Close Reading – Day 1

We're working on our close-reading skills. Indiana has changed the standardized test format (again) and students will be doing very Common Core-like reading and analysis tasks as part of the new format. (Sidebar: it's amazing that critical thinking and analysis are terrible under Common Core, but totally okay and great when Indiana copies them.)

This means I need to take time in class to actually teach some serious reading strategies. I'd done similar things implicitly in the past, but it's now more important than ever to make students are equipped to be successful on the exams coming in the spring.

This activity is the first time students have gone through the process, so it's taking serious time. The school improvement team has built and tested a model that we're to use in class with our students so each class gives an equivalent experience.

Today, I grabbed an article from the textbook on Robert Goddard. We've just finished Newton's laws of motion and talking about spaceflight and the apparent paradox of the third law is a good way to round out the chapter. The text is on grade-level, so students should be able to approach it on relatively sure footing.

To start, I read the article out loud while they underlined anything of interest. Our students have struggled with writing coherent responses to prompts because they lacked a basis for their response. Finding points of interest can help build a frame of mind to respond to a question later. Listening to me read modeled the pace they should use when they're reading alone. We talked about phrasing and hearing their own voice in their heads. Most seemed to see the importance of this because they actually had time to process what they were reading as it was being read. We also discussed points of interest to help those who struggled find a good starting point.

I also found at this point it was important to acknowledge that the interesting point did not (and really shouldn't) be a direct quote. It can be an idea or a theme. It can be a frame of reference - putting themselves into the shoes of the subject. It helped some who didn't find anything in particular at the surface interesting to find a point they could dig into later.

Second, they re-read the article silently (modeling appropriate pace) while circling words that they didn't know or found confusing. I described this as, "figuring out what you don't know so you can go learn it." Not knowing something is too distracting. I wanted to embrace the fact that they wouldn't know some of the terms and that it's okay.

After finding their words, they grouped up and compared. Words in common were circled and left. Words that were unique (one person, maybe) were peer-taught.

Finally, we regrouped and started going around the room defining terms in common. Before class, I had gone through and identified potential terms, but there were a lot thrown out that I hadn't anticipated. Doing this as a class promoted idea sharing and helped students to see that they were not alone in confusion.

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