Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Administrator Steps In to Teach A Close Reading Lesson

Meet Ed Ewing

  Who Doesn't Just Talk the Talk

Ed Ewing, Administrator of  the Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy in Turlock, California
                Ed Ewing, an elementary administrator for the past 8+ years, had been toying with the idea of teaching a lesson after attending a Common Core training with a group of his teachers earlier this school year.  He also is currently involved in Saturday Morning Coffee's online book study of Falling in Love With Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts.  When Ed emailed to say he was going to teach a close reading lesson and that he would share his experience with all of us I was grateful beyond words. I am devoting today's blog to Ed's lesson in which he taught an introductory close reading lesson to 5th graders at his school in Turlock, California located in the state's Central Valley. He shares his reflection of the lesson and his experience. 
      1.     Can you tell us why as a school administrator you decided to teach a lesson? 
               I recently attended a Common Core training on text complexity with some of my teachers.  As we discussed our learning I became very excited about the shifts we are undergoing in language arts and decided that I wanted to give it a shot! My most important role as a principal is to be an instructional leader.  As we move to Common Core, I need to make sure that I have deep knowledge in the whys and hows so I can support my teachers.

                I’m very excited about the close reading strategy!  In the past, the goal of reading has been to demonstrate the ability to find the correct answer to the question. We’re moving away from the world of finding THE right multiple choice answer to a wider world of choosing a lens, looking for patterns, thinking, and justifying with text. Exciting…but tricky!
               Close Reading (and Common Core) is about reading, thinking, reading, analyzing, discussing, and reading again and perhaps again.  In my personal and professional life I love thinking and talking about ideas.  That’s exactly what we are going to need to teach our students to be able to do in the college and career ready vision of Common Core.
2.     Will you describe your planning process?  

               I read some sample lessons at and used them as a guide to write my lesson. I then met with our instructional coach. As we discussed the lesson and the reading passage I’d chosen, it dawned on us that the text better fit another standard and so I rewrote the lesson.  The lesson was a two-day lesson  (2 one hour sessions). Day One did not go as well as I’d hoped, so, after reflecting with our instructional coach, I revised Day 2. The entire planning process took well over several hours (I know, I know, for just a 2 hour lesson!).
3.   How did you choose the text?     
I chose the passage because it tied into U.S. History which is taught in 5th grade, and because I personally found the passage about Sacagawea interesting. I think we can draw some interesting conclusions about her character and her relationship to Lewis and Clark based on the scant information we have about her.  I felt the vocabulary and sentence structure was of sufficient rigor that students would struggle a bit, but not too much.
Day 1 Lesson Plan and Reflection

4.     What really worked for Day 1?  

               I taught the students how to annotate the text and this seemed to work real well.  Some students were more confident annotators than others.







5.     What would you change?   
                Way too much teacher talk!!  I needed to structure more opportunities for student interaction.  Also, my pacing was too slow.  Instruction needed to be snappier with more student engagement. 

6.     Did you have a formative assessment?    
                As I walked around I noticed some of the same words being circled, and several students surprised me by circling a part of the selection that also struck me (Sacagawea was captured from a neighboring tribe and sold to a trapper who took her as one of his wives).  Several students also made note of the information hinting to a sincere respect Clark seemed to have for Sacagawea.

7.     What did you walk away with after teaching this first lesson?  
                The knowledge that I was working way too hard and the students weren’t working hard enough! I was reminded teachers need to consciously work at limiting teacher talk, keeping the lesson moving, and structuring student interaction. This is crucial to keeping students engaged with a difficult task.

Day 2  Lesson Plan and Reflection

1.    What really worked with this 2nd part of the lesson? 
               The student interaction with the text and with each other was great.

2.    What would you change? 
                I would have broken the text up into smaller bits as I guided them through the process of discussing their annotations and their analysis of relationships between individuals in the text. This would  be an easy way to scaffold their learning.
3.    What did the students' learn?
                As their formative assessment the students were instructed to write 2-3 sentences describing the relationship between two individuals in the reading and citing text evidence to justify their description. The big learning for them I believe is that reading isn't merely a 'one and done.'  Reading is a process of searching for clues, thinking, conversing, and reflecting. The lesson objectives were not discreet as has so often been the case with our previous standards and assessment system. I really want students to understand in close reading we aren't finding single correct answers, but rather readers are actively searching and thinking about ideas.
Student sample of content objective (RI.5.3)

5.    Overall, what is your reflection of the entire experience?   
               I struggled with the amount of scaffolding to provide. After I had the students cold read the first section, I modeled reading and annotating the first section. For the second section I had them cold read (to get the flow), then had them reread a second time to annotate, and then had them reread the entire selection paying attention to details that hinted at relationships. I desperately wanted to share my own 'awesome ideas' about the relationships of some of the individuals but forced myself to stay quiet to give them opportunities to read, think, talk, and write with as little influence from me as possible. If I had had more time or for the next lesson, I would probably go over the passage again to model some more sophisticated responses than most of them were able to generate, in order to move them further along for their future close readings.
               With the introduction of Common Core there is a lot of talk of increasing how much students grapple with academic concepts and teachers working to build students' perseverance (or grit) to stick with difficult tasks. In the past, teachers have worked to scaffold student learning every step of the way, robbing them of opportunities to grapple and experience moderate amounts of confusion. After teaching this lesson I was struck by how much we scaffold--not just to help our kids learn, but also because it makes our job as teachers much easier!  It was difficult to simply trust that students would be able to read and draw conclusions without a lot of frontloading and modeling. 
              Finally and most importantly, I want my teachers to know that I stand behind them in this journey. The nature of teaching and the expectations of learning are shifting in a way that will require more thinking on the part of teachers and students! It is really a far more respectful view of the teaching profession than the days of giving teachers a program and a day-to-day pacing guide. I want my teachers to realize that no matter how talented and dedicated they individually are, we will always be more powerful and effective as a TEAM of teachers working together. Our work is cut out for us!
               Thank you, Ed. I hope this inspires the readers of Saturday Morning Coffee to tackle that first close reading lesson if you haven't done so already. Intentional selection of text, methodical planning, and reflection after each lesson are the cornerstones for teaching powerful close reading lessons. 
               Still can't believe Thanksgiving is less than a week away. There will be no blog next week. I look forward to catching up with you on December 7th. Have a Happy Thanksgiving holiday and always Happy Saturday.


  1. So proud of Principal Ed Ewing for demonstrating and modeling what all "instructional leaders" should be doing with their staff. He is an inspiration to us all!

  2. I've shared this with so many people today: colleagues, a retired teacher who worked with Ed and my student teacher, who had Ed as a guest speaker in her class last month. All were quite impressed. Thanks for inspiring us all to keep learning Mr. Ewing!

    1. Thanks for sharing more about Ed. He continues to inspire all of us and his teachers have to feel so proud of him. Don't downplay your own ability to inspire. You have inspired teachers for years.

  3. I love that he is leading by example! He is getting in there-- in an actual classroom with real students (not a pre-selected group for show) and learning the ins and outs of close reading and common core right their with his teachers. No one will ever be perfect so I appreciate the honesty of his own trial and outcomes.

    1. Jane, I couldn't have said it better. Ed is our hero for walking the walk. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Saturday Morning Coffee.

  4. Thank you all for the kind comments. As Jane notes above, my lesson was an imperfect attempt in the real world. In comments here, in our Close Reading book group, and on Facebook, it has been noted that the brave new world of CCSS is exciting, but also fraught with potential errors, confusion, and frustration. Richard DuFour, in his book, Learning By Doing, states that the objective is not perfection, but action! As the title of his book explicitly states, we LEARN by DOING!! In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck implores us to approach our work (and our life!) with a “growth mindset.” If we don’t act because we’re afraid of failure, we will become stale and eventually cynical. If we approach our work (and our life!) with a growth mindset, we aren’t as afraid of mistakes (they still hurt a little though), because we know they don’t define us as professionals (or people) and, in fact, we learn and grow from our mistakes. One of my administration mentors would close his emails with the tagline, “keep the faith.” As we continue our journey in Common Core we need to engage in dialogue in places like this blog (thanks Cathe!), support one another, and keep the faith! -Ed

  5. Ed, this is the perfect message to leave us with. I have not read Richard DuFour, but life has taught me my best and most meaningful lessons are from DOING. Teaching is messy....there are factors out of our control no matter how well planned we are. It is truly one of the most exciting professions. Yes, we must all keep the faith as we continue on our journey to be the best that we can be. Thank you, Ed, for this poignant message