Thursday, September 12, 2013

Close Reading

I have been reading lots of good conversation about Close Reading at Kinderconfidential and I am delighted to see Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts are about to  publish their book, Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Chris and Kate have invited all of us to think about what close reading is and isn't, during their blog-a-thon.  You can see a few of  their glorious blog posts here and here.

I have been thinking about close reading quite a bit this summer as I watch my one- year-old daughter tear through the books she loves so much.  I say, “tear through,” because, quite frankly, we have been using a lot of packaging tape to fix those lift the flap board books.  But, really, this post is not about Baby M.  It is about the observations we make as teachers during independent reading time, the way we organize our classroom libraries and student reading materials, and the way we plan for read alouds.  Watching Baby M read just gave me the reminders I needed as I start this school year. 

Tip #1:  Collect some data about close reading when you observe you readers.  Collect some data about your classroom environment and how kids use it.
·      Do they reread? 
·      Do they look closely at the pictures or ponder about what the words mean?
·      Do they seem to reread their sticky notes where they have dome some writing about reading? 
·      Do they reflect on the things they have written and expand on those ideas?
·      How do kids check out books?  Do they “get to” check out books yet or do you make table baskets to share?
I noticed in June that M enjoyed reading books, went to them independently, and often chose them as her first item to play with in the morning.  But then, in July, I noticed that she was speed-reading through the shelf.  I worried, “shouldn’t she take her time, look more closely at the pictures?”  I tried modeling it.  Nope.  More tossing of books after she read just a page or two. 
Simultaneously, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M. ED.  He suggests, “Less is More.”  On Page 65, he says, “Quite Simply:  A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement.  An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm.” 
So, I counted up the books.  We had over 60 board books available to her at any given time.  (Yes, we are lucky to live literate lives and have friends who gave us great books as gifts).  This realization that we might have too many books available at one time and in one place lead to action and tip #2…

Tip #2:  Provide your readers with the amount of texts and tools to sustain them for a week and allow for close rereading. 
·      Do your k-2 readers have a book box they can call their own or do they browse a vast library with hundreds of titles? 
·      Do your beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade have 8-10 books in their book box?
·      Do more advanced first and second grade readers have tools like this  or this or this and a place to jot notes? 
I quickly made a book box for Baby M (see photo at the beginning of this post).  I put it next to the bookshelf that she loves and moved the other books into two other bins.  We switch out her books every 4-5 days so she is not bored with the titles.  I noticed almost immediately that she settled into her reading time with less tossing books overboard.  I also noticed her rereading books to find her favorite pages.  I think she was able to do this because she got to reread the same texts day after day.

In Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, I have begun to rethink the browsing bins for a whole table in September.  I have been wondering if would be easier for kids to stay engaged and do some close reading in September if they shared a book box (maybe a magazine box size) with a buddy.  And, maybe these boxes could be theme based (one about trucks, the other with Thomas the Train books, another with farm animal books, another with alphabet books, etc.).  I am wondering if we can help kids get the stance for close reading that Kristi wrote about on her blog if we give them these partner bins right away in the first weeks of school.  I wonder if there will be fewer arguments at tables about who will get the puppy book next and more sharing of thoughts, ideas, and favorite parts.  And, if kids switch partner bins every 3 days or so, perhaps they would know much of the library by the end of September.  Could this be a new way to browse the library?  Let me know what you think.  If you try this, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Tip #3:  Model the close reading and rereading in Read Aloud
·      Do you have class favorite read alouds that the kids love to hear again and again?
·      Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, do you have those Emergent Story Books lined up on your shelf ready to go?  What are your favorites?
·      Try modeling think-alouds or questions like this:
o   “Oh, today I noticed ____ in the picture.  I never noticed that before.  Maybe that was there on purpose as a hint to tell us what is happening next!” 
o   “What do you notice in the pictures today?  Why do you think the author/illustrator did that?”
o   “Oh, I thought this was just a simple list book, but really, it is also telling a story.”
I notice Baby M paying more attention to the pictures in her books these days.  I also notice that she is able to sit and attend to read alouds (although these are one-on-one read alouds) for longer stretches of time.  She points to pictures, tries to approximate reading, and taps along on her knees when a book has rhythm.  This all began around the time we started to read and reread the same 3-4 books every single day at the exact same time.  We modeled the close reading by pointing to the pictures and talking about them.  And, we lead the way, choosing to reread instead of just grabbing one of the other 50 books. 
Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers do this often as they include some Emergent Storybook reading in the beginning of their school year.  They read and reread titles like Caps for Sale and the kids chime in, reading along.  Soon they are holding their own copies. 
I wonder though, how often do we reread picture books when this emergent storybook unit ends?  And what about first and second grade?  This whole conversation about close reading has reminded me that is important. 
And one last final thought…
In one chapter of her book, Mind in the Making:  The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, Ellen Galinsky writes about the development of self-control and it’s relationship to attention with children.  This whole conversation about close reading has me thinking about Galinsky’s advice about developing and cultivating children who are able to attend and focus for longer and longer stretches of time.  In primary reading workshops, we can deliberately create environments and model the stance of close reading (and support kids to hold attention for longer stretches of time):  lingering, pausing, thinking for a bit, asking questions, and then talking about our ideas and questions with others.  

Thanks Chris and Kate for putting this topic out there to ponder.  I can’t wait for the arrival of the book!

close reading button


  1. Sarah,
    I am already thinking about your "browse the library" under tip 2. If partners are sharing bins for two or three days, what if their final task for the bin is to each choose 1 or 2 books that they would like to introduce to their fellow table-mates (next partner pairs) and they are also to explain "why" they liked it as part of the introduction? I think this would be further evidence of a "close reading" stance.

    I've been watching and talking about TBR (to be read) piles that we adults make, and I believe that another form of independence/stamina is selecting those next books that "I MUST read!" This is a habit that I want to build for ALL students - loving those next books! I do have "go-to's" for book recommendations! One more way to encourage more talk!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  2. Hi Fran,
    I love your partnership book introduction plan. I do agree that having books you love, or books you think you love because someone you trust told you about them, will help you build stamina.
    All the best,