12 Jul

Reading Block: Close Read

As part of my series on my new and improved reading block, today I’m exploring the close reading portion of my lesson.  I first started this a few years ago, and really dived in last year.  Now, this is the bread and butter of my reading instruction.  This portion of my reading block, which is where I do the bulk of my direct instruction (spoiler: I don’t do that much direct instruction) lasts 20-30 minutes.  One text might be read (in pieces) over several days, depending on length.  We also might read and reread the same text several days in a row.  Typically, I might focus in on particular chunks of text each day (maybe just a paragraph or two) in order to focus on a particular skill or strategy.

I’m such a huge fan of close reading.  I think this serves as a pretty decent explanation as to why.  It also creates a classroom focused on texts.  I think the cultural message of focusing on texts is very powerful to students.  When I look around the room, I love that, first and foremost, we are a group of people are delighted by texts (not every text every time, but we have all had this experience).  Not all of us start that way; everyone ends up there.  We read interesting texts.  And then it’s my job, as the teacher, to pull skills out of that text.

The bulk of my direct instruction happens during our daily close reads.  The habit of close reading is by far the most valuable thing I teach my students.  These skills are introduced in a variety of ways, but not during the close read.  The close read is a time to expand on and practice these skills.  This is modeling and guided practice time.  Students are expected to copy EVERY thing I write on my text (I love my document camera!).  Over time, I let them lead this process more and more.

The overall goal of this close reading is to teach students, over time, to comprehend at the word level, building from there to comprehend at the sentence, paragraph, section, and whole passage level.  I find that many of my students lack in vocabulary and word-related skills (like context clues and roots/affixes).  Starting at the word level (and honestly, at the beginning of the year, we spend the majority of our time here) prepares students for broader comprehension skills later.  For this reason, all of our tier 2 vocabulary words come from texts we actually read, which is not to say that all of our vocabulary words are actually in the texts we read.  Often, these vocabulary words will be introduced as synonyms to words in the text or as words we can use to describe things from the text.  Obviously, the words actually being in the text is most ideal, but not always possible.  I work from these vocabulary lists, ensuring that I hit every word multiple times by the end of the year.  This is also where I would introduce and review roots and affixes as it comes up in the text.

We spend a lot of our close reading time talking about text features and using them to comprehend the text at a very basic level.  Then we integrate whatever skill we’re working on within that framework.

Quite honestly, if you had told me my first year teaching, that I would be using close reads as a fundamental teaching tool, I probably would have thought it sounds incredibly boring.  And on the one hand, I suppose it does.  I rarely have a flashy lesson where students act out cause and effect.  On the other hand, because we spend so much time with the actual text, we all come to appreciate the text a little bit more.  Besides, a single text might last us as long as a week, which really helps students deepen their understanding of it.  I find that over time, understanding what we read better helps us love what we read.  Most students are easily engaged by migration of turtles and weather patterns, etc.  They’re not as easily engaged by a text they can’t understand sitting in front of them.  From a planning perspective, this approach to instruction is definitely challenging.  Fully integrating vocabulary, word study, and comprehension skills is certainly not easy.  From a resource and copies perspective, however, this process is much less challenging that more typical reading instruction.

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