Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is the Role of Questioning in our Common Core Classrooms?


The Common Core State Standards expect all students to become questioners

          In a perfect world questions should be used for learning before they are used for assessment. Often questions are asked in order to gain a specific, predetermined answer. Other more authentic reasons to ask questions include: to explore issues, to challenge, to awaken a thought, to elicit reasoning, to justify, and to force self-reflection and/or self-assessment. Powerful stuff!

Einstein is quoted as saying "I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious." As teachers one of our many goals must be to create classroom environments where students are passionately curious and where questions and ideas are intriguing.  Consider the following question: Are Double Stuf Oreos really double stuffed? Here is the teacher's story.

There is so much information on questioning like so many other issues in is completely overwhelming. Let me share some go-to sites for information:

Questioning in General... 
Open and Closed Questions 10 min iTunes U Course from the Kentucky Department of Education 

Text Dependent Questions for Close Reading 


Text-dependent questions are questions that depend upon the text itself for answers. 
They do not depend on information from outside sources. Common Core Reading Standards 1-3 cover basic student comprehension of key ideas and details. Teachers need to ask questions for complex texts that starts with literal comprehension.  Questions that ask who, what, when, where, etc. will assure that students understand the key ideas and details, that they understand what the text says. Other questions might include:
  • Which details should be included in a summary?
  • What conclusions can you draw about?
  • What can you infer?
  • How could you explain?
  • What does ____ mean?
  • What is the significance of____?
Common Core Reading Standards 4-9 are on craft and story structure.  With repeated readings of the same text teachers can ask more challenging questions.  These types of questions draw the reader back into the text by asking them to search for specific clues and evidence, to analyze the author's choice of certain words or phrases, and to interpret how it fits into the whole work. Examples of appropriate questions stems:
  • How would you define ___?
  • Using your own words, explain ____?
  • Why did the author choose ___?
  • How did the author organize ____?
  • What does the author want you to think about?
Common Core Reading Standards 7-10 (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas) are evaluative and analytical questions. Readers are asked to integrate information and to compare texts to other texts. Possible question stems might include:
  • How does ____ relate to ____?
  • How is ____ different than____?
  • Explain the author's argument. What evidence is used to support this argument?
  • What specifically caused you to agree?
  • What specifically caused you to disagree?
  • What patterns can you find in the _____?
QAR strategy
Some questions about Text Dependent Questions

If you are looking for More Info....
  • Great article on Close Reading from Scholastic how to {here}
  • OODLES of Student Centered Activities Aligned with the Common Core State Standards {here} from the Florida Center for Reading Research. Always great stuff.
You also might want to check out my Pinterest Board on Text Based Questions

FINALLY, The Power of Pinterest

       I can barely be classified as an immigrant of this cyber world. At present I live for my daily aha's when suddenly a realization (Duh!!) smacks me between the eyes with regard to social networking, blogging, and pretty much anything else that has to do with technology. With that being said I realized the other day Pinterest is becoming my new "go-to" tool--many times even before Google. As I consider this notion I am amazed at the respect and power I have given this site. Pinterest is an incredible teacher tool.

     Earlier in May I started a few Common Core boards as a service for friends to access information. I was hooked, addicted in less time than a round trip to Walmart for weekly groceries. Thousands of pins later, you will find my boards mostly hold ideas that are free. Although I am planning to develop a few materials to sell on TPT (similar to the Writing/Non Fiction Features unit) the cost is merely a way to justify the time put into their development. Nothing more.

       I have intently studied close reading for the past three weeks and needed a fun way to process the info. Thus, the ABC's of Close Reading was born. The cover is really not needed. The ABC chart is 2 pages and needs to be one sheet, copied front and back and then laminated to be placed with your lesson planning materials. Although whimsical in appearance, I meant for it to have substance and to serve as a handy reference and gentle reminder of the most basic tenets of successful close reading. Mostly, it is my gift to you. Happy Saturday!

Nerdy News
Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions
"What are plate tectonics? How fast do plates move? Why do plates move? Do plates affect temperature? What animals can sense the plates moving? They raise questions “that we never would have thought of if we started to answer the first question we asked,” says one of the students. “And just when you think you already know the question you want to focus on, you realize: ‘Oh, wow, here’s this other question that is so much better."

 You can link to the article above. If you care to delve deeper this book is a goldmine in terms of creating a classroom of inquiry, dialogue, and genuine respect for student thinking.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An Innocent Question Deserving a Simple Answer

So What the Heck is Close Reading?

    Close reading is a careful, purposeful, re-reading of the text. There. I committed to a definition.  Earlier this week I received a private plea for a simple explanation of close reading. I have pondered this question all week since close reading, if done successfully, evidenced by student buy-in and exemplary work, is far from simple. But isn't that the case with everything in teaching. At this moment, I am wondering if close reading is the most controversial aspect of the Reading CCSS. I know CCSS math has much controversy. With reading--not so much! But I digress and am determined to stay on track. 

     Let's quickly examine the Common Core reading standards for literature, saving reading standards for information text (even though they are 90% identical) for another time.

                 Reading: Literature K-5

"Rigor is also infused through the requirement that students read increasingly complex texts through the grades. Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades." (

(These are the big ideas of each standard)

Standards 1-3   Key Ideas and Details
Standard 1- Determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences supported and cited with specific evidence from the text.
Standard 2- Determine and analyze the central ideas/themes.
Standard 3- Analyze the nature of how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact as the story progresses.
Standards 4-6  Author's Craft and Structure
Standard 4- Interpret words and phrases, as they are used in text and analyze how specific word choices affect meaning.
Standard 5- Analyze the structure of texts at the sentence level, paragraph level, (to include larger excerpts) in an effort to see how they relate to each other and to the text as a whole.
Standard 6- Analyze for point of view or purpose and how that affects the text's content and
Standards 7-9  Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
Standard 7- Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats.
Standard 8-  relates only to Reading:Information (RI)
Standard 9-  Compare and contrast two or more texts that address similar issues/themes and
evaluate the approach taken by the different authors.

 Standards 10  Range of Reading and Level of Text
Standard 10- Read and comprehend complex literary texts independently and proficiently at the high end of the grade level text complexity band.

    Whew! Look at these reading standards. It is easy to see why re-readings are essential
when we look at the verbs--interpret, analyze, evaluate. Our teaching goal is for students to look at one text with multiple perspectives. On a first read, students need to learn the content of whatever they are reading. They should be able to articulate orally or in writing the gist of the text. As students reread, they need to focus on the specific vocabulary, syntax and story structure. With additional re-readings, students need to discern and evaluate the impact the author is trying to make and/or the strength of the author's argument. There is no way a reader can pay attention to all of these details simultaneously.

     As my husband, Jerry,  was switching through channels the other night he landed on the movie American Graffiti. Naturally, he called me in to sit down and share a special moment. A special moment because we share so many personal connections to this movie and have seen it at least ten times. Seriously. At this point, I no longer focus on who is driving the white t-bird or if Kurt is really going to leave for school, but instead I am appreciating and analyzing the masterpiece of George Lucas through his carefully crafted details-- the music, how each scene phases in and out, the symbolism and irony of life back in 1963, and the impact of the quintessential childhood friendships we all cherish even more much later in life. These were not apparent to me the first time I saw the movie...instead, I was pulled along, completely enthralled, by the story and my caring deeply about the characters. There is no way I could attend to all the subtleties and details of craft...nor did I want to.

      We want our students to notice and wonder. I think we advocate for close reading for the same reasons we advocate for inquiry-based science. There is a critical need, perhaps even life-or-death need, for our students to be inquisitive, curious, caring, and much better observers of life.  We need for our students to question, to analyze, to evaluate, and to dive deeply below the surface to discover the details. Once they discover the details, it's all about the verbs...what are they going to do with the information once they have discovered it.

      We need for our students to slow down and LOOK discover the details that the author provided--details that will be lost by the untrained eye.  In reading instruction, a means of training our students' eye for details is close reading. Using the teaching format of close reading teachers can develop and nurture student observation and understanding within the texts they are studying by teaching students  how to pay attention to the details. These are the same details the author so carefully has orchestrated for us behind the scenes so we, the readers, can enjoy and understand the text on so many different levels, such as my repeated experiences with American Graffiti.

     I am sure you caught the bold print above. The teacher how-to is probably where we need to head next week since teacher instructional delivery will ultimately determine the success of close reading.  Text dependent questioning will be our topic. In the meantime, I thought the Doug Fisher clips are perfect for today.  They are powerfully short. In addition, I have included links to a few of my Pinterest boards that may inspire. Have a wonderful week with or without cinnamon rolls and I am betting you can figure out my preference.

Whether it's a trickling stream, a grassy slope, or an abandoned rail line, the natural world offers teachers a wonderful resource around which to center creative, inquiry-based learning throughout the year. Nobody knows this better than veteran teacher Laurie Rubin. In To Look Closely: Science and Literacy in the Natural World, she demonstrates how nature study can help students become careful, intentional observers of all they see, growing into stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists in the process.
Laurie invites you to join her class of twenty-one second graders as they visit a small stream in the
Filled with student journal entries, narratives, and poems inspired by experiences in the natural world, To Look Closely will inspire and encourage you to become a careful observer of your own "sit spots" outdoors and embrace nature study for a year—or for whatever part of a year is possible for you. This book will change the way you v
Doug Fisher talking about close reading--Part 1 
(2:48 min)

What close reading looks like in the classroom--Part 2  
(3:01 min)

Pinterest links that may be of interest:
Anchor Charts to help support our teaching
Interactive Journals to capture thinking

Nerdy News
HOP(Hot of the Press): The International Reading Association has just published Catherine Snow's and Catherine O' Connor's detailed and thoughtful critique of close reading. They weigh in potential benefits of close reading alongside legitimate concerns with the theory and classroom practice of close reading. This paper is insightful leaving the reader with much to consider and many questions that time will answer. It is my feeling Snow's assessment of CCSS will be cited for years to come. Be informed.

HOP: Just came in this evening (Fri) for those of you who like to be totally cutting edge with info you might like to hear the Chris Leyman interview regarding Common Core. Besides touting his books, he offers tips to help you plan effectively for the new challenges and opportunities offered by the Common Core State Standards. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Close Reading Using Anchor Charts to Support our Readers' Thinking

Close Reading Part 2
Anchor Charts As Lifelines to Learning
Keeping Our Parents Close

"My Students’ Classroom Vision"

What I most like about my blog is that it is my blog. It represents my freedom.  Writing is my meaning maker for unsettled thoughts and questions churning deep within that haven’t yet found their form. So far I haven’t stressed too much about what to write each week since ideas tiptoe and appear out of nowhere to sneak up from behind, to grab me when I am not looking, and gently coax me into an unexpected pursuit. This week is no different and represents a variety of issues. I am hoping there is something to ignite and inspire your thinking. Start with the video... crazy good! (It's available on YouTube.)

Close Reading  
Part 2

Something I forgot to add last week is that close reading is not something the Common Core has explicitly said we have to do in the classroom. The document states that students must acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success. So much information on close reading coming at us (to include ma$$ marketing) it boggles the mind.

Close reading isn't new. The concept has been re-named and brought back by Common Core. I have read that the idea of close, careful, analytical reading got a lot of attention back in the 1940's under the name of  "New Criticism" finding its way into English classrooms where entire class periods were used to interpret/analyze/debate whether Tom Robinson was a martyr or a saint in To Kill A Mockingbird or whether Nick Carraway was actually the conscience of The Great Gatsby or merely a literary device. Only the author, our English teacher, and Cliff Notes were gatekeepers of the correct answers.

Within the new definition of close reading, and I repeat from last week's blog we all don't agree on what it is; most agree there is an allowance for personal, relevant text connections. This means that the answer lies not only in what the author thinks. As readers, we are able to form a partnership with the author and bring our meaning to the text, resting along side the author's meaning. Most people agree that CCSS encourages students to form their own opinions but students need to support these opinions with evidence from the text and recognize and understand where the author is coming from.

Earlier this week in his blog,  Chris Leyman referred to the patterns of language authors choose to use in their work. As teachers we need to carefully self monitor all non-strategic and non-productive questions we ask our students. The reason for this is that we don't want to teach the text as much as we want to teach the thinking. It's the journey--not the destination. My example: (Chris's example was way better): "Why did the author use the word 'heated' in the second paragraph?"  Yes, perhaps the character didn't anticipate the soaring temperature and needs to change into lightweight clothes. Looking at this metaphorically, perhaps the character is uncomfortable in his own skin, or his station in life. The word-level analysis might promote an engaging debate, but it also could lead students down a dead end road, resulting in an incorrect interpretation.

Rather than targeting just one word from a paragraph, teachers need to help students stitch words and phrases together, collecting them as they read, to uncover the author's patterns of language and subtleties to unlock the meaning of the text. Yes, the author used the word "heated" in the second paragraph, but she also used "flushed cheeks," " fiery eyes," and "combustible reaction" later in the chapter. If we, the reader, combined all of this information we might infer the character possesses a bad temper, angers easily, and maybe uses anger as a tool to intimidate others. As teachers, in our efforts to prepare lessons for close reading and to include thoughtful questions to guide our students' thinking, we need to consider the bigger picture of  language patterns the author has created within the text.

In yesterday's blog,  Kate Roberts suggested teachers "start off in the deep end and work your way back."  Agreed! Throw the kids in the pool. See how well they swim, while remaining vigilantly rescue ready. Roberts reminds us of the importance of anchor charts as memory aids or cue cards for our students. Meticulously modeling the how-to behavior of  thinking is critical. We get it. "I do-- we do--you do."  However, we can't just release and set the kids free with a "swim careful" attitude. Gradual release teaching by itself may not produce flexible learning and transfer from one text to another. In addition to our carefully scaffolded teaching, we must create anchor charts to support our learners. Anchor charts can be students' lifelines to building thinking habits and the routines crucial to close reading because they serve as prompts or visual reminders of the thinking processes required for the task we have already taught.

Anchor charts are somewhat beguiling. These extremely clever and cute illustrated charts that regularly pop up on your Pinterest home page will definitely impress and serve as evidence we are teaching to the standards. My stick figures are pathetic and many of the anchor charts I am seeing on Pinterest intimidate the heck out of me. However, I have to continually remind myself that their purpose runs much deeper than decor, and they don't have to be cute to be effective. (Oh, but I love cute!!) Big picture--anchor charts can serve as cognitive training wheels to support our students as they build and refine their thinking networks in order to read closely. Finally, call it close reading, call it critical reading, or call it deep thinking. Whatever name you choose, it is what our students desperately deserve and need to learn and anchor charts will help.

Finally, a remarkable quote from What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton
( Heinemann, 2012):

Perhaps we would better serve our students if, instead of rushing to fill silences with answers, we helped them become aware that answers reveal themselves as we read, that they grow out of a process of drafting and revising that, in turn, is born from attending to details. Perhaps we'd do better if we celebrated confusion--both our's and their's--as the place from which understanding and real learning begin. (p.57)

Keeping Our Parents Close

Many people living in the U.S. have no clue about Common Core. Let me share one poll's information. Americans were polled by the Ed Next Group concerning Common Core. Their findings revealed opposition to Common Core had increased from 7 to 13 percent while support for Common Core had increased from 63 to 65 percent. It was also found that the more information people knew about CCSS, the more favorable they viewed Common Core.

This week's links came from Larry Ferlazzo Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day has become one of my daily necessities.

We need to keep our parents better informed about Common Core. Enjoy!!

Need to talk to parents about Common Core

 How Educators Can Address Parents' Confusion About Common Core

ten things ELL parents should know about Common Core

This three-minute video helps to explain the rationale of Common Core Standards. [en EspaƱol]
Queen Latifah's narration helps to make this short clip fun yet informative.

p.s. If you care to leave a comment,  open the drop down menu, click on name/URL. You only have to provide your name and can leave URL space blank. Hope that helps.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Common Core Places High Priority on Close Reading

Common Core Places High Priority 

on Close Reading

 Do We Know What Close Reading Is?

Part 1

The Common Core document states that students must acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.

               Earlier this week an email invitation came from the author of my new favorite book on student research announcing a 7-week blog-a-thon on close reading.  Although I wasn’t sure what a blog-a-thon was, it sounded good—I’m in.  

                As I was reading Christopher Lehman’s first blog on close reading,  followed by his blogging partner, Kate Roberts' first post later in the week, my brain automatically shifted into background knowledge mode. Everything I knew about close reading seemed to form a gigantic mental circle map. My definition of close reading steadily has evolved over the past 1½ years and the niggling question I have today is, “Do we all agree on the definition of close reading?”  I think not.  Even if there were definitive agreement, interpretation and lesson delivery would wear unique faces. This will forever be the case in education and represents our essential teaching freedom. It's a good thing.

                Although, I can’t guarantee I will blog on close reading for the next seven weeks, 
I feel the enormity and weight worthiness of this topic and realize there is much too much information for a pittance of a post.  To serve as our introduction I would like to share a few thoughts and provide you with some excellent resources as I plan to do each and every week.  

                The CCSS document states that students must acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success. Reading closely is a reader action verb. An understatement since the reader must work hard, have stamina, and persevere.  Simply put, close reading is not for wimps.  All would agree that re-reading is the means to unlocking deeper meanings of the text, recognizing details and nuances that were most likely unnoticed during the first read.  We are talking about layers of understanding.
Visualize an onion. 

                Collectively, we have been successfully teaching the seven strategies of comprehension to our students with finesse and with an unconscious competence. This makes perfect sense considering we’ve been at it for quite awhile. Close reading pushes us directly to DEF-CON 4—it is the synthesis, or all of the strategies AND MORE, to be used by our students on a single piece of text.  Hopefully we are not having our students close read an entire book, an entire chapter; instead, teachers need to be searching out and intentionally selecting short passages to scaffold the high level thinking we are asking our students to do while they close read.  

               In our attempt to make our students college and career ready we can’t lose sight of the much bigger goal of creating lifelong readers. We still want our students to love reading—I believe Common Core seeks an analytic, empowered reader.  Consider the magnitude of both loving to read paired with a 21st Century analytic empowerment.  
Just the thought makes my heart smile. How about you? Choose any one of the videos linked below to view if you have a moment. I guarantee you will find at least one idea and be inspired to try something new in your classroom on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.


p.s. If you care to leave a comment,  open the drop down menu, click on name/URL. You only have to provide your name and can leave URL space blank. Hope that helps.

Links for GREAT close reading lessons

Close Reading grades 3-5

Close Reading 4th grade

Close Reading 5th grade

Close Reading 6th grade

12th Grade Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis

from the Teaching Channel. You might have to join The
Teaching Channel  but totally worth it. Its Free.
Amazing lesson.

Examples of Close Reading Lesson Plans
I haven't studied these yet. Hopefully, they are not end-of-the-chapter questions re-branded as close reading. Close Reading Units for Grades 6-12 from the site

Just One More Thing...
It's Friday, 2:30 central time, an email just popped up announcing and linking to a podcast on Close Reading
sponsored by the Choice Literacy website. This podcast is a conversation between Chris Leyman, Kate Roberts, and Franki Sibberson. Choice Literacy is my all time favorite online hangout. Enjoy.