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!


  1. After admiring the adorable kitten, I settled in and read your Blog (with coffee only) and this week was outstanding. You really gave some specific information, including videos and links, for different grades and that is so very helpful. Also, I love your reference to "American Graffiti"- like you, I saw the movie multiple times, and it was not until later that I realized how deep it was and how invested I was in the characters - especially the poignant ticker at the end that told what happened to each one. The movie was a perfect example to use and how funny, it came up by serendipity - channel surfing! Life can be full of "channel surfing moments" and hopefully, students who read or even watch a good movie, can eventually start using their "Close Reading" skills to observe, evaluate and - what the heck - even take joy in what they discover! This is good stuff - thank you!

  2. Elizabeth, what a generously kind comment. Thank you so very much for taking the time to respond to this week's blog. It sounds as though you are with me each Saturday. Thank you. The question I received from a reader last week really forced me into narrowing and clarifying my thinking for this post. It was so helpful. With regard to the movie, American Graffiti, it sounds as tho it is one of your favorites as well. I think that connecting students back to movie's they watch is one way we get them to see the power of rereading. I am afraid many will see it as drudgery if we aren't precise and pragmatic with our teaching.
    Thanks again for your kinds words and for being a reader. I truly appreciate it. Cathe

  3. I am so glad I found your blog! I can't wait to read more about your ideas and suggestions for Close Reads :)

    2 Brainy Apples

    1. Heather, I am thrilled to have you as a reader. I know and understand literacy a lot better than I know technology so I am inching my way into the blogging world. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and for your future return visits. There are some aspects of close reading that I am wrestling with. Writing about it clarifies my thoughts. Thanks again. Cathe