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.


  1. Your Blog gets better and better. This one was so full of good information. I appreciated the videos and the excellent links. One thing that struck me was the reference to Cliff Notes. Back in the day (I am in my 60s) at my somewhat progressive school, if we were caught using Cliff Notes, we were in deep trouble! The teachers seemed to think we would not be thinking for ourselves and would be depending too much on outside sources. In this day and age, with the internet and world-wide web at everyone's fingertips, it is a double-edged sword, in my opinion. Students can learn so much with information so readily available but if they are feeling lazy, they can also parrot back a lot of the information in their writing and take the easy way out. I hope this is not the case! At any rate, thank you for the all of the specific information, i.e., I found the Anchor Charts very helpful. I was very glad to see the reference to parents learning more about Common Core. Involved parents usually equals an involved and eager to learn student.

    1. Annie, Thank you for being a regular reader. I appreciate your comments and the Cliff Notes reference makes me smile.
      I agree with what you are saying about availability of info and students having access to this. Thanks for bringing this up and I am sure I will ponder more on it. Maybe it has to do with setting up the classroom culture in the beginning of the year so students realize that is such a dead end for them. Did you see the video at the beginning on "Being Brave." I love this video because these 5th graders already know that there is going to be some difficult, challenging work ahead of them. However, they hopefully will hang tough, persevere, and give it their best. I haven't seen a lot about the parents but maybe I just haven't looked in the right places. It seems to me this is very, very important as we move forward with Common Core. You bring up some very good points. Thank you again, Annie. I do appreciate your comments.