But it’s important to remember not only that Close Reading can happen in small pieces here and there but that this small-dose frequent practice is likely to make your larger Close Reading lessons more successful (because you’re students will be better at the foundational skills). And this small-dose Close Reading is a lot easier to plan, not to mention a good way to test things out and see what works and how much time to allocate, for example.
In the attached lesson materials, the questions she asks are based on Night, her whole class novel—one of five or six novels that Maggie’s students will read during the year! You’ll notice that even though students are asked to closely read portions of the text about seven times in this lesson, she and her students are still able to read seven pages in the novel in one lesson. In other words, you might look at Maggie’s lesson and say, at first, where’s the Close Reading? But in fact it’s in there, just in bits and pieces. In the attached document I’ve tried to track and discuss the specific places where, to me, Maggie is Close Reading.
To sum, though, you’ll notice that Maggie’s students re-read challenging and critical excerpts from the text multiple times in order to complete written responses to various questions. By the end of the lesson, students will have answered three different types of Text Dependent Questions –Critical Phrase, Paraphrase, and Deliberate Design with a particular focus on a critical phrase (driven by the content of the text). Maggie starts by introducing a critical phrase, “comfort in delusion,” that becomes a thread students follow through the lesson by several times looking for specific evidence to illustrate or refute how given characters demonstrate this ethos. Within that task, it’s implicit that students re-read key portions of the text and paraphrase in order to complete their analysis.
By the way it’s worth noting that you don’t see many Lower the Level questions in Maggie’s plan—that’s likely because this type of question is frequently asked during reading, with students responding verbally. In other words she’s asking lots of them, just in “real time” as she reads.